Heart of Midlothian moved one step closer to group-stage European football next season with a goalless draw at Kilmarnock - but Steven Naismith and his players were unable to get third sewn up in Ayrshire.

James Cairney offers his instant analysis of the game.

Killie delay the inevitable

A win for Hearts would have sealed third place and confirmed group-stage European football next season, Kilmarnock made the visitors wait. Not that the travelling fans let that deter them. It didn’t take the sizable away contingent long to get the party started. They spent the first five minutes of the game loudly singing about watching Gorgie on a Thursday night – alongside the customary dig at Hibs, naturally – as inflatable beach balls were chucked hither and yon around the Chadwick Stand. Last season’s campaign in the Europa Conference League group stages gave supporters a taste of what regular trips to the continent is like, and they are now understandably salivating at the minimum of eight European games that await next term. Hearts remain 11 points clear with four to go and it is a case of when, not if, third will be sealed. What a feeling it will be when it comes – and there will be hopefully be some great nights ahead.

Devlin gets forward

It tends to be the tenacious midfielder’s off-the-ball work that helps the Aussie stand out on the pitch, and he does most of his best work in the middle of the park as a ball-winner. Cammy Devlin lined up in his usual position on the right of the midfield three, but it was notable that he was bursting a gut to get forward and support the attack. Three times in the opening 15 minutes he lost his marker and darted upfield to become Hearts’ most advanced player, and on two of those occasions he managed to tee up Lawrence Shankland. At times he was almost playing like a striker in the build-up, acting as the team’s focal point at the tip of the spear, and his runs in behind the Killie backline caused all sorts of problems throughout the afternoon but especially early on. We saw another side of Devlin against Killie – and it was an impressive sight indeed.

READ MORE: Steven Naismith provides Beni Baningime injury update after Killie draw - Q&A

Kilmarnock cling on

By the time the half-time whistle rang out at Rugby Park, the away fans must have been wondering how the game was only level. Zander Clark, back in the starting line-up at the expense of Craig Gordon, barely had a save to make but at the other end, Hearts had more than enough chances to take the lead. Twice they hit the woodwork – the first saw Kenneth Vargas hit the bar from 15 yards out in a 1v1 with Will Dennis, and the second was a curled Devlin effort from the edge of the box that rebounded off the frame of the goal – and although they were fashioning opportunities fairly regularly, that all-important final touch was missing. Jorge Grant and Frankie Kent both went close too but try as they might, Hearts just couldn’t find the breakthrough.

Kennedy kept quiet

When these two sides last met at Tynecastle Park last month, Kilmarnock winger Matty Kennedy was the game’s standout player. He gave Dexter Lembikisa a torrid time, twisting this way and that as he created chance after chance for Derek McInnes’ side. Hearts fans could be forgiven for fearing that history would repeat itself when the team lines were announced, with Lembikisa playing at right wing-back facing up against Kennedy once more. There has been a sense that the on-loan Wolves defender is better going forward than he is at bread-and-butter defending, but credit where it’s due: Lembikisa was very much up for the battle and fared far, far better on this occasion. The result? One of Kilmarnock’s most creative players struggled to make his influence felt and McInnes’ men struggled to create as a result.

Naismith sticks to his guns

The Hearts head coach isn’t afraid to implement tactical tweaks, changes in shape or make substitutions during a match if he isn’t happy with what he’s seeing – but he didn’t change much at all as the game unfolded at Rugby Park. Macaulay Tait replaced Beni Baningime minutes before the break when the latter picked up an injury, but it took until the 72nd minute for Naismith to make an unenforced sub when Alan Forrest came on for Vargas. It seems reasonable to assume, then, that Naismith was fairly pleased with what he’d seen, despite the 0-0 scoreline. Only an excellent double save from Dennis on Grant kept the game goalless, and a Shankland effort from distance whistled narrowly over the bar. Aidan Denholm and Barrie McKay came on for the final 10 minutes or so, but neither the team’s shape nor their approach was altered. Naismith’s take on it all seemed to be – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Hearts might not have got the win they wanted, but they were the better team and the approach was right.