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Craig Levein <-auth None auth-> Craig Thomson
----- Greg Shields
2 of 004 Alan Maybury 50 ;Mark de Vries 53 ;Kevin McKenna 79 L SPL H

Hearts proving experts at bouncing back

RESILIENCE is a quality that Hearts have displayed on a number of occasions this season and their ability to bounce back from defeat was again on show at Tynecastle on Saturday as the Jambos put the disappointment of their CIS League Cup loss to Rangers behind them with an emphatic 3-0 win over Kilmarnock and greatly boost their hopes of European football next season.

It is not the first time that Craig Levein’s side have had to come back from a result that could, potentially, have had an adverse reaction on their push for third spot in the Premierleague.

Heavy defeats to Motherwell and Falkirk in the league and cup respectively earlier in the season were quickly followed up with victories over Livingston and Aberdeen and again at the weekend the Gorgie outfit showed they have the character and spirit needed to put such setbacks behind them.

The fact that a number of the squad were forced to play still suffering from the effects of a sickness bug that had swept through the club makes the result, which saw Hearts move seven points clear in third place, all the more creditable.

The Jambos were made to wait until the second half to reap the reward for their domination of the game with Alan Maybury opening the scoring before Mark De Vries and Kevin McKenna ensured that the points would be remaining in Edinburgh.

And Levein was full of praise for the way his players had performed.

"That’s as good an all-round performance as we’ve produced since I’ve been here," beamed the Tynecastle boss.

"We’ve won by more goals in a lot of games but we’ve never dominated a game as much as we did and that really does please me.

"The first half was a battle but all credit to the players as for the first 20 minutes we were still able to play some really nice stuff and had our final ball into the box been a little better then we could have been comfortably ahead.

"I didn’t know how Kilmarnock were going to hurt us, to be honest, and I thought that we were the only team that really attempted to play football."

Levein, however, refused to look too far ahead in terms of European qualification insisting he was happy just to take each game as it comes for the moment.

"Things can change in football and there is still a long way to go," he added. "There are a lot of difficult fixtures still to be played and the points can easily change from week to week.

"I don’t want to talk too much about what’s going to happen in the future but there’s no doubt that if we play the way we did then we have a chance."

During last Tuesday’s game with Rangers at Hampden the Jambos had been guilty of showing their opponents too much respect in the opening stages of the match but against Killie they were out of the starting blocks at a tremendous pace, forcing Jim Jefferies’ side onto the backfoot almost immediately.

Within a minute Austin McCann, deputising for the injured Stephane Mahe, had whipped in a teasing cross that Colin Meldrum did well to pluck from the head of Phil Stamp, who looked set to connect with the ball.

Just two minutes later and the Hearts fans were again on their feet to applaud their team as Jean-Louis Valois and Stamp played a neat one-two on the right touchline allowing the former Middlesbrough player to cross for De Vries, who was only just beaten to the ball by Greg Shields with the goal gaping.

The visitors only real clear-cut opportunity of the match was created 14 minutes from the interval when Andy McLaren played in Kris Boyd with a clever pass but with only the goalkeeper to beat the youngster screwed his shot just wide of Tepi Moilanen’s left-hand upright.

Four minutes after that Hearts’ injury jinx struck again when Scott Severin was forced to go off with an ankle knock, being replaced by Stephen Simmons, although Levein revealed afterwards that the move was more precautionary than anything else.

Despite their dominance Hearts went in at the break on level terms but after the interval they refused to be panicked and deservedly took the lead with just four minutes of the half played.

Former Tynecastle favourite Stevie Fulton was dispossessed by Valois and he fed the ball to Alan Maybury, who ghosted past two Killie defenders before firing an unstoppable, low 25-yard shot beyond the helpless Meldrum.

The former Leeds star doesn’t get on the scoresheet often, the goal at the weekend only his second ever in the professional ranks but both have been right out of the top drawer.

The sending-off of Greg Shields three minutes later for a second bookable offence virtually ensured the points would remain at Tynecastle but just to make sure the Jambos added another goal within 60 seconds.

In a moment that Killie keeper Meldrum won’t enjoy seeing again he flapped at a Stamp cross, allowing De Vries to beat him to the ball, steady himself and place a low shot between his legs and into the empty net.

Eleven minutes from time and Hearts completed a fine afternoon’s work when Valois was afforded far too much space down the left flank and he was able to play in Kevin McKenna, who had come on for the tiring De Vries.

The Canadian internationalist coolly beat Meldrum with a shot into the far corner from five yards.

"We allowed them far too much space to play and should have closed down their players better for their goals," said Killie boss Jefferies. "In the end we can’t have many complaints about the result."

Levein now takes his side to Ibrox to face Rangers and if they play the same way they did in the first half of the CIS Cup semi-final they could find themselves in trouble.

Should they perform the way they did at the weekend, though, they are more than capable of asking questions of Alex McLeish’s men.

Taken from the Scotsman

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