Tynecastle used to be a place the opposition visited with trepidation, the four stands perched perilously close to the pitch creating a febrile atmosphere that seemed to give those in maroon an advantage before play had even begun. In recent times, though, those supporters have had precious little to get worked up about.
This was another disappointing afternoon for Hearts, their winless sequence in front of their own fans - more than 13,000 turned out yesterday - now stretching to more than four months as Kilmarnock ran out comfortable winners without ever needing to be at their best.
It will take more than a post-Christmas miracle to keep Hearts in the top division this season, with Gary Locke's side now destined to enter 2014 with zero points at best should they fashion their first win since early November away to St Mirren on Sunday. Kilmarnock were the latest side to take advantage of their generous hospitality, scoring twice in the first half and adding two in the second to maintain their recent good run of form. They had Chris Johnston, Kris Boyd and Rory McKenzie to thank for the victory. The young winger supplied an assist and a stunning goal to take his recent tally to four in five games, while Boyd was typical Boyd, scoring two and missing three easier ones to forego a hat trick. McKenzie poured salt in Hearts' wounds with a goal in injury time.
Johnston has emerged as a real prospect and was a persistent thorn in Hearts' side. The 19-year-old's first major contribution was to supply an assist as Kilmarnock moved in front after 13 minutes, creating space wide on the left before sending a perfectly weighted cross towards the back post. Boyd was never likely to miss from six yards and his header was low and into the ground, giving Jamie MacDonald no chance.
Johnston's next act was even more impressive and had the effect of all but ending the match as a contest five minutes before the break. There was still plenty for him to do when he picked up possession around 40 yards from goal but, like a shot, he was off, dashing at high speed towards the Hearts penalty box. It was clear what he had in mind as he opened up his body to shoot and the execution was perfect, the midfielder curling a shot around MacDonald and into the top-right corner of the Hearts net from around 25 yards.
It was a terrific effort and one that even drew applause from some in the home stands as Johnston and his team-mates celebrated with justified exuberance. "That was something special," cooed his manager, Allan Johnston. "I was away celebrating as I was right behind it. It was a fantastic piece of ability to come in and curl one into the top corner. That shows you the confidence they've got."
Kilmarnock, in fact, should have been three goals to the good by that point - Boyd whacked a shot straight at MacDonald when it seemed easier to score - but the striker would make amends early in the second half. Johnston was involved again, dummying McKenzie's cross from the right to create time and space for Boyd to plant a low shot beyond MacDonald. The 30-year-old should have been wheeling away celebrating a hat trick not long after that but somehow scooped Sean Clohessy's cross over the bar from around eight yards, then found the same spot in the stand minutes later after lifting the ball over Brad McKay to tee himself up for a volley.
Hearts by that point looked as if they could concede with every Kilmarnock attack. They played with typical effervescence but poor decision making - at both ends of the pitch - again proved costly, despite the best efforts of the home crowd to provide encouragement. With no chance of reinforcements arriving in January with the club still in administration, the second half of the season could well prove a real test of these young players' mettle.
They created a handful of half-chances but wayward finishing and some good goalkeeping by Craig Samson thwarted them time and time again. Jamie Walker cut in twice from the left wing to unleash shots; the first tame and easily saved, the second repelled by Samson with his legs. A Callum Tapping effort spun over the top, while a defensive mix-up by Kilmarnock almost led to a second-half consolation but Hearts could not capitalise. Instead it was the visitors who had the last say, McKenzie scoring via a post. "It was a day at the office to forget," summed up Locke.