Hartley adds to Hearts' conviction over title challenge

Livingston 1 Heart Of Midlothian 4
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The Independent Football

Although the 28-year-old midfielder and his manager, George Burley, both keep repeating the mantra that "it is still early days" to be talking about a title challenge, the Hearts' fans - who made up 6,000 of yesterday's 8,500 crowd - have already seen enough to believe this can be their year.

Debate continues to rage about the extent of Vladimir Romanov's influence on team affairs - the club's multi-millionaire owner insists he identifies new talent but never tries to pick the side - but the results cannot be argued with. Lithuanian cash, Scottish backbone and oodles of confidence have, so far, equalled attacking football and goals.

Hearts have not won six games at the start of a season for 91 years. It is probably almost as long since Rangers - who could only draw at Falkirk on Saturday - and Celtic, both stuttered so much at the start of a campaign to create such a climate of competition.

Hartley, who helped Scotland to secure a draw with Italy and a win in Norway in last week's World Cup qualifiers, provided an assist for Hearts' opener, which was bundled home by Rudi Skacel.

Andy Webster scored their second with an unmarked header before Hartley bulleted in the third after a strong run and rounded off the afternoon by converting a penalty.

Livingston's new signing, Paul Dalglish, scored when his side were 3-0 down and it might have been more than a consolation if Craig Gordon had not produced three decent saves.

Goals: Skacel (11) 0-1; Webster (27) 0-2; Hartley (34) 0-3; Dalglish (45) 1-3; Hartley pen (63) 1-4.

Livingston (3-5-2): McKenzie; Boyd, Mackay, Dorado; Brittain, N Barrett (Scott, 64), Vincze, Adams, Dair (Snodgrass, 70); G Barrett, Dalglish (McPake, 58). Substitutes not used: Roy (gk), Walker, Strong, Pereira.

Hearts (4-1-3-2): Gordon; Neilson, Pressley, Webster, Fyssas; Brellier; McAllister (Wallace, 81), Hartley, Skacel (Cesnauskis, 84); Jankauskas (Simmons, 58), Bednar. Substitutes not used: Banks (gk), Camazzola, Berra, Elliot.

Referee: D McDonald.

Booked: Livingston Brittain, Dorado, N Barrett, Scott; Hearts Brellier.

Man of the match: Hartley.

Attendance: 8,504.