Ten-man Hearts defy Saints’ bid for third place

St Johnstone's David Wotherspoon (left) clears the ball under pressure from Hearts' Gavin Reilly. Picture: SNS

St Johnstone's David Wotherspoon (left) clears the ball under pressure from Hearts' Gavin Reilly. Picture: SNS

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There was an alarming moment on the train to Perth when the guard got the arrival time wrong. Edinburgh to the Fair City by rail is never the slickest, but an additional two hours? As it was we could have happily missed the first 26 minutes of this game, such was its modest quality and thudding uneventfulness. Then in the 27th minute it exploded.

Three hours after the incident during Saturday’s goalless draw we were waiting, pens poised, for David Wotherspoon to answer the big question, the only one the match had thrown up: had he been headbutted by Juanma Delgado? “I don’t think you’re allowed to put your head in someone’s face,” said the St Johnstone midfielder. “It wasn’t just a gesture, he actually caught me on the nose. You just can’t do that in a game. It’s not right, it’s not fair play.”

Hearts’ fiery Spanish striker was red-carded but some observers thought Wotherspoon was lucky to escape punishment when he appeared to kick Juanma seconds before the latter’s costly act. “It was a free-kick against me,” added Wotherspoon. “He pulled me down and as I’ve fallen to the ground my legs have caught him. So when I got up he wasn’t happy. I was a bit angry at being pushed but I didn’t mean to kick him or anything like that. One of the Hearts players – I think it was Sam Nicholson – pulled me away. They obviously knew he’d done something wrong.”

Did he fear retrospective action by the compliance officer? Wotherspoon said he didn’t think he’d done anything wrong then asked if we could talk about the game but, really, there wasn’t much to discuss. The 27th minute apart, the first half was a complete non-event.

Saints cranked things up after the break and felt they’d done enough to win – and climb above Hearts into third place as a result – but were thwarted by Neil Alexander’s decent stops, some poor finishing and Steven MacLean’s missed penalty.

“We’re disappointed not to have got the three points,” said Wotherspoon, “but it wasn’t to be. From our first corner everything just seemed to go wrong. We worked it well, Liam Craig was going to come onto it and hit a shot but the referee wasn’t even looking at the ball and it struck him. It just seemed to go on from there.

“We did enough to win, we created chances and I thought we played well, but you have to hand it to Neil Alexander for making some great saves, especially the one from Chris Kane near the end when he stuck his leg out.

“We didn’t lose, though, and can take positives from that. As for Macca, he’s obviously gutted. He’s been scoring goals this year and just wants to keep adding more. After the last penalty he missed [against Dundee United] he put his hand up and wanted to take the next one. It’s unfortunate it’s gone over the bar.”

Hearts defender Blazej Augustyn admitted Hearts were fortunate to come away with a point. “We’re happy with that,” he said. “Sometimes we play good and we lose. Other times we play bad and we win. This time we have ten men, we draw and we’re lucky.

“It’s always hard with ten men. The whole team has to defend. When we train we try it with ten in case of this so it pays. We tried to play as much as we could but the pitch was so hard, the ball was jumping.”

The battle for third – or higher – next takes Saints to Partick Thistle while Hearts entertain Celtic. “Next game we will try to play football,” said Augustyn.

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