Hearts fall to painful defeat despite late comeback against 10-man Kilmarnock
- Hearts lose for the first time in 2020 after 3-2 home defeat to Kilmarnock
- Home side were 3-0 down after 50 minutes but could not rescue a point after visitors were reduced to 10 men
- Result leaves Hearts bottom of the Premiership table ahead of Scottish Cup tie against Falkirk
Hearts fell to their first defeat in six matches and are now bottom of the Scottish Premiership despite a late comeback against 10-man Kilmarnock at Tynecastle on Wednesday.
The visitors looked comfortable and were three goals up with 15 minutes remaining but the match turned on its head in a matter of minutes after Kilmarnock goalkeeper Laurentiu Branescu gave away a penalty and was then sent off moments later for a second yellow card.
Sean Clare’s converted spot-kick and then Craig Halkett’s volley gave manager Daniel Stendel’s side hope and brought the game back to 3-2, but they were unable to find an equaliser in stoppage time.
Kilmarnock were worthy winners in the end and had raced into the lead thanks to first-half goals from Stuart Findlay and Chris Burke, before Eamonn Brophy added a third after half-time.
Hearts’ late comeback should not mask what was an abject home performance, however, and the result leaves the Jambos bottom of the Scottish Premiership table after Hamilton earned a point at St Mirren.
This was an entertaining affair, but in reality the match was not as close as the scoreline suggest.
Given Hearts’ precarious position at the bottom of the table before the match, Stendel’s side were desperate for three points and the opportunity to build on a promising run of form that had seen the Jambos go five games unbeaten.
A home fixture against a Kilmarnock side who had, until recently, gone on a run of 10 matches without a win seemed like an ideal opportunity to do that, and put a bit of distance between themselves and bottom placed Hamilton.
Despite a poor showing overall, Hearts started the match extremely well and looked a good bet to win successive home matches for the first time in the league this season.
The Jambos pinned Kilmarnock back within the opening 15 minutes, playing with the intensity and aggressiveness that saw them defeat title challengers Rangers 10 days ago.
They won a succession of corners and tested Killie goalkeeper Branescu on a number of occasions, going closest to taking the lead after Sean Clare’s deflected cross looped into the box and hit the top of the crossbar, with Branescu beaten.
But the visitors themselves looked threatening and started to dominate proceedings after safely negotiating Hearts’ fast start.
The opening goal came from a Rory McKenzie corner from the left, which was powerfully met by centre-back Findlay and directed across Joel Pereira and into the net.
Despite the set-back, the Tynecastle crowd responded well, perhaps appreciating their team’s strong start, but Stendel’s side quickly looked unrecognisble to the one that had Kilmarnock on the ropes in the opening stages.
Hearts soon lost all of their tempo and tenacity, with and without the ball. Liam Boyce and Steven Naismith suddenly looked like strangers in attack, which must surely alarm Stendel after their partnership had looked so promising after their first two games together.
The mood inside Tynecastle also shifted as frustration grew. And if Kilmarnock had dampened the Hearts flame, Burke’s stunning goal shortly before half-time looked to have extinguished it.
The winger chested down a lofted ball while on the run and, with the angle growing tighter and tighter, he lifted an exquisite chip over Pereira and into the bottom left corner.
Stendel and his players must have made their way off the pitch at the break with the boos from the home fans ringing in their ears.
But things soon went from bad to worse, as the dangerous Brophy cut in from the left and fired into the net from just inside the box. The effort to save the strike from Pereira was weak – the ball went through his gloves – and rather summed up Hearts’ night.
With his side three goals down and with plenty of time still to play, Stendel brought on Uche Ikpeazu for debutant Marcel Langer, who made an ineffective first appearance in central midfield.
Ikpeazu went close to reducing the deficit, heading wide from a corner, but Hearts continued to toil until they were thrown a lifeline with 15 minutes left to play after Branescu brought down substitute Conor Washington inside the box.
Branescu was booked for the challenge and soon after the game was turned on its head.
Sean Clare stepped up to take the spot kick and finished in the bottom corner to pull a goal back, but as the right-back attempted to grab the ball from the net, Branescu intervened. For his reaction, the goalkeeper was bizarrely shown a second yellow card in as many minutes by referee David Munro, leaving Killie down to 10.
The outcome of the drama gave Hearts impetus going into the final stages. Boyce had his first chance at goal but skewed a shot wide before Andy Irvine tested substitute goalkeeper Jan Koprevic with a low drive.
And the pressure finally told as defender Craig Halkett slammed home a volley with 88 minutes on the clock, but despite late efforts on goal from Ikpeazu and Halkett again, Kilmarnock held on for a win that does no favours to Hearts’ hopes of beating the drop.