SEEING that the previous match at Tynecastle saw the hosts and Ross County induce elevated levels of boredom among those in attendance, this encounter was a pleasant surprise for the 16,000 fans who braved the typical end-of-season stereotypes to cheer on their sides. It was entertaining, full-blooded and had more than a little controversy.
St Johnstone were looking to finish the season with their highest-ever points total, while Hearts were out to end the campaign in style having defeated Aberdeen at Pittodrie in midweek. In the end, both sides were forced to settle for a draw amid plenty of talking points.
The biggest of which was a red card dished out to Hearts striker Abiola Dauda. Thursday’s match-winner against Aberdeen went in late on former Hibs captain Liam Craig, sparking a melee in the St Johnstone half. Once the dust had settled, referee Greg Aitken sent Dauda packing. Tommy Wright later called it a “disgraceful” challenge, though the opposing manager didn’t agree.
“I’m disappointed in it, I think the reaction of the players was what made it a sending off,” said Robbie Neilson. “I’ve watched it and he actually stands on the back of his foot. It’s not intentional and it’s the ruckus after that makes the referee react. It’s his last game, he’s going back [to Vitesse]. It’s not the way he wanted but it’s no fault of his own.”
While the red card increased tensions between the sides, it actually ended up detracting from what was a thoroughly absorbing spectacle until that point. Having scored six times in their two trips to Tynecastle this season, St Johnstone played without fear and soon found themselves in front.
In the other controversial moment of the game, John Souttar was whistled for pulling down striker Graeme Cummins. Few expected the referee’s whistle to cut through the air but Aitken did just that, pointing to the spot before Craig dispatched the spot-kick into the bottom corner.
With Hearts still reeling from the decision they found themselves 2-0 down as Cummins stabbed home from close range following Danny Swanson’s corner.
Just when it seemed Hearts were poised to suffer another Saints drubbing, Arnaud Djoum brought them right back into the match. Prince Buaben’s cross wasn’t properly cleared and the midfielder was on hand to loop a header into the top corner. Four minutes later the match was all square. Again it was Buaben creating chaos in the away defence as his cross missed Juanma but was turned into his own net by Joe Shaughnessy.
Dauda went close with two efforts that were saved by Alan Mannus, the second of which was a spectacular one-handed stop after the striker headed debutant Lewis Moore’s cross towards goal.
St Johnstone almost got themselves back in front five minutes later when Cummins got to the byline and, despite initially losing his footing, managed to cut the ball back for Swanson. The midfielder, who was a Hearts player earlier this season, stabbed towards goal but saw his effort booted off the line by Callum Paterson.
Cummins himself had the first good chance of the second half, floating an attempted chip off Jack Hamilton high over the bar.
Then came the red card and subsequent handbags, which saw Djoum and Darnell Fisher each collect a booking for their part. It was Hearts’ tenth red card of the season, and while Neilson insisted his side had been on the receiving end of a few poor refereeing calls, he admitted that his side had been a little “naive” at times this campaign.
Hearts being forced into a more defensive mindset detracted from the entertainment value as each side managed to go close only once more from that point on. Alim Ozturk unleashed one of his patented long-range strikes from a free-kick, with Mannus having to get down sharply to hold the 35-yard effort, while Cummins went close to snatching the win in injury-time, seeing his back post header from a Craig corner saved by Hamilton.