Heart of Midlothian’s return from the international break was something of a mixed bag in the end. Anything other than a defeat would all but seal third place (barring a disastrous implosion over the final seven games of the campaign) and so a 1-1 draw with fourth-placed Kilmarnock wasn’t the worst result on the face of it.

It was an afternoon of ups and downs. On the plus side, important first-team players such as Frankie Kent and Barrie McKay returned from their respective injuries, gaining crucial minutes in their bids to regain their fitness, and there was a first-ever start for Macaulay Tait. The end result prompted Derek McInnes to concede that third was probably beyond his Killie side, and the home crowd were even treated to a strong start and promising attacking play from the outset.

It wasn’t all rosy, however. Hearts’ early momentum waned as the match progressed and the chances started to dry up. Steven Naismith’s men never looked comfortable with Killie’s attacking set-pieces, and Marley Watkins’ superbly-taken equaliser was no less than the visitors deserved.

Like we said: a mixed bag. But what does the data tell us about Saturday’s game? Let’s take a look.

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Strong start peters out

Hearts were quick out of the traps on Saturday afternoon, wasting no time in posing their opponents a few awkward questions straight from the get-go – and getting their early reward when Kenneth Vargas turned in Shankland’s looped cross to the back post.

It looked as though Vargas could hardly miss, but the expected goals (xG) data implies that this does the Costa Rican a disservice. StatsBomb had the xG at 0.60 – an excellent opportunity, sure, but perhaps not quite as clear-cut as it first appeared.

As the above xG race chart shows, Hearts would continue to fashion low-probability chances fairly regularly for the remainder of the first half but none were especially likely to go in; 13 of Hearts’ 16 shots on goal had an xG of less than 0.10. And from the second-half kick-off until stoppage time, the home side created very little of note.

Kilmarnock also struggled in an attacking sense during the same period, despite Watkins’ equaliser arriving in the 67th minute. Most of their opportunities came via set-pieces and although the xG from the eventual shots was relatively low, Killie came within inches of levelling the scores on three occasions during the opening 45 minutes. Zander Clark’s save to deny Watkins’ header in first-half stoppage time, meanwhile, was the highest-quality chance Kilmarnock fashioned across the full 90. In terms of the post-shot xG Watkins' effort was 0.87 meaning he would score 8.7 times out of 10, demonstrating how good a save it was by Clark.

READ MORE: Derek McInnes explains why Hearts are out of reach for Kilmarnock

Shape and passing

Both teams were set up in easy-to-understand formations. Hearts lined up in a 4-2-3-1 with Jorge Grant at No.10, and they stuck fairly rigidly to this shape. The two full-backs, Alex Cochrane and Dexter Lembikisa, played a little deeper to combat the threat posed by Danny Armstrong and Matty Kennedy, and Beni Baningime sat at the base of midfield while Tait got slightly further forward.

As the passing network above shows, the front four combined fairly well. Shankland was the fulcrum and saw a fair bit of the ball in the build-up, but perhaps didn’t see enough of it in the final third where he could really hurt Killie.

The passing maps also neatly demonstrate Kilmarnock’s strategy when going forward. The team can be broken down into two distinct units: defence (the back four and the two central midfielders) and attack (the wingers and the strikers). Watkins and Kyle Vassell would drop in the centre while Armstrong and Kennedy would push right up, getting into 1v1 situations with the Hearts full-back.

Armstrong didn’t get too much joy on Saturday, but Kennedy looked very dangerous from start to finish. Lembikisa struggled to handle the winger, and it was no coincidence that Kilmarnock’s equaliser arrived after some gaps opened up in this area of the park. Lembikisa was dribbled past three times in total: the same number as the entire Kilmarnock team combined over the 90 minutes.

READ MORE: Steven Naismith Q&A: International impact, Tait start, Vargas goal, main frustration

Pressing the wings

Hearts dominated the ball on Saturday – Naismith’s men finished the game with 62 per cent possession – but they still had to work hard off of it to keep Killie’s front four at bay. Almost all of the visitors’ attacks came down the wings, but the way they pressed was a little lopsided.

More pressure was applied down Hearts’ left to stifle Armstrong (a ploy that was largely successful) but Kennedy wasn’t under the same sort of pressure on the other side. The result was that attacks down Killie’s right were often snuffed out before they could really get going, but they were getting an awful lot of joy on the opposite flank.

Killie, meanwhile, pressed Hearts’ midfield during the first half, particularly the full-backs, before retreating to the edge of their own box in the second. The map above shows where McInnes’ men applied pressure on the ball when they were losing, and the one below shows how that changed when they were drawing. When they had to go for broke, they pressed out wide. And when they had something to hold on to, they defended the centre.

The change in pressing played its part in the chances drying up for Hearts. They simply couldn’t find those all-important pockets of space in the final third – and when they did, Kilmarnock were quick to react and snuff out the opportunities.

READ MORE: Calem Nieuwenhof on how Hearts move happened, Olympic aim and Vargas rebuttal

Shooting pains

Hearts largely struggled to find space in and around Killie’s box on Saturday, but this wasn’t surprising. Kilmarnock’s back four was comprised entirely of centre-backs and they defended narrowly, leaving Shankland and Co with little room for maneuver in attack.

The shot map above demonstrates the problem. It shows where Hearts had a pop on Saturday, and two things jump out immediately. The first is that, rather encouragingly, many of Hearts’ efforts on goal were struck from inside the box and in central areas, where your odds of scoring increase significantly. The second, more concerning observation is that of Heart’s 10 shots inside the box, five were off target and three were blocked.

Hearts simply didn’t test Will Dennis enough on Saturday – and could have few complaints about the final score as a result.