IT took 30 appearances, eight assists and the creation of countless opportunities for his team-mates, but Barrie McKay finally netted his first goal for Hearts – and it was certainly one waiting for at a sun-soaked Tynecastle.

It was a comfortable victory for Robbie Neilson’s men but McKay’s superb 18-yard volley into the far top corner following a Nathaniel Atkinson cross came at a time when Livingston were edging their way back into the match.

Already 1-0 down, Jack Fitzwater nodded a free header wide on the stroke of half-time and, shortly after the break, Joel Nouble showed strength and skill to get the better of Stephen Kingsley, then turn past Craig Halkett in the six-yard box before losing control at the crucial moment.

That was just before McKay dashed hopes on 58 minutes, with the former Rangers winger expressing a mixture of joy and relief as he trotted off to celebrate.

"I didn't think it would be a tap in when the goal came because he's a top player and we are lucky to have him,” said the Hearts manager. "I was behind it and when it left his boot, I thought it was going for the top corner.

The National:

"Hopefully that might open the floodgates for him. Barrie is a quiet lad and he just gets on with it, but the boys are giving him stick. We also had Beni scoring with another tackle!

"But it was great for Barrie to get off the mark.”

Either side of McKay’s strike the home goal was rarely threatened as they further cemented their grip on third place in the Premiership.

Hearts, wearing their Inter-style third kit, got off to the best possible start when Beni Baningimearrived late in the box to steer in a rebound, not too dissimilar from his first goal for the club in Scottish Cup win over St Mirren the previous week. It followed some good link-up play on the left between Liam Boyce and Ellis Simms, who were a constant menace down that side.

Simms collected Boyce’s pass before flashing a shot across goal. Atkinsion was there at the back post and somehow failed to tap into an open goal from a few yards before a hungry Baningime arrived to gobble up the chance.

"It's something we have been working on for a while,” continued Neilson. “There was period when where I think we had Haring, Baningime and Devlin on 60 between them and they hadn't scored a goal yet.

“So we're trying to get them in there and try and get them up the pitch.”

The former Everton youth later showed an outrageous piece of skill on the edge of the Livi box but it was to be one of his final actions as he left the field midway through the half with an injury, to be replaced by Alex Cochrane.

Hearts spurned opportunities to add to their lead through Halkett and Simms before Livingston’s best spell of the match following the break. That was cut short by McKay’s superb strike.

David Martindale responded with a triple-substitution. Of those, Sebastien Soto provided a spark and Andrew Shinne forced a comfortable save from Craig Gordon, but there was no way back. Livingston put up more of a fight in the second period but gave themselves an uphill struggle following their first-half efforts.

"Hearts deserved the three points,” said Martindale, who confirmed that top scorer Bruce Anderson is unlikely to recover from an ankle injury, sustained during training, in time for the run-in. “In the first half, we were very lethargic, toothless, too passive. We gave them too much respect and we were playing as individuals today.

"I think we are lucky to have Barrie McKay in the Premier League. He's a fantastic players and I can't believe he's still not playing in the English Championship.

“This game was always going to be a big ask. We are sitting 31 games into the season and sitting sixth. We could be sitting on 33 games and down in ninth or 10th.

“It’s that tight and we are going to have to work really hard for any points between now and the split because every team has something to fight for.

“There’s no easy games between now and game 38 but that’s testament to Scottish football.”