Kilmarnock boss Derek McInnes hailed his side’s spirit after they battled back from behind to defeat Hearts 2-1 at Rugby Park despite losing Rory McKenzie to a 60th-minute red card.
Lawrence Shankland fired Hearts ahead after six minutes, before Daniel Armstrong levelled midway through the first half from the penalty spot.
Hibernian loanee Christian Doidge would be the match winner, capitalising on an error from Hearts goalkeeper Zander Clark to bundle the ball home on the stroke of half-time.
McKenzie’s dismissal on the hour mark meant the hosts had to dig deep in the closing stages, though they held firm to move six points clear of Dundee United and four ahead of Ross County who currently occupy the relegation play-off position.
“I felt like the supporters and my players had to see the game out, we wouldn’t have asked to do it with 10 men of course, but it actually reinforces how strong a performance it was,” McInnes said.
“It was heroic at times, the effort was brilliant, the connection with the support was there and we’re going to need that – it was a very good day’s work and a thoroughly deserved win.
“It felt as if we were always on the edge and that we were playing last-minute football for about 40 minutes.
“It’s great for the staff to see the players get the rewards for such a high-energy performance as well as a good performance.”
With three games remaining until the league split, the Rugby Park boss knows there is still plenty of work to be done in order to see his side avoid the drop.
Having ended a run of five games without a victory, McInnes believes that winning in the circumstances they did against Hearts will come as a huge lift.
“We just need to go into the post-split fixtures in as good form as we can be and in as healthy a position as we can be – after that it’ll be a proper wrestle.
“We know we’ve beaten the teams around us already and we can do it again.
“We’ll be in the same situation in some of the games going forward, we’ll be ahead and it’s important we have the confidence to see the game out.”
Hearts boss Robbie Neilson was frustrated after seeing his side lose their fourth successive match in all competitions.
Having once been seven points ahead in third place, the Tynecastle side have seen their lead cut to one following their recent slump.
“We have to look at ourselves and we are going through a difficult period at the moment,” Neilson said.
“The game became erratic and got away from us, that’s the most frustrating thing.
“Everyone has to look at themselves and ask if they are doing enough, we have been through adversity before here, it’s a part of Hearts.
“We had a brilliant fan base here, there was massive frustration from them at the end and rightly so, but throughout the rest of the game they backed us.”