Patience paid off in the end for Hearts as Kenneth Vargas scored his first goal in maroon 11 minutes from time to secure a crucial victory over Livingston. The West Lothian club defended manfully for much of the night at Tynecastle Park, however their resistance was broken due to relentless home pressure.
Vargas stroked home at the back post ten minutes after entering the field as a substitute and enjoyed a celebratory knee slide in front of the Gorgie Road Stand. He earned Hearts three vital points to propel them into the top half of the cinch Premiership table. It had been a long night until the Costa Rican provided a decisive finish to fellow substitute Jorge Grant’s low cross.
The hosts entered this fixture after a run of only three wins in 11 matches and badly needed a result after successive losses to Celtic and Rangers. They deserved the win after playing most of the match camped in Livingston's half. Indeed, their victory would have been considerably more comfortable but for umpteen saves by the visiting goalkeeper Jack Hamilton.
After a minute's silence in Hearts' closest home match to Remembrance weekend, the hosts pressed Livingston back early on. Lawrence Shankland's delightful backheel sent Alan Forrest into the visitors' penalty area on 20 minutes, and after a challenge the ball broke for Shankland to curl a shot off the crossbar.
The probing put Hamilton under occasional pressure at his former place of work. He helped block Frankie Kent's header across goal following a free-kick. Hearts distributed the ball from defence with an intent to attack on most occasions, the problem was they encountered a well-drilled Livingston defence which crowded them out in the final third.
The West Lothian side offered little in the way of an attacking threat during the first 45 minutes as striker Joel Nouble found himself drawn back into his own half due to his team's low block. Alex Lowry combined with Shankland on 39 minutes for a vicious drive which Hamilton beat away. Another effort from Shankland was deflected over the bar in first-half stoppage-time.
Hamilton dived to his right to push Stephen Kingsley's 25-yard attempt to safety shortly after the interval. Alex Lowry's shot then rose over the crossbar as Hearts, with Grant on for Cammy Devlin in midfield, tried to increase the tempo. Grant's shot was comfortably collected by Hamilton after 65 minutes.
The Tynecastle support began growing restless with the hour mark passed and the scoreline still blank. Their team had dominated possession and hemmed the opposition in for virtually the entire evening. However, despite numerous shots at goal, the breakthrough continued to prove elusive. Another strike from Lowry saw Hamilton in action again as the keeper touched the ball over his goal frame for a corner.
Hearts became more desperate as the minutes ticked away. And, with that, Livingston's resolve grew as they sensed the chance for a useful point in Gorgie. The game was now a repetition of attack after attack from the home players with yellow jerseys camped in their own half. Eventually, the breakthrough arrived on 79 minutes.
Grant spun inside the opposition penalty area to deliver a low ball across the face of goal, and Vargas was lurking at the back post to fire into the net. He was ecstatic at scoring his first goal since joining the Edinburgh club on loan from CS Herediano in August.
That calmed the nerves of the locals and, although Hearts looked for a second, they knew they simply needed to see this game out. After seven minutes of time added on, their victory was confirmed.