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Hearts 1 - 2 St Johnstone: Saints pile more misery onto Jambos

Hearts' Jamie Hamill (left) hangs his head as Peter Enckleman gets the plaudits for his penalty save. Photo: Jeff Holmes/SNS

Hearts' Jamie Hamill (left) hangs his head as Peter Enckleman gets the plaudits for his penalty save. Photo: Jeff Holmes/SNS

THE mood at Tynecastle was far from joyous. The punters were unhappy with the performance of their own team and that of the officials, while the Hearts players were far from thrilled to go into another crunch game minus the full complement of their November wage.

THE mood at Tynecastle was far from joyous. The punters were unhappy with the performance of their own team and that of the officials, while the Hearts players were far from thrilled to go into another crunch game minus the full complement of their November wage.

And no one associated with the Gorgie club was pleased to see St Johnstone extend the gap on them by another three points.

The club had tried to appease those still awaiting their salary with a £1,000 instalment but, given that it represented a fraction of what was due, it was viewed as more of an insult than a solution and an indication that the full amount should not to be expected any time soon.

The saga has been a prolonged one and up until yesterday’s display the Hearts first team squad had done well to not let it affect them on the park. The victories may have been few and far between but the commitment had always been evident even when the outcomes were unfortunate.

In this one, though, in a match they needed to win to prevent St Johnstone pulling even further ahead of them in fourth place, they struggled to produce a cohesive and comfortable showing.

Defensively they were shambolic and unsure and while they looked a more determined and assertive force going forward after the break, St Johnstone were unwilling to relinquish the initiative.

They had assumed that advantage as early as the third minute. Dave Mackay’s cross drew in both Andy Webster and goalkeeper Marian Kello and the centre-back’s header made it only as far as Liam Craig, who brought it down and then sent a lovely lob into the empty net. Given St Johnstone’s away form and obvious reluctance to shed goals on the road (they had conceded just four on their SPL travels going into this one) it was the ideal start as they looked to build on manager Steve Lomas’ promising start at the club. In his two previous matches they had drawn at Ibrox and defeated Hibs, and the stage was set for another impressive result.

“It was a very good first half and I thought we were very much in control,” said Lomas, who like his opposite number Paulo Sergio was serving an SFA ban and watched proceedings from the stand. “I thought we could possibly have had another one and that would have made things easier because we knew that Hearts were going to come out and throw the kitchen sink at us. They had about five strikers on the pitch at one stage, but the lads at the back did fantastically well and big Pete made an unbelievable save at the penalty which could have been a turning point. It was a bit special and that was a key moment.”

While Hearts limitations at the rear were clear and prompted a reshuffle at half-time with Webster replaced by Mrowiec in the backline after the break, with Stephen Elliot on to bolster the attack, St Johnstone were the modicum of organised and proved resolute at repelling Hearts’ second-half pressure.

Elliot came close with his first touch after David Templeton had picked him out, but Encklemen was sprightly as he got down to save. That was in the 57th minute and the St Johnstone keeper followed that up with a penalty save five minutes later. John Sutton was the Hearts player hauled to the floor but Hamill was the man who took the spot kick, his effort to Enckleman’s right saved by the goalie.

It was a crucial moment and the misery of that miss was compounded when Murray Davidson’s foray into the Hearts box was halted unfairly and Dave Mackay fended off his team-mates to show the home side how to make those kind of opportunities count.

Davidson’s contribution was notable all afternoon and was rendered all the more laudable when it was revealed post-match that as well as learning his brother had been in a car crash the previous evening, he had been feeling unwell through the night.

Mackay’s goal was the clincher but he still had sympathy with the home players. He has known the anxiety of waiting for wages, suffering non-payment while at Dundee and Livingston in the past, and he concedes it is not pleasant. But for all Hearts’ misery, St Johnstone are a team on a high.

The team are now just four points off Motherwell in third place and have a head-to-head with the Fir Park side next weekend. They go into that brimming with confidence having weathered the late Hearts challenge for parity in this match.

Mehdi Taouil carved out a goal from nothing in the 85th minute and his long distance strike signalled the late cavalry charge.

Elliot forced another fine save from Enckleman in stoppage time, while Skacel’s effort zipped just across the face of goal seconds later. But just like the token financial gesture from the club, it was too little, too late.

 

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