Report as in-form Hearts win 2-1 at the Scottish Premiership's bottom side Livingston; Kenneth Vargas and Lawrence Shankland scored second-half goals to make it eight wins in 11 league matches; Livingston pulled one back through Andrew Shinnie's penalty but are now 13 games without a win
Tuesday 2 January 2024 21:02, UK
Kenneth Vargas and Lawrence Shankland scored second-half goals as in-form Hearts eked out a 2-1 win at struggling Livingston to tighten their grip on third place heading into the cinch Premiership winter break.
The Jambos - whose top scorer Shankland saw a penalty saved at 0-0 - endured a nervy finale after Livingston pulled one back through an Andrew Shinnie spot-kick.
But they held firm to make it eight wins in 11 league matches since the start of November, a run that has allowed them to sign off for the winter break five points clear of fourth-placed Kilmarnock with a game in hand. Livi, by contrast, are six points adrift at the foot of the table after a 13th game in succession without victory.
Both sides made five changes each after disappointing results at the weekend. Livi's alterations included goalkeeper Jack Hamilton taking over from Shamal George, while new Australian striker Tete Yengi was listed among the substitutes. Hearts boss Steven Naismith handed Austrian midfielder Peter Haring a first start since mid-September.
Livi started brightly and Ayo Obileye saw a header from a James Penrice corner well saved by Hearts keeper Zander Clark in the second minute.
The Lions thought they had gone ahead in the ninth minute when Kurtis Guthrie powered home a header from a Shinnie cross. However, a full three minutes after the ball nestled in the net, the goal was disallowed as the scorer was deemed to be offside following a VAR review.
Hearts struggled to get a foothold early on but they started to create some chances as the half wore on. Shankland prodded an effort over in the 32nd minute before the Jambos captain glanced a header off the crossbar two minutes later. Vargas then shot over from just inside the box, on the stroke of half-time.
The Jambos started the second period on the front foot and Vargas fired just wide after driving forward to the edge of the box.
Hearts were awarded a penalty in the 48th minute when Lions skipper Michael Devlin fouled Alan Forrest as he ran on to a through pass from Alex Cochrane.
Shankland - who missed a spot-kick against Hibernian last Wednesday - fired the ball straight down the middle and saw his effort saved by the legs of Hamilton before Toby Sibbick headed the rebound over.
The breakthrough came for the visitors in the 52nd minute when Vargas ran on to a lovely pass from Forrest, burst into the box and slotted low beyond the exposed Hamilton.
After Obileye tried to conjure an equaliser with a shot that deflected just over, on the hour mark, Hearts doubled their lead in the 63rd minute when Shankland guided home his 18th goal of the season with the outside of his right foot after being set up by Forrest just inside the box.
Livi got themselves back in the game with 12 minutes remaining when Shinnie tucked home a penalty after Frankie Kent was deemed to have handled in the box following a VAR review, but Hearts held firm for a fourth win.
The Scottish Premiership now stops for the winter break, with all teams returning to action in the Scottish Cup.
Livingston are at home to Championship side Raith Rovers on January 20 at 3pm. Hearts face League Two club The Spartans at 12.15pm on the same day.