Football: Killie leave it late

Kilmarnock 2 Mahood 73, Reilly 90 Heart of Midlothian 2 McSwegan 7, Ritchie 22 Half-time: 0-2 Attendance: 8,376
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The Independent Online
IF THIS is the quality of their escapology act, then Kilmarnock ought to have little worries about avoiding the Scottish Premier League's trap-door.

Mark Reilly conjured up an incredible 35-yard left-foot equaliser deep into injury time to rescue a point for an upwardly mobile side who have had too many reasons to look down recently.

The news in midweek that Scotland had been awarded an extra place in next season's Uefa Cup must have seemed like the work of someone with a sick sense of humour at Uefa's Swiss headquarters to poor Kilmarnock. It was that longed-for reward of European football which has cast a cloud over the home front at Rugby Park.

A year ago they were challenging Rangers for the title, now they are second from bottom and the decline can be traced back to a 3-0 defeat by Kaiserslautern in the Uefa Cup in September. Since then, Bobby Williamson's team have enjoyed just one win in eight league games and now the fear is that Greenock, rather than Germany, will be on the itinerary next season.

Hearts, though, have fared little better, without a win for six games, yet that statistic seemed destined to be ripped up after they had raced into a two-goal lead after 21 minutes.

Gary McSwegan possesses the kind of nose for goals that has brought him to Craig Brown's attention, but the Scotland striker will have no easier task than the one in the seventh minute which brought his eighth goal of the season.

Gary Naysmith ended a powerful run down the left flank with a crisp low cross, and Kilmarnock's negligent marking allowed McSwegan room to side- foot his shot past the goalkeeper Colin Meldrum.

Another of Hearts' trio of Scotland players, Paul Ritchie, doubled the lead in the 21st minute with a moment Meldrum wanted to forget. He came for Steve Fulton's corner but never got close to it, and when Thomas Flogel nodded the ball back Ritchie had an easy task of netting from close range.

Kilmarnock's Frenchman, Christophe Cocard, provided a good cross for Gary Holt, whose miscued shot ended in the net via Ally Mitchell, but the latter was ruled offside.

After half-time, Hearts had enough chances to win three games. McSwegan seemed certain to punish Jim Lauchlan's mistake, but Meldrum read the striker's mind and blocked the shot. Then Stephane Adam, who had replaced Flogel, set up McSwegan with a measured cut-back, but that was tugged wide of an open goal.

The folly of such profligacy became apparent once Kilmarnock cut the deficit in the 72nd minute. Alan Mahood, who had come on for the labouring Jerome Vareille, rose unmarked to meet Mitchell's cross and power a header past McKenzie. If that was not enough to panic Hearts, they were forced to play the final 15 minutes with 10 men after Gary Locke was sent off following a foolish second booking for cutting down Mitchell.