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Marley Watkins guarantees top-six finish for Kilmarnock with equaliser at Hearts

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Marley Watkins (left) was on target (PA)
Marley Watkins (left) was on target (PA)

Marley Watkins scored a stunning second-half equaliser as Kilmarnock guaranteed their place in the top six of the cinch Premiership with a 1-1 draw away to Hearts.

The hosts seized the initiative early on when Kenneth Vargas nodded home the opener at the end of a week in which it was confirmed that the Costa Rica forward – initially signed on loan – had agreed a five-year contract with the Tynecastle club.

However, Killie hit back for a point in an entertaining match that could have gone either way.

The result ensured the fourth-placed Ayrshire side – who remain 11 points behind third-placed Hearts – cannot be overtaken by seventh-placed Hibernian before the league splits next month.

Hearts made four changes to the team that started the 2-1 defeat at Ross County prior to the international break as Kye Rowles, Toby Sibbick, Nathaniel Atkinson and Aidan Denholm made way for Frankie Kent, Dexter Lembikisa, Jorge Grant and 18-year-old Macaulay Tait, who was handed his first start.

There was just one alteration to the Kilmarnock side that began the 5-2 home win over St Mirren as right-back Lewis Mayo replaced David Watson.

The visitors had the first notable attempt in the fifth minute when Watkins headed Matty Kennedy’s cross straight at Zander Clark.

Two minutes later the Hearts keeper had to race back to his line and tip over a speculative Liam Polworth effort from close to the half-way line.

From the resulting Killie corner, Vargas burst upfield from the edge of his own box and slipped the ball into the path of Grant, whose stinging strike from 25 yards out was pushed behind by Will Dennis.

The Jambos took the lead in the 10th minute when Vargas nodded in from a couple of yards out after Lawrence Shankland got on the end of Alex Cochrane’s delivery from the left and clipped the ball back into the danger area from the right edge of the six-yard box.

Hearts had a good chance to double their advantage two minutes later but Grant shot tamely at Dennis after being picked out by Shankland cutback.

Killie threatened an equaliser in the 27th minute when Stuart Findlay glanced a header just wide from Kennedy’s free-kick into the box.

At the other end, Shankland tested Dennis with a low strike from edge of the box on the half-hour.

Killie finished the half strongly, with Joe Wright powering a header over the bar before Watkins saw a header brilliantly clawed out by Clark.

Hearts started the second period on top and Vargas went close to a second in the 50th minute when his shot from 20 yards out was pushed behind by Dennis.

But just as the Jambos were starting to look reasonably comfortable, Killie equalised in the 67th minute as Watkins arced a stunning strike high beyond Clark and into the net from just outside the box.

Playwire

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