KILMARNOCK supporters were never likely to go quietly on Saturday.
Not when their side was having so much fun with Paul Heffernan scoring a hat trick to add a flourish to a result which has come to seem like a matter of routine.
Kilmarnock have now won on each of their last five visits to Tynecastle and the latest left fans feeling bold enough to goad Hearts openly about wanting a return to play them there every week. Such chanting will have stung but the home support will know that they might soon be out of earshot.
The clubs occupy different halves of the Clydesdale Bank Premier League table, with defeat on Saturday leaving Hearts six points outside the top six. Attempting to bridge such a gap might not seem futile yet – the Edinburgh side are still to play eight fixtures before the league splits – but aspects of their performance against Kilmarnock suggested that the resources of this Hearts squad might not stretch far enough.
Goals would seem in particularly short supply with the Tynecastle side just once able to muster three goals in one league game and only Dundee have scored fewer in the top flight so far this season.
That Heffernan managed it so effortlessly on Saturday will have felt discomfiting, then. Each of his stabbed finishes offered a pointed reminder of what Hearts are missing in attack; the injury to Callum Paterson and unpopularity of John Sutton meaning the club have rested their faith on the angular frame of Michael Ngoo, a forward who never quite seems in full control of his limbs but one who has nonetheless scored three times since joining on loan from Liverpool. The Englishman poses an awkward, physical threat but he lacks the refined menace of Heffernan. "Even when he is not in a good mood, he can score goals for fun. When he is like that he is as good as [Celtic's Gary] Hooper," said William Gros, the Kilmarnock forward.
Such a comment will jar when taken out of the context of this win – Hooper has scored 22 times this season, after all – and Heffernan's scoring prowess is perhaps better appreciated by first looking at the league table since Kilmarnock occupy fifth place by virtue of goal difference. Even so, the Ayrshire club has tread softly on the way up the table after a three-match unbeaten run and Kenny Shiels has so far tip-toed around the prospect of securing a top-half finish this season.
The Kilmarnock manager cannot be accused of lacking faith in his players and against Hearts he was afforded the relative luxury of fielding a starting XI among which only two – Ross Barbour and Gros – might not have considered themselves to be first-choice senior players last season. The strength of the Rugby Park squad is perhaps understated then, but Shiels was deliberately enthusiastic about what he had seen in such a young Hearts side. Callum Tapping and Billy King, in particular, might have been singled out for praise had he been pressed further.
Hearts were upset by the head injury suffered by Darren Barr early on but their young midfielders stole back the attention by creating a number of attractive patterns of play, even if they would unravel in the final third. "There are a lot of young boys in the team and we are going to learn something every week because we are playing in the top flight of Scottish football," said King. "We are not making the same mistakes twice. We need to put this behind us now."