The very apposite choice of Young Hearts Run Free blared out from the public address system as the Hearts players made their way off the Tynecastle pitch. For Hearts at least, it was a job well done.
Hearts 3-0 St Mirren
Scorers: Hearts - Walker (13), McHattie (54), Hamill (pen 54)
If John Brown was to be believed, from St Mirren there came the whiff of Old Spice, something the Dundee manager had impishly suggested might be helpful to disguise the smell of fear. From Hearts, however, the scent was something a little more a la mode. Their stylish young bucks would not be seen dead wearing something so old-school as Old Spice.
As so often happens in football, when there is a man’s work to be done, it is youngsters who are expected to take the strain.
The Tynecastle club continues to fend off the threat of administration and, although its finances might look bleak, on-pitch prospects appear to be very bright indeed, if the tranche of young players continue to develop in the way that they already have. A remarkable 11 members of Hearts’ match-day squad on Saturday were aged 21 or under, and many of them made a significant contribution to this victory.
Hearts simply blew St Mirren away. They feasted on the creeping sense of panic that was clearly beginning to affect the Paisley side. Ordinarily, it would have been the young Hearts team which you might fear would fall prey to nerves. Instead, it was an experienced St Mirren side, still fresh from a cup success against Hearts remember, which looked in need of some reassurance.
Despite the incentive of knowing they could confirm their Premier League status for next season with the collection of a mere point, the visitors – who were only safe from relegation after Dundee’s draw with Aberdeen yesterday – toiled from the opening minutes, and could have been two or three down by the time Jamie Walker put Hearts ahead with one of the goals of the season.
It was a torrid start for David Van Zanten in particular. The full-back had the misfortune of being up against Walker, who you could tell was in the mood from the opening moments. It says as much about Walker’s afternoon as it does Van Zanten’s that the latter was withdrawn by manager Danny Lennon seven minutes before half-time, having been adept only when it came to picking up a booking. The defender simply couldn’t cope with Walker’s strong running, and neither could his team-mates. Indeed, Walker slalomed past several of them on his way to scoring the first goal, after only 14 minutes.
It was a magnificent solo effort, with the ball crashing down off the crossbar and then into the net. Even at that early stage, you imagine Scott Wilson, the Tynecastle DJ, was flicking through his box of records, in search of Candi Staton’s Young Hearts disco hit, from 1976.
Kevin McHattie helped make this choice of outro music look particularly discerning when he put Hearts two in front. Marc McAusland was penalised for barging into the back of Dale Carrick, yet another teenage talent in the Hearts team. Few expected McHattie’s free-kick effort from 30 yards to cause Craig Samson too many problems, but it did, having sped through a gap in the wall towards him. The goalkeeper was left clutching the air as the ball continued on its low trajectory all the way into the back of the net.
As a complement to the home team’s youngsters, Jamie Hamill was a particularly valuable older head to have around and the full back sealed the points for Hearts just seven minutes after half-time when Kenny McLean was adjudged to have bundled McHattie over, just as he was in the act of shooting. McLean was red carded, and Hamill made no mistake from the penalty spot, for his first goal since his return from serious injury.
All that remained was for another three graduates of the Hearts academy to make substitute appearances, as manager Gary Locke took the opportunity to give them a taste of first-team football. The points, after all, were already safe, and Billy King, who replaced Walker, looked a particularly lively performer. It makes the current troubles afflicting Hearts even more lamentable. The club does, it seems, have a genuinely effective youth set-up in place at Riccarton, one that you only hope remains unaffected by the on-going financial turmoil.
This was supposed to have been a nervy, end–of-season affair. In the end, the latter stages of the game were like a training match, as Hearts fans cheered every touch of the ball by a home player. In contrast, the visitors, who knew long before the end that they had wasted yet another chance to haul themselves to safety.