Heart of Midlothian were held to a 1-1 draw at home to Kilmarnock on Big Hearts Day. It leaves the team sitting third with an 11-point lead over their opponents.

The home side took the lead in the first half when Lawrence Shankland set up Kenneth Vargas to net from on the goal line. Both teams had chances but it was Killie who finished the opening 45 minutes stronger. And it was Derek McInnes' men who got the second goal of the match, equalising through a stupendous strike from Marley Watkins.

Neither team could find the winner despite both pushing for the three points.

Joel and James look back on the encounter in Gorgie:

READ MORE: Macaulay Tait's Hearts journey: Summer camps, Lowland League, first-team role

No change in race for third

Hearts had the chance to increase their commanding position in third but, like they did in the loss at Ross County, they passed up that opportunity. Steven Naismith talked pre-match about wanting a fast start and that's exactly what he got with a number of chances early on, including the opening goal from Kenneth Vargas.

In the end, Hearts had to settle for a point with Killie the team who finished the stronger of the two, posing a threat with their directness on the counter-attack. It will be a frustration for the home side they didn't test Will Dennis enough in the second half. They Rugby Park side have now just lost four of their last 20 matches in the west of Edinburgh.

For Naismith's men, it is still just two defeats in the last 18 matches, a superb return, but conversely, it is now just one win from the last five Premiership matches. 

St Mirren failed to make up ground after they were held by Motherwell but it is Paisley where Hearts travel next and it is a venue where Hearts don't have a great record. 

Shankland v Killie defence

Some of the reactions to Lawrence Shankland's misses for Scotland during the international break were both overblown and predictable. But he showed plenty in the loss to the Netherlands in terms of his link-up play. Despite being up against Virgil van Dijk, he probably had a tougher afternoon in the throes of the Kilmarnock backline. 

The Hearts captain is used to having to deal with the physical side of being a lone striker in the Scottish Premiership. But Kilmarnock are a whole other challange. Their back four are all comfortable playing centre-back, good in the air and strong. Joe Wright is someone who is very good at getting tight, grappling and making life very uncomfortable for forwards. Shankland had to use all his strength, his elbows and streetwise to get an inch. It wasn't a surprise to see him move wide for space or drop deeper to get some peace on the ball. 

It wasn't his best performance in a Hearts jersey and didn't get the chances he wants and at times his touch was just off or he made the wrong decision when linking play. Yet, he still delivered. One of those loose touches took him toward the byline where he stood up a brilliant cross, taking Killie goalkeeper Will Dennis out if the equation, allowing Kenneth Vargas to head home from on the line.

Grant sparkles and McKay returns

Jorge Grant’s displays have been a little up and down this season, but the 29-year-old playmaker showed how effective he can be for the men in maroon, particularly during the opening 45 minutes at Tynecastle. The midfielder was dropped for the 2-1 defeat away to Ross County a fortnight ago and without him, Hearts struggled to fashion any meaningful opportunities.

Grant showed Hearts what they had been missing when he came off the bench in Dingwall, setting up Yutaro Oda to reduce the deficit, and he underlined his case for selection with an encouraging first-half showing against Kilmarnock.

Hearts started strongly against their rivals for third place, and Grant was at the heart of most of the home side’s better attacking moves. He tested Will Dennis twice in the opening 10 minutes or so, taking up clever positions in the final third and then taking advantage of the space afforded to him.

Grant’s influence waned in line with Hearts’ attacking intensity as the game wore on, but he could be fairly pleased with his performance when he was brought off with 20 minutes to go. As could his replacement – but for very different reasons.

Hearts supporters don’t need to be told about what Barrie McKay can bring to the team, and the playmaker was warmly received when he came off the bench to make his first appearance since December, and only his eighth of the season in total. It has been another campaign disrupted by injury for McKay, but fans will be keen to see him regain his match fitness and contribute between now and the end of the season.

McKay is a popular figure in Gorgie – and it’s hugely encouraging to see him back out on the park.

Kent returns for Killie bombardment

Frankie Kent was conspicuous by his absence in the defeat to Ross County a fortnight ago, but the Englishman made a welcome return to the starting XI against Killie. The centre-back, who missed Hearts’ previous three games after picking up a knee injury, has been a reliable performer since joining from Peterborough United in the summer – and although he made his presence felt, there were one or two rusty moments from the 27-year-old.

There was a careless pass out from the back early on, and a fourth booking of the season during the first half when he mistimed a challenge on Marley Watkins. Killie were countering and Kent had to stop the striker one way or the other, but the yellow card meant he had to be on his best behaviour for the remainder of the game.

Unsurprisingly, Derek McInnes’ men tested Hearts’ resolve by crossing the ball into the hosts’ box at any given opportunity, and they certainly gave Naismith’s side a few scares. Kilmarnock twice grazed the woodwork with headers from set-pieces during the first half, and only a superb stop from Zander Clark prevented Watkins from equalising with a bulleted header right before the break.

Watkins would get his goal midway through the second half. The attacker was afforded the freedom of Gorgie 25 yards from Clark’s goal and when no pressure arrived – Kent, in particular, was guilty of sitting off his opponent – Watkins simply curled the ball into the top corner, denying Hearts a 15th clean sheet of the league season.

Mac start

Pre-match Steven Naismith explained that Macaulay Tait has followed the path of the plan that was set out at the start of the season. He became a regular member of the first-team training group and then part of the matchday squads. He would get his debut in the win over Celtic in December. That would be the first of nine substitute appearances, the most impressive being in the come-from-behind win at Dundee. He would usually make a positive impression. It led to this, his first start for his boyhood club.

He delivered another assured performance. Was it perfect? No, that would be asking too much of the teenage midfielder. There were some loose passes.  But it showed plenty of potential and encouragement. The 18-year-old looked to play quickly, moving the ball with one-touch passing or being positive with his first touch. His midfield partner Beni Baningime likes to control and assess but Tait injected a bit more speed into proceedings. The best demonstration of his composure and calmness with the ball was in the 56th minute when he got a pass fired to him under pressure. With one touch he controlled the ball and moved away from Daniel Armstrong.

One of the biggest positives of his performance was his willingness to get on the ball and demand it from teammates.