Six of the Best as Hearts thrash Alloa
A Liam Boyce hat-trick sent Hearts well on their way to finally being crowned Championship champions with a 6-0 trouncing of Alloa. Jamie McIntosh reports.
Hearts had the opportunity to move 14 points clear of their Championship rivals the day before the chasing pack were in action, with victory over Alloa at Tynecastle.
The Jambos were going through a ‘blip’ according to manager Robbie Neilson, however winless in their last four games and two wins in nine sounds like something far more serious for the long odds-on pre-season favourites.
Uninspiring again last weekend, Hearts could only get a 0-0 draw against Dunfermline, and had it not for been for goalkeeper Craig Gordon, they may have left East End Park with nothing.
Neilson made three changes to the Hearts side that took a “small step” towards the Championship title last weekend. Andy Halliday and Armand Gnanduillet returned in place of Andy Irving and Aidy White. There was also a welcome return to the side for John Souttar, as Gary Mackay-Steven dropped to the bench.
As for Alloa, David Gold’s late winner saw the Wasps fall to defeat at Gayfield last weekend and now look destined for the drop, seven points from safety with just four games to go. Peter Grant stuck with the same 11 that started last Saturday.
Alloa defeated Hearts in the Betfred Cup in November, courtesy of an Alan Trouten penalty and it was the Wasps number 10 who had the game’s opening chance after just five minutes. A cross from the right found its way through to Trouten at the back post, but he was unable to test Craig Gordon and fired over the bar.
Armand Gnanduillet has already scored five goals in maroon since joining in January and the big striker should’ve grabbed his sixth of the season when meeting an Aaron McEneff corner, however the striker headed over at the near post.
Alloa had started the game well and, considering they were seven points adrift at the bottom, they clearly felt the need to come and have a go at the league leaders. Hearts almost hit the Wasps on the break after 15 minutes, when Boyce played a sublime pass to find his strike partner Gnanduillet, who was denied by Neil Parry, the keeper getting down well at his near post to make the save.
Trouten again went close for the visitors just minutes later, but the cut back which picked him out needed a better connection on the end of it from the midfielder and his effort trickled harmlessly wide.
The deadlock was broken after 25 minutes and it was no surprise to see it was the Championship’s top goal-scorer, Liam Boyce, who provided it. Halliday, playing on the left tonight slipped a lovely pass in behind the Alloa backline and a first-time finish with the outside of his right boot from Boyce found the top corner to provide the striker with his 12th league goal of the season and give the hosts a 1-0 lead.
On the half hour mark the hosts doubled their lead from the penalty spot. Euan Henderson received possession on the edge of his own box and ran the whole length of the field before being brought down by Parry – a quite magnificent run from the youngster. Boyce despatched the penalty with ease, sending the Alloa stopper the wrong way and doubling his side’s, and his own, tally for the evening.
Henderson had the ball in the net for Hearts’ third, only for the linesman to rule it out for offside. There were no more goals in the first period and Steven McLean brought an end to an open half with Hearts two goals to the good.
Just five minutes into the second half and Henderson did get the goal his performance had deserved. After flicking the ball on to Peter Haring, Henderson continued his run through the middle. Haring was patient, before playing the perfect through ball to the youngster, who lobbed the ball over the onrushing Parry and into the empty net, to seal the points for the hosts.
The fourth came just two minutes later, McEneff’s volley was saved by Parry, but the rebound fell straight to Boyce, who slammed the ball into the roof of the net to make it 4-0 to the Jambos and make sure the match ball would be returning to the Boyce household.
With 20 minutes to go, Hearts made it five. Boyce this time turned provider, threading a ball through the middle of the Alloa defence for McEneff. He brought the ball down beautifully, before shifting it on to his right foot and despatching the ball into the bottom corner.
McEneff almost made it six with five minutes left but Parry did well to scramble the ball off the line. The sixth did arrive just two minutes later and it wasn’t one the ‘keeper will want to see again. Parry doddled on the ball and Gnanduillet robbed him of possession, subsequently setting up Walker who slid in number six.
That was the way it finished; a very impressive display from the soon-to-be Championship winners. Hearts require just one more point to be crowned champions, however Raith and Dundee are in action three times before Hearts’ next match on the 20th April. If they fail to win all their remaining games, Hearts will be crowned champions before travelling to Cappielow in a couple of weeks.
Alloa are now as good as relegated, seven points adrift with only nine points left to play for. they must win their remaining three league games to have any chance of staying up, starting with a home match against Raith next Saturday.
Robbie Neilson was happy with his side’s performance on Friday night in the capital.
“I was pleased to get the three points. That’s us 14 points clear, hopefully that’s good enough to keep me in the job till Monday. We’ve had a couple weeks now where we’ve struggled to get that moment of magic, but we had that tonight.”
On John Souttar’s return:
“The big one for me tonight was getting John Souttar back. He’s been out for a long time, he’s had a difficult time of it. You can see the assurance he brings and the quality on the ball as well is top level. All in all, a good performance for him.
Where has this performance been recently?
“I think we’ve had a number of really good performances over the course of the season, and I think sometimes people can forget that, yes we’ve had a couple of difficult periods throughout the season, but every team has those.”
On Andy Irving’s contract negotiations:
“I hope he’ll still be here, we’ve offered him a really good contract, but it’s still in the hands of Andy and his agent and we’re still waiting to hear back.”