IT WILL be interesting to see how Stewart Gilmour votes with regards to SPL 2 if Dundee can get another three points on Sunday and take the battle for a place in next season’s top tier down to the final two matches of the campaign.
Scorers: Walker (13), McHattie (43), Hamill (53)
Bookings: Hearts - Barr, Walker; St Mirren - van Zanten, Thompson, Mclean (sent off)
The SPL clubs will meet on Tuesday and few around the table will have believed that the relegation battle would have been so prolonged, but while the mind games being indulged in by Dens Park gaffer John Brown have been taken with a pinch of salt by the players in the St Mirren dressing room, according to striker Steven Thompson, the missed opportunities are beginning to mount up.
For the second week in succession Danny Lennon’s men travelled to Edinburgh knowing that they could secure their top-flight survival. Against Hibs last week, a win would have sealed it but they had to settle for a draw.
At Tynecastle yesterday a similar outcome would have been enough. They lost. On both occasions they started slowly, in both games they were at least a goal down before they made a match of it.
They are adamant that their bottle hasn’t crashed but things are more edgy than they needed to be.
“There’s certainly been some inconsistency with us and the league table doesn’t lie,” admitted Lennon, “but there are six very important points remaining and we want all six of them. It’s after game 38 that the prizes are given out and by then, if we can get our house in order, then we can maybe find ourselves one or two places above where we are now.”
Yep, when you’re on a tightrope, don’t look down.
While rueing their own inadequacies, both Thompson and Lennon insisted the officials had played their part. The captain was apoplectic when he was denied a penalty just minutes into the second half, claiming he was hauled back in the box, while his manager said the penalty which was awarded at the other end just minutes later proved that the key decisions hadn’t gone his side’s way.
But this was a match Hearts thoroughly deserved to win and they did so while being denied a spot kick shout of their own, in the 20th minute, when Paul Dummett handled in the area.
By that stage they were already one up and St Mirren were on the ropes. The opening goal was a collector’s item, and the fact it came from young Jamie Walker was fitting given the way he had grabbed a hold of proceedings from the outset, giving David Van Zanten such a tortured time, the right-back was substituted eight minutes from the interval. Craig Samson had no chance of stopping Walker’s 13th minute drive into the top corner.
If one kid getting his second goal of the season was something to smile about for the home fans, the first goal of the campaign for another of their youngsters had them bouncing. That came two minutes before the break, a 25 yard free-kick driven low by Kevin McHattie, which doubled the home side’s tally.
St Mirren had rejigged things, replacing Van Zanten with Sam Parkin and they did cause a few more problems in the second half, trying a more direct approach. Gary Teale forced a save from Jamie MacDonald four minutes after the restart, Jason Holt then had to clear off the line as St Mirren tried to find a way to claw their way back into the game.
But after Thompson’s appeals for a penalty yielded a yellow card for dissent rather than a scoring opportunity, Hearts punished them further. In the 54th minute they quickly turned defence into attack. The breakaway climaxed with Ryan Stevenson checking his run and playing the ball through the middle for McHattie to surge in on goal and with only the keeper to beat he was clipped by Kenny McLean. It left St Mirren with ten men and Jamie Hamill scored from the spot.
Lennon said he hadn’t seen a replay of the incident but believed his goalkeeper and defenders who claimed McLean had played the ball. McHattie was having none of it. “I thought it was a penalty because I was shielding the ball with my left foot and he came right through the back and took away my right foot. It was a bit unfortunate for him but it was a penalty.”
Three goals and a clean sheet would be more than Hearts fans could have hoped for at times this season but they also had the bonus of seeing yet another two graduates of their club academy making their league debuts when David Smith and Jordan McGhee came on.
The off-field issues continue to cast a shadow but they are not the only team with reasons to be concerned at the moment. At least the solution to St Mirren’s woes is in their own hands.
Hearts (4-4-2): MacDonald; Hamill, Barr, McGowan, McHattie; Holt, Stevenson, Taouil, Walker (B King 81); Carrick (D Smith 65), Sutton. Subs: Ridgers, McGhee, G Smith,, McKay, Prychynenko.
St Mirren (4-4-2): Samson; Van Zanten (Parkin 38), Mair, McAusland, Dummett; Teale, Newton, McGowan, McLean; Thompson (Guy 74), Goncalves (Robertson 60). Subs: Adam, Imrie, Carey, Guy, McGinn.