Hearts 2-0 Ayr United

Hearts took another stride towards the Championship title with two second half goals – enough to see off Ayr United at Tynecastle.

After an uninspiring first 45 minutes, with the hosts huffing and puffing, it took a six yard header from the increasingly impressive Armand Gnanduillet to put the Jambos in the lead before a late thunderbolt from substitute Jamie Walker wrapped up the three points.

Hearts now sit 15 points clear at the top of the Championship table – albeit with second placed Dunfermline having two games in hand – with seven games to go.

It was a turgid first half with the only moment of note being a comedy coming together of Michael Smith, Gnanduillet and Andy Halliday when they all conspired to get in each others’ way to slot home after Halliday’s original effort had been spilled in the Ayr box.

All photos below: Scottish Championship – Heart of Midlothian v Ayr Utd.Tynecastle Park, Edinburgh, Midlothian, UK. 23/01/2021Hearts play host to Ayr United in the Scottish Championship at Tynecastle Park, Edinburgh.Pic shows: Hearts take all 3 points with a well deserved 2-0 win over Ayr United.Credit: Ian Jacobs

A half-time talking to from Robbie Neilson seemed to spur some action into the Jambos but it took until the 72nd minutes before they broke the deadlock. A composed cross from Andy Irving was headered home by the big Ivorian frontman – bagging his fourth goal in maroon from seven appearances.

The JTs doubled their advantage with four minutes to go when Jamie Walker – having fluffed an earlier chance with his first touch off the bench on 66 minutes – battered home a knocked-down Gervane Kastaneer header to notch his 51st strike for Hearts.

The result will ultimately be marked up as a standard victory on the march to the title but the first 45 minutes again pose questions of Robbie Neilson and his men in terms of tempo and intensity. Is it because the league is all but done? Is the lack of fans draining the energy?

The performances of Halliday and Gnanduillet will be noted whilst the continuing lack of effectiveness of Gary Mackay-Steven will be a cause for concern as Hearts look to get in shape for next season’s Premiership.

Next up for the Jambos is a visit to Angus next Saturday afternoon to face second-bottom Arbroath.

Hearts: Gordon, Smith, Popescu, Halkett, Kingsley, Irving, McEneff (Kastaneer, 66 mins), Halliday, Mackay-Steven (Walker, 66 mins), Gnanduillet (White, 84 mins), Boyce Subs not used Berra,Stewart, Frear, Henderson

Ayr United: Sinisalo, Houston, Baird, Ndaba, Reading, Murdoch, Muirhead, McCowan, Smith (McKenzie, 90 mins), Walsh (Chalmers, 59 mins), Moffat (Zanatta, 73 mins) Subs not used: Roscoe-Byrne, Miller, Zanatta, McGavin, Urminsky

Referee: Colin Steven