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Hearts 5 Kilmarnock 0: Is the Magic gone?

HE did not possess the look of a condemned man at the start of the day's events, grey-blue suit contrasting nicely with a crisp white shirt, neatly-knotted tie and black, polished shoes.

Hearts players applaud their supporters at full-time after routing Kilmarnock 5-0 at Tynecastle. Picture: SNS
Hearts players applaud their supporters at full-time after routing Kilmarnock 5-0 at Tynecastle. Picture: SNS

Sadly for Allan Johnston, it appears the jury had made their mind up before he had even a chance to issue any kind of plea for clemency. The evidence that unfolded over the course of the afternoon, of course, has left him without a leg to stand on.

Naturally, the season is by no means over. One win and Kilmarnock can get themselves away from second-bottom and out of the play-off position. It is much more difficult to see how he can ever win the club's support round after this, though.

As good as Hearts might have been - and they were very, very, good - this was a disgrace of a performance from the visitors' perspective.

Chants of "We Want Johnston Out" echoed from the away end at Tynecastle with surprising regularity. For once, it was not the much-loathed Michael, currently preparing to stand down as chairman, who was the subject of attention.

One fellow turned up with a white bedsheet bearing the slogan "AJ Out" in large black letters to reinforce the point. When the manager went on to the pitch after Hearts' second goal to knock the ball back towards the centre spot for the restart, the booing reached deafening proportions.

The only crumb of comfort is that they seem to dislike the assistant manager, Sandy Clark, every bit as much as him. They want blood, though, and punters normally get it when things are as bad as this.

Johnston did cut something of a lonely figure by the time it was all over, standing at the edge of his technical area, hands in pockets, as the visiting fans gave it one last blast of "We Don't Want You Any More" before leaving early. It was a toss-up between that and "You're Out Of Your Depth" for the honour of the afternoon's most wounding barb.

The only cheer he received all afternoon came when he beckoned substitute Alexei Eremenko towards the dug-out to make his first change of the game, throwing him on for Robbie Muirhead before the hour.

By the time the Finland internationalist took the field, Killie were 4-0 down and beyond salvation. At least irony is alive and kicking within the fanbase.

There is certainly little heart within the team. There are clear questions to be asked about the strategy, but, given everything at stake, it was the inexplicable lack of spirit that raised the greatest alarm.

These players are extremely limited. Of course they are. The league table does not lie and the fact is that they would be below Hearts in the pecking order were it not for the goals of Kris Boyd, a fellow performing the kind of one-man rescue mission said to be inspiring Bruce Willis as he puts together the sixth and final Die Hard movie.

The Tynecastle side started the game on the front foot and were too quick and too sharp throughout. Yes, Kilmarnock have been on a poor run of form of late with this being their sixth defeat out of seven in the league, but they were not even capable of making it a contest.

That is unforgivable given their current predicament and the players should be ashamed of themselves. Morton could be accused of trying harder. What must make it all the more galling for the Kilmarnock following is that a former Ayr United player proved the architect of this humiliation. Ryan Stevenson was outstanding, scoring a first-half hat trick, the first treble of his career, and later turned provider for Billy King and Callum Paterson.

Stevenson's first goal on 11 minutes required a touch of good fortune. Rory McKenzie had fouled King on the Hearts left side and the midfielder's low free kick appeared to take the slightest of deflections off a visiting player before nestling in the bottom corner of Craig Samson's net.

His second was far more clinical. Vitalijs Maksimenko cleared the ball directly to Stevenson after Sam Nicholson had moved into the area and he zipped a low shot into the net.

The third came when Stevenson slid in to convert a low cross from King and he almost managed a fourth, hitting the post at the start of the second half before giving someone else a chance to get in on the act.

Stevenson first released King with a wonderful turn and pass and the youngster delivered an emphatic finish by way of thanks. Stevenson then put in a low cross from the byeline that invited Paterson to slide in and complete the rout with more than half-an-hour remaining.

Of course, the Hearts manager, Gary Locke, is another fellow with concerns over job security as he waits for businesswoman Ann Budge to decide whether he should remain in position. It is her call. She put the money up to help get the club out of administration. However, five wins in six games make it all the more awkward to hand Locke his P45.

Amid the talk of heads-on-blocks and relegation trapdoors, it is important to make mention of the minute's silence staged before kick-off yesterday in memory of the late Sandy Jardine, a fine servant to Hearts as well as Rangers. There was no concession to modernity with a round of applause, just a straightforward, impeccably-observed period of reflection. Hearts do these things particularly well. How sad it is to lose such a fine old club and some of its promising young talents from the top flight of the Scottish game.

They will be missed. It is hard to say the same about this collection of shirkers in Kilmarnock shirts.

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