Advertisement

Heart of Midlothian 1-1 Kilmarnock: Top-six finish secured for Derek McInnes' side

Kilmarnock manager Derek McInnes is now targeting European football after Marley Watkins scored a stunning equaliser against Hearts to secure his side a top-six Scottish Premiership place.

Kenneth Vargas opened the scoring from a smart Lawrence Shankland dink to the back post just four days after the Costa Rican made his Hearts loan move permanent on a five-year deal.

McInnes' side had decent chances to level prior to the interval, with Watkins heading a cross straight at Zander Clark just yards from goal.

The forward atoned for his sitter on the other side of the break, though, as he curled a sensational shot into the top corner after some neat interplay with Kyle Vassell.

Kilmarnock's point, and Hibernian's defeat by Rangers, means the fourth-place Rugby Park side are guaranteed to finish in the top half. Hearts retain an 11-point cushion in third.

"Once you get into the top six it's something that's really worth working towards, so, yeah, why not," McInnes told BBC Scotland when asked about his European ambitions.

"I was reluctant to talk about it before we got the top six secured. We've got a couple of fixtures before we go into the top six and it's difficult to get any sort of momentum after that because you're playing against the best teams.

"But hopefully we can go right through the wire this season with these players. Hopefully we can be really strong for the remaining seven games."

Both sides played open, attacking football and Kilmarnock responded well to falling behind.

Stuart Findlay glanced a header narrowly wide of the far post, Joe Wright towered above everyone but his headed effort grazed the bar, and Watkins should have put away his glaring opportunity.

Steven Naismith put his faith in 18-year-old Macaulay Tait from the start and he was part of a Hearts midfield that quietly went about shutting down a lot of Kilmarnock's play through the middle for a large part of the game.

Vargas nearly put his side two ahead just after the break as his deflected strike had Will Dennis scampering back across his goal to palm wide.

But after Watkins stunned Tynecastle with his strike, the visitors piled on the pressure to try to take all three points back to Ayrshire.

Wright headed just wide of the post after Watkins almost scored with another adventurous edge-of-the-area strike.

Player of the match - Marley Watkins

Kilmarnock show why they're top-six quality - analysis

Hearts enjoyed 60% possession but it was Kilmarnock who showed the greater attacking impetus as McInnes' side secured a top-half finish.

The visitors had a glut of chances either side of the break and threatened the Hearts goal multiple times despite having far less of the ball.

As good as Killie's attackers were, though, this could have easily been an away win with a more clinical touch in front of goal.

Hearts head coach Naismith had set his side up well with their midfield three often limiting Killie to go long and forcing them wide.

But width has been key to the Rugby Park side's success this season, with Daniel Armstrong and Matty Kennedy allowed a fair bit of time on the ball.

The hosts seem certain to finish third but when Shankland has such a quiet afternoon, their attack looks blunt.

What they said

Hearts head coach Steven Naismith: "It's a hard one because the games after international [breaks] are the hardest to prepare for and the hardest for players to play in from my experience.

"I'm frustrated we didn't win the game because when we go 1-0 up we had some good play to get us into the final third, but it's just that last wee bit."

Kilmarnock manager Derek McInnes: "I thought we were good value for at least our point and on another day we win that game. We looked confident, we looked assured, we looked like a team that are sitting fourth in the the table."

What's next?

Hearts are away to St Mirren on April 6, 15:00 BST kick off. Kilmarnock host Ross County at the same time.