Somehow Hearts emerged from this one with the win. They won’t really care how they did it, relieved to pick up all three points. It is more likely to haunt St Johnstone, who were the better team but felt that fate and the referee conspired against them.
A bright first half saw them skelp an effort off the crossbar, send another couple off target and force a few saves from the inspired Hearts keeper Jon McLaughlin. But they were also denied a penalty shout which left the Perth manager questioning whether it was referee Andrew Dallas’ eyesight or his anatomical ignorance that saw him ignore the claims.
“I don’t mind the penalty not being given if the decision was it wasn’t intentional,” said a frustrated Tommy Wright on the 38th minute incident which saw Steven Anderson’s header in the box halted by a flailing Christophe Berra arm.
“But Andrew Dallas clearly pointed to his shoulder when everyone could see it was a handball..”
Wright was also annoyed to see his team reduced to 10 men when David Wotherspoon was shown a second yellow card with just under 30 minutes remaining, feeling that gifted Hearts the edge they needed to hang on for victory.
“For the sending off, the second one [as he went in with Hearts debutant Joaquim Adao] was a foul on David. Christophe Berra got away with fouls all day and doesn’t get talked to, then he sent David off when we were expecting the Hearts player to get the card. But Berra plays for Scotland and David doesn’t.
“Look, I don’t want to make it the Andrew Dallas show because he made enough of that out there and I’m certainly not going to be phoning John Fleming about him because I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been on to him about Andrew Dallas. We will just draw a line under it and move on. Luckily he’s not in charge for either of our next two games.”
Even with 10 men, St Johnstone probably still had the better of the play, foiling a Hearts side who had started poorly, lacking movement, urgency and putting themselves under pressure with some sloppy passing and although they improved, it was only marginally.
A goal at the start of the second half was enough to separate the sides as the home team defended everything their guests could throw at them. While they conjured up more chances of their own as the game swung from one end to the other in an edgy final period they failed to find the killer second goal to quash St Johnstone’s hopes of salvaging something from the afternoon.
“We started poorly and didn’t really perform at any decent level at all in the first half,” said Hearts boss Craig Levein. “I thought St Johnstone were better than us but I didn’t feel they were going to score and I thought we were still doing enough defensively not to lose a goal.
“At half time i pointed out that we had worked really hard on something the day before and they had completely ignored it when the game started. But it helps when Danny crosses the ball in first couple of minutes of second half and David scores. All of a sudden we started to play a bit better but I still don’t think we crossed the ball enough, got wide enough, moved the ball quickly enough but we got the three points and that makes me feel pretty good.”
In the 12th minute a long ball over the top for Chris Kane caught out Hearts who had been calling for offside, but McLaughlin was quick off his line to clear. The keeper was in action again five minutes later, getting down to save another Kane effort from a Richard Foster cutback..
Scott Tanser then forced Mclaughlin to parry and Kane slammed the rebound into the side netting and Kane was involved again when he set up Wotherspoon but his dipping shot was just over the bar.
Hearts were struggling to carve out openings at the other end, despite fielding a team full of attacking options but, too pedestrian, they kept hitting a St Johnstone blockade and shots from first Adao and then Milinkovic were from distance and both too weak to test Alan Mannus.
On the 30 minute mark, Kane hooked volley on the turn off the cross bar and it was eventually put out fro a corner. From the delivery, Jason Kerr’s header ricocheted off a body right in front of goal and only the reactions of McLaughlin prevented it finding the net. MCLaughlin sees keeper get body behind it and save.The home fans were far from impressed.
Less than a minute into the restart and finally Hearts found the breakthrough they needed. It was a bitter blow for their opponents but a ball crossed in by Danny Amankwaa found David Milinkovic and holding off Tanser, he finally dug it out from under his feet to stab it home and give them something to defend as the game ebbed and flowed but neither side could add to the scoring.
But the visitors will return to Tynecastle next week on Scottish Cup duty feeling that they have some wrongs to right. Hearts will have to up their game to contend with that.