Hearts’ fast start enough to swat away The Wasps

After losing their first competitive fixture this season away at Dunfermline on Friday, Hearts came flying out of the blocks and built up an unassailable lead in the first half against Alloa. Jamie Mcintosh reports.

A blistering first half, with goals from Smith, Halliday and Haring, saw Hearts go within one point of league leaders Dunfermline. Photo Credit – Jamie Mcintosh

Since Robbie Neilson returned to Tynecastle for his second stint as Hearts manager, he has been very vocal about immediately installing a winning mentality at the club. After Hearts were defeated for the first time this season on Friday night at East End Park, attention was immediately turned to the response.

Stephen Kingsley and Robbie Neilson both saw the quick turnaround to Tuesday’s fixture as a positive and an opportunity to put things right, and a home game against bottom of the table Alloa sounds like the perfect opportunity, right? 

Hearts made four changes from the team which started in Dunfermline – Elliot Frear, Olly Lee, Mihai Popescu and Craig Wighton were replaced by Jamie Walker, Jordan Roberts, Peter Haring and Christophe Berra. 

As for Alloa, the winless Wasps made a single change from the side who lost at Palmerston on Saturday, with on loan Hibernian forward Innes Murray replacing Adam Brown. There was also a start in midfield for Kevin Cawley, who made his 350th appearance for the visitors, becoming only the third Alloa player to reach that milestone since World War Two. 

Robbie Neilson will have asked his side for a fast start and after just four minutes, they took the lead, when a Stephen Kingsley cross was put home at the back post by Michael Smith. A very simple goal and the Alloa game-plan was in tatters before it even began. 

Hearts should have made it two shortly afterwards, when Alloa lost possession on the edge of their own box. Walker opted to take the shot on and dragged it wide, much to the displeasure of the unmarked Liam Boyce. Another golden chance was spurned by the hosts when a poor clearance landed at the feet of Andy Halliday. The midfielder worked an opening for himself before aimlessly blasting his shot over. 

Hearts were enjoying the majority of the possession and got the second goal their attacking intent deserved after 22 minutes, when Liam Boyce played a lovely ball to send Halliday through on goal. The midfielder made no mistake, shooting with his first touch, slotting the ball along the turf and into the back of the net. This goal should calm Halliday’s nerves after receiving his fair share of criticism regarding his performance on Friday.

It was already looking like a long evening for the visitors, with Hearts in complete control and looking as if they could get as many goals as they saw fit. Steven Naismith missed a great chance on Friday at East End Park and the striker missed another tonight just before the half hour mark, when Peter Haring delivered the perfect cross towards the captain. However, Naismith misjudged the flight of the ball completely and ended up diverting the ball away from goal. 

It was wave after wave of Hearts attacks as the rain continued to fall and it was a matter of time before Hearts got their third. It duly arrived ten minutes before the break, when Walker cut it back for Haring who slammed the ball home from 12 yards for 3-0. The rest of the half was fairly unimportant, with no real incidents to speak of, and the referee blew his whistle to bring the first 45 minutes to a close.

It was a truly dominant first half display from the Jambos and exactly what Robbie Neilson would have asked for. As for Alloa, it was looking like damage limitation for Peter Grant and his players in the second half. 

A sloppy start to the second half from Hearts saw Robbie Neilson make his first change, with Aidy White replacing Jordan Roberts – it had been another uninspiring performance from the English winger.

The second half had been a dull affair for the most part, but finally some excitement arrived, when Liam Boyce was brought down in the penalty box in the 70th minute. The striker dusted himself down but saw his spot-kick saved by Neil Parry. Fortunately for the striker, referee Grant Irvine ordered a retake – however, second time around, the striker saw his effort strike the crossbar and fly over the bar, so the scoreline remained 3-0.

Boyce nearly made amends seven minutes from time with a looping header, however it dropped on to the roof of the net and it remained a frustrating evening for the striker. 

Alloa dug in and worked hard to be compact in the second half and successfully prevented Hearts from creating too many chances, although, if truth be told, it didn’t look like Hearts got out of third gear in the second period. 

A 3-0 victory will go down as a comfortable evening for the hosts, which will set Hearts up nicely for when the pair meet again on Saturday in the League Cup, this time at the Indodrill. 

Christophe Berra took to the Tynecastle turf for the first time since a 2-0 derby defeat to Hibs on Boxing Day and the defender was pleased with both his own performance and his team’s:

“It was good to get a win and a clean sheet, the pressure was on us to respond after Friday’s result, Alloa are a tough team to play against, but I thought we did well and Craig never had much to do at all really. 

When asked about trying to nail down a starting spot once again at Tynecastle, Berra responded:

“All I can do is try and play well when I get the chance to, a lot of people write me off, I don’t know why, I just continue to turn up every day, train and try and play well. It’s part and parcel of football the criticism side of it, people write about it all the time, getting old, veteran, can’t run anymore, if you follow your stats, you’ll know that’s rubbish. Every time you go out on the pitch, your reputation is on the line, it’s part and parcel of football.” 

It was a comfortable evening for Robbie Neilson’s side and despite a poor second half, he remained positive with his side’s performance, but insisted Alloa will provide a tougher test for Hearts when playing on their home turf on Saturday:

“I was pleased with the first 45 I thought we pressed the game really well, I thought we passed the ball better on Friday than we did tonight, but I said to the boys just now that it will be night and day on the astro against Alloa on Saturday.” 

Despite Boyce missing two penalties, Neilson insists he will remain on penalty kick duties. 

“I’ll be keeping him on them, yeah. When you miss a penalty when you’re 3-0 up, it doesn’t really matter, but when you’re 1-1 in a derby in a Scottish Cup semi-final and you score it, that’s the one that matters and that’s when the big dogs turn up.” 

The win sees Hearts move into second spot in the Championship, a point behind Dunfermline who lead the pack, while Alloa continue to prop up the league at the very bottom, winless in their first five. 

Hearts and Alloa meet again on Saturday, in the last 16 of the Betfred League Cup, at the Indodrill Stadium.

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