STEVIE May celebrates his 21st birthday today but he has long-since come of age, maturing nicely into a player St Johnstone can rely on.
Hasselbaink 29′ May 53′
They were already a goal up against Hearts but his ninth goal of the season was the one that quelled Hearts’ hopes of an in-match rehabilitation.
“It killed us,” said Tynecastle boss Gary Locke of that goal at the beginning of the second half. Once again he was left to bemoan his players’ lack of consistency, insisting that if they had managed to replicate their midweek performance, when they knocked Hibs out of the League Cup, they could have taken something from a league game for the first time since August.
The hope as far as Hearts were concerned was that after that derby win, they would take to the park in this one a side imbued with greater self-confidence, the cup win having offered them some welcome respite from the unrelenting grind of this season’s Premiership campaign.
But having been reacquainted with the winning feeling, they found it impossible to hang onto it, the opening goal from Nigel Hasselbaink in the 28th minute doing more than the torrential rain to dampen spirits within the ground.
It was a goal the home side will feel they could have prevented, but unable to block a cross into the box, they were punished when Hasselbaink, pictured right, headed the ball into Jamie MacDonald’s net. It was the forward who had played the ball out to Chris Millar and when the cross came back in, he was clinical.
“We lost a poor goal again but it was the way we started the second half that killed us,” added the Hearts manager.
The pairing of Hasselbaink and May is one that is blossoming according to their delighted manager Tommy Wright and May waded in with the second goal of the game six minutes into the
second half to complete the scoring and guarantee St Johnstone all three points and a jump up the league standings into fifth.
“They are a nice wee partnership,” admitted Wright, who was forced to forge that forward unit after Steven McLean picked up his injury. It was expected that he would be in contention again soon but, having trained on Friday, it seems all is not well, with a trip to a specialist needed tomorrow. “Nigel is a handful and in that last third defenders will worry about him. He has good feet and good body strength and he got one with a header. They are a different partnership from Stevie and Steven McLean but it has blossomed.”
But while delighted with his strikers’ contributions, he is not one of those calling for May to be included in the upcoming Scotland squad.
“I think it might be a bit too early for him,” he said, desperate for perspective. “I don’t expect it yet but if he can have three or four months playing at that level then I’m sure Gordon Strachan will look at him.”
There was little between the teams in the opening half hour but having got their noses in front, the Perth side had sussed that a more up tempo showing in the second half would serve them well. Having underlined their abilities to mix it at the higher echelons of the league table with wins over Inverness Caledonian Thistle and Motherwell in recent weeks, it is against the more lowly teams that they have stuttered. Not yesterday, though.
Having taken the lead, they then raised their game after the interval, with the likes of Chris Millar and David Wotherspoon providing the platform for their strikeforce and while Hearts will rue their defending, St Johnstone will be happy to celebrate their own efforts.
Saints threatened with shots from Gary McDonald and Wotherspoon but Hearts had numerous chances to clear the danger and in the 51st minute, with efforts having been blocked by Jamie Hammill and Dylan McGowan before Jamie MacDonald had to intervene to stop another shot, no-one could get the ball out of the penalty box and birthday boy May sent a right-foot shot from the left-hand side of the area into the top corner of the net.
It was a decent way to start his birthday celebrations. “Yeah it was. It was a good win for the boys, that’s three wins on the bounce,” he said. “This was always going to be a tough one after they got the boost against Hibs. At 1-0 it is always a dodgy scoreline and you always want that cushion of another goal, so when my goal went in for the second, it was great. We managed to hold on relatively well without conceding too many chances.”
Locke, who although frustrated, is adamant that he has the quality within his threadbare squad to stay up, tried to rejig things, throwing on all three of his substitutes in the hope that they could kickstart a comeback but St Johnstone worked hard to ensure they would find no glimmer of light, restricting them to long range speculative shots of the odd wayward header from a set piece.
“We have got people who work hard and make it difficult for the opposition,” said Wright. “That was important in this game because Hearts had a tremendous result on Wednesday and we knew that with Gary having to play a lot of young players that would help us.”