ALTHOUGH being blown away at the home of the Scottish champions is far from shameful given Celtic‘s exploits in the past year, it will undoubtedly affect a team’s mentality heading into their next fixture. On a mild Ayrshire afternoon there was an interesting subtext to this clash between Kilmarnock and Hearts in that both teams arrived into the game following chastening experiences at Celtic Park in their previous outing.
Kilmarnock were hit with a five-goal blitz by a young Celtic side in the Betfred Cup in midweek, while visitors Hearts opened their Premiership campaign by shipping four in Glasgow’s east end. The outcome of the encounter therefore hinged on which team could muster the best reaction to their respective humblings.
In hindsight, the tone for this one was set in the stands beforehand. A sizeable Hearts contingent, perhaps well-oiled after their trip from the capital, were a noisy presence from well before kick-off – their joviality even extending to Jamie Walker, who returned from exile to occupy a seat on the bench. In the home end, however, an elderly gentleman draped in Kilmarnock colours sauntered over to the press box prior to kick-off, cast his eyes over a discarded team-sheet, then disconsolately shook his head and walked away.
That trepidation soon turned to frustration when Esmael Goncalves escaped the attentions of the home defence and calmly placed the ball beyond Jamie MacDonald for what would prove to be the winning goal. The Guinea-Bissau international was at the centre of the afternoon’s other big moment when he reacted to having his hair pulled by Kirk Broadfoot and swung an arm back at the defender. After some consultation Stephen Finnie dismissed the pair, both looking thoroughly sheepish as they made for the tunnel.
“I didn’t see it,” said Kilmarnock manager Lee McCulloch. “But there were a few strange decisions made today, I’ll just leave that there. It’s fair to say we are disappointed, we talked all week about how we start the game and then we’ve conceded a goal after five minutes.
“But after that I thought we dominated the game for 85 minutes and looked a threat, we should’ve scored when Rory MacKenzie has hit it straight at the goalkeeper, and if that goes in I think it would’ve been a very different last 30 minutes. But it was a vast improvement on last week and there’s signs that we’re getting better, we just needed a bit more quality in the final third.”
The dismissed Broadfoot was part of a Kilmarnock rearguard which looked shaken early on by that midweek thrashing, their cause not helped by an unforgiving Rugby Park crowd. Jon Daly’s men, on the other hand, were far from expansive in their approach but looked more assured defensively than their opponents. The Tynecastle side might have scored again had they showed a touch more composure and quality on the counter-attack. Second-half substitute Jordan Jones injected some pace into the Kilmarnock attack but it wasn’t enough to save his side from a third straight defeat. Hearts, however, recorded their first away win in nine attempts, and interim manager Daly was impressed by the doggedness of their performance.
“I think we deserved to win,” the former Dundee United and Rangers striker said. “We knew it would be a difficult place to come, we haven’t won here since 2013 so it shows how hard it is to get a result here. Also, the way we’ve won the game shows that the players have got the characteristics that a lot of people have been questioning them on – their desire, effort and workrate.
“To win it in that manner gives the boys the belief that they can go and play, because we know we’ve got good players here.”