Hearts moved to within a point of third place in the cinch Premiership as Lawrence Shankland hit a double in their 3-1 win over Kilmarnock at Tynecastle.
Goals in the first half-an-hour from Josh Ginnelly and top scorer Shankland had the Jambos in control until Ash Taylor’s 74th-minute strike brought the visitors back into contention.
However, Shankland eased the hosts’ nerves with a late penalty as they moved on to the coat-tails of Aberdeen in the race for Europe.
Hearts made three changes to the side that started the last match before the World Cup break as Craig Halkett, Stephen Kingsley and Andy Halliday took over from Toby Sibbick, Orestis Kiomourtzoglou and the suspended Kye Rowles.
Killie initially made two alterations to the team that started their 1-0 victory over Hibernian five weeks previously as Kerr McInroy and Taylor came in for Fraser Murray and Jeriel Dorsett.
However, they were forced into a third tweak shortly before kick-off when Innes Cameron appeared to sustain a bad injury in the warm-up and 17-year-old striker Bobby Wales was promoted from the bench to make his first start.
The hosts took the lead from the first clear opening of the match in the 19th minute. Killie defender Joe Wright made a mess of dealing with Kingsley’s ball over the top and Ginnelly latched on to the bouncing ball, steadied himself and fired a clinical strike past the exposed Sam Walker from just inside the box.
Ginnelly should have doubled his tally four minutes later when he got on the end of another long pass from Kingsley, but he sent his angled shot agonisingly wide of the far post.
Hearts stretched their lead in the 29th minute when Robert Snodgrass’s lovely free-kick delivery from the left was nodded in from close range by Shankland.
The Jambos thought they had a third in the 36th minute when Alex Cochrane drilled in a low angled finish after being set up by Ginnelly, but the goal was ruled out for offside.
The Tynecastle side were playing with their tails up and they went close again three minutes before the break when Ginnelly flashed a shot narrowly wide from just inside the box after good play by Barrie McKay and Shankland to set him up.
Killie had their first proper chance of the match in the last minute of the first half, but Liam Donnelly glanced a header wide from McInroy’s corner, with Lewis Mayo just unable to touch it home at the back post.
Hearts threatened a minute after the restart when Halliday saw a shot tipped round a post by Walker. Hearts keeper Craig Gordon had to make a good save to keep out Joe Wright’s header in the 51st minute.
Michael Smith and Cochrane both sent shots narrowly wide from the edge of box as the hosts, who had dominated for long periods, looked to kill the game.
But Killie pulled one back in the 74th minute when Taylor ghosted in at the back post to knock home an inswinging free-kick from Daniel Armstrong.
Hearts suddenly found themselves in danger of spurning what should have been a comfortable win, but they regained their two-goal cushion in the 88th minute when Shankland converted a penalty after Wright had been penalised for handball.
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