It was far from a classic at Tynecastle Park as Hearts and Kilmarnock played out a goalless draw with entertainment in short supply. Yet, it will be the visitors who will have mixed emotions. Pleased and encouraged with another positive performance but perhaps some disappointment they didn’t get all three points.

The home side registered just one shot on target as they struggled to get up to speed after Thursday’s match in Trondheim in Rosenborg, only putting Killie under pressure in the closing stages. Derek McInnes’ men created the best opportunities in either half, displaying their improvement from last season and building on last weekend’s win over Rangers to open the season. Here are five talking points…

Hearts’ opening struggles

For the third game running, Hearts struggled to find their fluency in the first half. The pattern of play was as expected with the home side having the majority of possession and Kilmarnock in a rigid defensive structure, ready to spring forward with Danny Armstrong and Matty Kennedy. It was unsurprising to see Stephen Kingsley, Kye Rowles and Frankie Kent, three of Hearts’ back four, have the most touches of the 22 players on the pitch at half-time. 

Going forward it was too disjointed. Alex Lowry’s creative intentions were positive but lacked execution. Lawrence Shankland and Kyosuke Tagawa were not on the same wavelength. Tagawa had just six first-half touches. Yutaro Oda’s best work came in a defensive sense. When attacking situations did open up there was a hesitancy to play that killer pass. 

Frustratingly for the home support and the club’s management team there was no second half spell like they enjoyed against St Johnstone to win 2-0 or in Trondheim. Just one shot on target at home despite having more than 60 per cent of the ball, an underwhelming return.

While Kilmarnock have had the League Cup group stage to get up to speed, this is a Hearts side still, understandably, yet to click.

Positive impacts

There was a lot of excitement around Gorgie with Kyosuke Tagawa handed his first start and new recruit Kenneth Vargas on the bench. Both have been brought in to add goals, pace and attacking threat and versatility. While Tagawa struggled to get involved and was eventually replaced, there were positive signs from the Costa Rican Vargas. He displayed his pace but also a real willingness to get stuck in. Twice he worked back to recover the ball. He could well have capped a dream debut when he cut in but sent a curling effort over the bar. Yet, it was one of the club’s youngsters rather than recruits who perhaps stood out the most. Nineteen-year-old Aidan Denholm came on, ahead of new signing Calem Nieuwenhof, with more than 20 minutes left. As he did against Rosenborg on Thursday he brought a calmness to midfield. Battling qualities but really neat and tidy on the ball. It is clear the management team trusts the midfielder who, at one point, seemed to be heading out of the club. On more than one occasion, Steven Naismith was giving him praise for his decision making, while he was keen to pass on instruction through the player.

Killie, the Premiership’s least favourite opponents

When the Premiership fixture list was released, Kilmarnock boss Derek McInnes would have been forgiven for cursing Calum Beattie, the SPFL’s chief operating officer. A home tie with Rangers followed by a trip to Tynecastle Park. Yet, what Killie have been able to do is offer a glimpse into what could be a very positive season at Rugby Park and one which won’t involve a relegation battle.

McInnes has been able to put a better top-flight stamp on his side. This summer the men from Ayrshire have undergone a face lift. There were seven new signings in the team which started both the Rangers and Hearts fixtures. They are younger, fitter, quicker and play with greater intensity. They are and are going to be a nightmare to play against. A strong spine, excellent organisation and coaching and a real threat on the counter-attack. They are more equipped to play away from Rugby Park and will not have to wait until April to get their first top-flight away win, as they did last season. Another formidable home record and they could offer a surprise European challenge.

Defensive trio

The defensive trio of Robbie Deas, Stuart Finlday and Lewis Mayo may well be the most impressive in the league. Lawrence Shankland has spoken in the past regarding the difficulty of playing against St Mirren last season. This Kilmarnock trio are even better. All are 6ft+, all can play a bit of football, all are mobile and all are strong and aggressive.

At Tynecastle, any time a Hearts forward thought they were getting space there would be another on hand to cover, pressure, block or intercept. 

With Mayo and Findlay either side of Deas, both are adept at defending in wide areas and in one v one situations. This is a Kilmarnock team which won’t concede a lot of goals. 

Set piece improvement

While Hearts struggled in the final third, they had no such issues in the defensive third. Frankie Kent and Kye Rowles continue to build a strong partnership. Both Steven Naismith and Derek McInnes noted the defending of set pieces. It was an area which the team struggled with, shipping 16 goals from set pieces in the league last season, an increase of five from the previous campaign. That was always going to be tested against a Kilmarnock side who possess players with excellent deliveries and three centre-backs who are strong in the air.