HEARTS’ Europa League ambitions suffered another set-back as they were held to a drab 0-0 draw by Kilmarnock at Rugby Park.

Ian Cathro’s team were hoping to apply some pressure on St Johnstone as they prepare for the Ladbrokes Premiership’s final stretch.

But their toothless display in Ayrshire means the Perth men could open up a seven-point lead in the race for fourth place if they beat Aberdeen on Saturday.

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Jambos chairwoman Ann Budge issued a statement in midweek which branded press coverage of Cathro’s four-and-a-half moth reign “ludicrous’ – but even she would have been hard pressed to defend this display.

Killie battled well for their point but boss Lee McCulloch will feel they probably should have walked away with the win. The result is Killie’s fourth stalemate in five games but could yet prove handy as they look to kill off lingering relegation fears as they move 10 points clear of basement boys Caley.

Hearts controlled the opening stages but lacked the tempo needed to breakdown McCulloch’s well-organised Killie defence.

And with the visitors growing ever more frustrated, Kilmarnock’s confidence surged. The hosts were happy to go direct and a clever first time pass from Luke Hendrie released Sean Longstaff into space, but the on-loan Newcastle youngster’s 25-yard effort flew over.

Dean Hawkshaw’s back-heel created Killie’s first chance after the break as Callum Roberts went close with a near-post drive. Kris Boyd then got his head to Luke Hendrie’s cross but saw his attempt roll wide.

Hearts were finding it harder and harder to get a grip on the game and their irritation almost boiled over when Kystian Nowak slid in late on Iain Wilson, but ref Euan Anderson showed mercy with only a yellow.

The home support were also beginning to grow crabby as their side failed to make more of their opportunities, especially when Boyd lashed over from 12 yards out.

Hearts finally got themselves on the front foot five minutes from time but saw Goncalves’ strike deflected wide before the Portuguese striker someone kicked at fresh air after Smith hooked the ball into the danger zone.

Boyd had two goes in stoppage time to snatch victory but first blasted a free-kick off-target before his diving header flew wide.