Goalless draw at Kilmarnock dents Hearts’ European hopes
Hearts’ Europa League ambitions suffered another setback as they were held to a drab 0-0 draw by Kilmarnock at Rugby Park.
Ian Cathro’s team were hoping to apply some pressure to St Johnstone as they prepare for the Ladbrokes Premiership’s run-in.
But their toothless display in Ayrshire means the Perth men could open up a seven-point lead in the race for fourth place if they beat Aberdeen on Saturday.
Jambos chairwoman Ann Budge issued a statement in midweek which branded press coverage of Cathro’s four-and-a-half-month reign “ludicrous’ – but even she would have been hard pressed to defend the team’s meek display.
Killie battled well for their point but Lee McCulloch will feel they probably should have walked away with the win.
The result is Killie’s fourth stalemate in five games but could yet prove handy as they look to kill off lingering relegation fears, with basement boys Inverness now 10 points back.
Hearts controlled the opening stages but lacked the tempo needed to breakdown McCulloch’s well-organised defence.
It took the Jambos 18 minutes before they finally got in behind but frontman Isma Goncalves fired wide from 10 yards out.
And with the visitors growing ever more frustrated, Kilmarnock’s confidence surged.
The hosts were happy to go direct and a clever first-time pass from Luke Hendrie released Sean Longstaff into space, but the on-loan Newcastle youngster’s 25-yard effort flew over.
Dean Hawkshaw’s clever back-heel created Killie’s first chance after the break as Callum Roberts went close with a near-post drive. Kris Boyd then got his head to Hendrie’s dangerous cross but saw his attempt trundle wide.
Hearts were finding it harder and harder to get a grip on the game and their irritation almost boiled over when Krystian Nowak slid in late on Iain Wilson, but referee Euan Anderson showed mercy to the Pole by producing only yellow.
The home support were also beginning to grow crabby as their side failed to make more of their opportunities, especially when Boyd lashed over from 12 yards out.
Hearts finally got themselves on the front foot five minutes from time but saw Goncalves’ strike deflected wide before the Portuguese striker somehow kicked at fresh air after Smith hooked the ball into the danger zone.
Boyd had two goes in stoppage time to snatch victory but first blasted a free-kick off target before his diving header flew wide.