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Jim Jefferies 2nd <-auth Neil White auth-> Steve O'Reilly
[F Wright 45] ;[C Sammon 80] ;[A Eremenko 82]
8 of 008 -----L SPL H

Few blanks fired in emphatic win

Neil White at Tynecastle

1 Nov 2010

Kilmarnock ended a run of four straight defeats in emphatic fashion yesterday, putting Hearts away on the back of only their second clean sheet of the season.

The real problem for Mixu Paatelainen’s team has been at the other end, though, and it was there they made a breakthrough that could expand their horizons for this season.

Paatelainen and his players will tell you this win has been coming, but it still took Tynecastle by surprise. Hearts blew the chance to go third. Instead, Kilmarnock move off the bottom, advancing one place for each of the three goals they scored. “If we convert a fraction of the chances we create, we can score enough goals to stay in this league, and that is the aim for this season,” said the manager.

Kilmarnock had fallen to the foot of the table despite never losing by more than one goal in the Clydesdale Bank Premier League and an attack that revolves around Alexei Eremenko, their on-loan playmaker, has always given them enough ammunition to win matches. Yesterday, their aim was true: a set-piece was headed in by Frazer Wright on half-time and then two goals in two minutes, the first from Conor Sammon, the second a gem by Eremenko, gave them their best result of the season.

“I have not seen a better passer of the ball than him in this league,” said Paatelainen of Eremenko, who has been borrowed from Metalist Kharkiv in Ukraine. “It is amazing that a player like that plays for Kilmarnock.”

Eremenko makes up for a total lack of pace with an abundance of craft and his team-mates look for him before anybody else. After four minutes, he dropped a pass over the defence and into the path of Liam Kelly, who tried a first-time volley that was beyond him. The Finn mimed the correct technique, chest control and a more simple finish, and it was not the last time he appeared to be on a different, and more interesting, page than everybody else.

Mehdi Taouil was his next beneficiary. The Moroccan collected a pass and lashed a drive across Marian Kello, the goalkeeper diving to his left for an outstanding save.

Eremenko had nothing to do with the breakthrough goal, however. A free-kick wide on the right was delivered flat by Jamie Hamill and was met by the run of Wright, the centre-back, who angled a header past Kello.

Jim Jefferies, the manager of Hearts, conceded the visitors’ superiority in every department that mattered.

“I said to them before the game, ‘They’re at the bottom of the table, you’re going for third, but you will find that this is probably one of your toughest matches so far’.” He was right, but it’s a small consolation.

In the first half, Hearts threatened only when Rudi Skacel had the chance to set something up. Twice his corners from the left produced opportunities for Marius Zaliukas. The first was the kind of volley that you would expect from a centre-back, executed without grace or hope of success; the second, a glancing header after a colossal leap, missed its target by inches. Skacel also shovelled a pass from just outside the box to the over-lapping Ruben Palazuelos, who cut through a low shot that missed across goal.

Jefferies made two changes at the break, replacing Darren Barr with Craig Thomson at right-back and Calum Elliot with Stephen Elliott up front. Thomson’s advances were a big factor in the pressure Hearts built up in the second half, but so, too, was Kilmarnock’s willingness to cover and wait for the chance to counter.

The effectiveness with which they did that was illustrated by the nature of almost every threat to their goal. Skacel, Adrian Mrowiec, David Templeton and Suso Santana all chose the long shot as their best option, and Cammy Bell did not have to do much to keep them out.

Kilmarnock retained Sammon, a first-half replacement for Rui Miguel, and Eremenko upfield and they scored the goals that killed the game with nine minutes to play. First Sammon was sprung down the inside right channel by a long one from Hamill and he outpaced and outmuscled Zaliukas before driving the ball under Kello.

Eremenko had done little since the interval, but it turned out he had spent the second half in preparation for the game’s finest moment. He controlled a gift from Zaliukas outside the box and launched a high, curling shot that spun into the top corner.

Before that the game had gone nasty, as if the players had read Hearts’ incendiary statement about referees that referenced bias and match-fixing. Dougie McDonald, fourth official here, had only one moment of concern, when the sun was blocked out by Paatelainen, chest-puffed and barking about a dubious throw-in call. That was at 0-0, though, and the Kilmarnock manager had nothing to complain about at the end.

“In Russia, there has been many worse situations than this,” said Eremenko, who has also played in Italy, of the refereeing controversy. “You have it very good in Scotland. In Russia, the level [of refereeing] is high, but there are some other problems. But that is another case.”

Taken from the Herald

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