Hearts fans must have thought all their dreams had come true on Saturday. Football and a beer festival all rolled into one. Carlsberg don’t do perfect weekends, but if they did ...
The 3500-strong travelling support made full use of the big tent in the Town Square, giving it a noisy and thoroughly enjoyable atmosphere before heading along Pratt Street where the party simply continued at the expense of Raith Rovers.
A 4-0 final score said it all.
James Keating scored his first pro hat-trick and made off with a match ball Raith simply did too little with when they actually saw it.
They were effectively handed a tough footballing lesson by a sharper, smarter, faster Hearts outfit which has its sights clearly set on the title and promotion.
Even in the 89th minute with the game long since won they were closing players down, hustling and looking to motor.
For coach Robbie Nielson, the philosophy is simple: ‘‘Keep winning, keep on winning.’’ he said in his post-game briefing.
The commitment was crystallised just six minutes into the second half.
Hearts were 2-0 up and cruising when Sam Nicholson picked the ball up deep in his own half and took off on a near box-to-box run down the left and across the centre of the park, all of it without challenge. For 60 yards no-one tried to block him, slow him up or close him down until he was fouled on the left hand corner of Raith’s penalty box.
Keating took over, sized up the defensive all and simply placed his strike into the top corner for 3-0.
Somewhere in that solo run sat Raith’s midfield, but it was by-passed for too much of the afternoon, leaving Christian Nade with the hopeless, unsupported task of trying to find an inch of space from a solid defensive unit.
It took Rovers some 69 minutes to fashion a decent chance as sub Kevin Moon’s direct free kick forced ‘keeper Jason Hamilton into a save of any note, tipping the curling ball over for a corner.
Other than that they were on the back foot as Hearts dominated from start to finish.
They went ahead in ten minutes as a cut back found Nicholson whose cheeky backheel was worthy of a goal itself. Rovers cleared off the line but Keating was well placed to punish them with the rebound.
It was 2-0 in 26 minutes as a solid shot thundered off keeper Cuthbert’s chest - he looked cuplable for the opening two goals - and the ball to the edge of the box. Again, Keating was alert, grabbing the ball, making good space for himself with a great first touch before drilling home.
He was subbed to a standing ovation in the closing minutes, but Hearts weren’t finished.
Gary Oliver had little more than a half chance on the edge of the box, but, once again, the movement and thinking were too sharp for Rovers, and his strike into the net was precise.
Rovers can only chalk this one down to a masterclass in football at the hands of a team that already carries the aspirations of possible champions.
>> What was your take on the big game? tweet your views to @mattelder_ffp for inclusion in ‘Twittertalk’ column in next week’s nFife Free Press.