Steven Naismith praised in-form Hearts for overcoming a “rubbish” pitch at the Tony Macaroni Arena to tighten their grip on third place in the cinch Premiership with a 2-1 away win over Livingston.
The Jambos boss was braced for a scrap on the Lions’ artificial surface, and he was encouraged to see his team come out on the right side of it after second-half goals from Kenneth Vargas and top scorer Lawrence Shankland – who saw a penalty saved by Jack Hamilton at 0-0 – secured an eighth win in 11 cinch Premiership matches.
The victory took Hearts five points clear of fourth-placed Kilmarnock with a game in hand heading into the winter break.
“The pitch was rubbish, so I’m really pleased with the performance,” said Hearts boss Naismith. “It’s not a pitch you’re going to get any good football on so it becomes a battle.
“First half they got the better of the fight, they were picking up second balls. But second half we were much better at that and we had bits of quality.
“When we made our runs at the right times and played the right passes, we created chances.
“We got ahead, managed it well. We even had the setback of the penalty. I’ve played in Hearts teams that crumble at that point, so it was a big improvement.
“Overall this end to the year has been brilliant for us.”
Livingston – who pulled one back through an Andrew Shinnie penalty – go into the break six points adrift at the foot of the table after a 13th game in a row without victory.
Boss David Martindale felt Hearts forward Shankland, who scored his 18th goal of the season, was “the difference in the game”.
“He must be worth four or five million pound,” said the Lions boss. “We actually had some very good moments to win the game. There were a lot of positives bar the result.
“I felt it was a bit more of what I want from a Livingston team.
“But the top end of the park was the difference and Hearts have got a match-winner in their team.
“I know he misses the pen but the outside-of-the-foot finish for the second goal is fantastic.
“Our marking is diabolical, terrible. But that’s probably the difference: Lawrence Shankland.
“I look at him and compare him and he’s completely different from (Celtic striker) Kyogo but he’s slightly like (former Rangers forward Alfredo) Morelos.
“Lawrence has more in his overall game and a better mentality. When Morelos was at his prime, it’s a tough one but I’m probably taking Lawrence
“18 goals in all competitions, half-way through a season, is incredible numbers.
“It’s not just against us either, he’s scoring all types of different finishes against everyone.”