Liam Boyce scored a double as Hearts eased into the fifth round of the Scottish Cup with a routine 5-0 victory over West of Scotland League side Auchinleck Talbot at Beechwood Park.
Andy Halliday, Peter Haring and Alex Cochrane were the other players on target.
The scoreline could have been more emphatic if not for some highly dubious decisions from the match officials in the first half which cost the cinch Premiership side – and Northern Irish striker Boyce in particular – further goals.
Hearts defender John Souttar, who has agreed a pre-contract to join Rangers at the end of the season, was left out.
The official reason given for his absence was an ankle injury, although he is believed to have been omitted as the clubs are in negotiations to try to strike a deal for him to move to Ibrox this month.
Top scorer Boyce returned to the starting line-up in place of Josh Ginnelly, while Halliday replaced Gary Mackay-Steven.
Auchinleck, who had lost twice to Hearts at Tynecastle over the previous decade, started on the front foot and threatened in the opening minute when Bryan Boylan hooked a shot over from Graham Wilson’s cut-back.
Hearts’ first chance came in the seventh minute when Stephen Kingsley headed over from a Barrie McKay corner.
The visitors thought they had taken the lead in the ninth minute when Boyce tapped home after Nathaniel Atkinson ran on to a McKay through ball and knocked the ball into the Northern Irishman’s path but the offside flag cut short the celebrations. Replays showed it should have stood.
Hearts made the breakthrough after 15 minutes when Halliday nodded in McKay’s cross from close range.
The Tynecastle side were denied by another ropey offside call in the 19th minute when Boyce was wrongly flagged before putting the ball in the net after running on to a Halliday pass.
There was yet more frustration for the visitors in the 27th minute when Auchinleck defender Craig McCracken punched a McKay cross over his own crossbar but the officials failed to spot it.
A key decision eventually went Hearts’ way in the 39th minute when they were awarded a penalty after Boyce flicked the ball up against the hand of Chris Stafford. The Northern Irishman took the kick himself and made no mistake in finding the net.
Boyce put the outcome beyond doubt in the 52nd minute when he headed home his side’s third goal from Halliday’s left-wing cross.
Haring then fired home from 12 yards out with 10 minutes left when he ran on to a pass from substitute Aaron McEneff. And Cochrane sealed the win when he tapped in a low delivery from fellow wing-back Atkinson.
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