"Lawrence Shankland. I genuinely think Shankland was the difference in the game."

Livingston boss David Martindale was right but he was also wrong. The No.9 was technically the match-winner for Heart of Midlothian in West Lothian on Tuesday afternoon, sweeping in a brilliant outside-of-the-foot effort into the far corner of Jack Hamilton's goal.

The reason the Livi manager was also incorrect is because there was someone else wearing the pink of Hearts' change kit who was more pivotal.

Shankland's touch and finish was sublime but it came about from the awareness of Alan Forrest who spotted his team-mate heading towards the box before clipping a lovely pass away from three Livi players into the striker's path. 

READ MORE: Alan Forrest and Kenneth Vargas step up as Hearts sit pretty in third after Livi win

Forrest had already conjured up a bit of magic to set up Kenneth Vargas for the opener and was the team's best player on the day. As Steven Naismith quite rightly pointed out: "Al was man of the match."

It was one of, if not the best performance in a Hearts jersey for the former Livingston star. When the team needed someone to step up, Forrest took it upon himself to do so. Even before his two assists, he was at the heart of everything positive in an attacking sense. 

A look at the pass network demonstrates how involved he was at the Tony Macaroni Arena. 

He would link regularly with Alex Cochrane and Stephen Kingsley, as well as Lawrence Shankland. His orange circle indicates that his involvement was routinely positive. And that is one of the qualities he brings to the team, his positivity. While not everything he does comes off, he does try to progress the game. No Hearts player recorded more key passes (passes that lead to a shot) and passes into the box, while his 16 passes into the final third from open play was twice the number of the next most.

In the space of two minutes in the first half, he was at the heart of two of the best bits of play. Firstly, dribbling forward before checking his run and slipping Peter Haring into the box.

That came before offering a short option to Stephen Kingsley and then making a run in behind Mikey Devlin. 

He caught Devlin out with a similar run at the start of the second half, getting in on his blindside and winning a penalty. Importantly, it wasn't just making a run for the sake of it. In both instances, he's pointing exactly where he wants the ball played. It seems simple but it's remarkable how few players make such a demand.

It was leading up to his best moment, combining everything that can be good about Forrest. He makes himself an inconvenience, winning the ball back in the middle of the pitch.

Then takes a return from Vargas and then it is head down and motor up the line. He has an awareness of how the game is developing with all important look up and quick pass to release the Costa Rican to open the scoring.

After the game, Naismith described him as "a big player" for Hearts

"He’s someone who has had to be patient," he said. "He’s got really good attributes. I’ve questioned his big moments. Can we get him to be more consistent? He’s worked as hard as anybody in the squad to make sure he gets his opportunity and he’s got it. Hopefully he will sign a new contract soon. He’s a big player for us." 

If you were to poll the club's fans coming into the season on 'which player would be described as "a big player for us" by Naismith halfway through the season?' the likelihood is that Forrest would have been down the list of candidates.

READ MORE: What Hearts fans can expect in the January transfer window: Priority and Shankland

His first campaign was... okay? Underwhelming, even? He featured in 47 of the club's 50 matches but started fewer than half of those. He was essentially a squad player.

There is no doubt the 27-year-old has shown improvement. Comparing the league campaign so far with that of last season through StatsBomb shows the marked improvement. 

Simply put, he is more dangerous on the ball. If there is one metric that demonstrates that, it is dribble and carry OBV (On-Ball Value). It essentially measures how good a player is at moving the ball to high-value areas of the pitch and improving his team's chances of scoring. Forrest is in the top five in the Scottish Premiership, alongside Celtic's Luis Palma and behind only Rangers pair Todd Cantwell and Ross McAusland.

It is especially noticeable when Forrest has come off the bench in home games. He immediately injects energy and directness into the team, scampering with and without the ball into the final third, making runs across and behind opponents and driving at them with the ball.

Is he the finished product? Absolutely not. Naismith said he has questioned him in the big moments. He does need to add more numbers to his game, especially goals because he gets into good areas. But he is guilty of taking too long to get a shot away and getting too close to the goalkeeper. 

That is the next stage of his development as a Hearts player. But he is the type of player teammates will love, as well as the management team. A reliable player who will follow instructions and offer plenty of work rate. That's why he has been trusted to play as a winger, as part of the front three, as part of a front two and as a wing-back.

READ MORE: Hearts tactics: Steven Naismith on formation, pressing, set pieces and deep defences

One supporter, on social media after the Livingston game, compared him to Park Ji-sung, Manchester United's former South Korean star. He was adored by Sir Alex Ferguson. He could fill in at different roles and he would play the big games because of his ability to work, selflessly, for the team. It is a very good comparison. Players like that are huge assets. It was no surprise he was the one asked to play up front at Celtic alongside Shankland, for example.

It makes absolute sense Naismith and the club want to tie him down to a new deal with his contract up in the summer. There will be differences of opinion among the club's support but he personifies something Naismith wants to stop at the club, a massive churn of players.

Craig Halkett, Barrie McKay, Stephen Kingsley and Liam Boyce are guys who should make up the core of the squad and provide continuity. They are unlikely to be sold for big money, but they are individuals who have experience and know what it takes to perform in Scotland. Forrest, on his levels this season, can be deemed part of that group.

And, against Livingston, he showed why he can be deemed "a big player" for Heart of Midlothian.