Nothing between these teams in the league and nothing between them on the day as they shared four goals, an equal number of refereeing gripes and had to settle for a point each despite the fact they both came away at the end convinced they had done enough to win.
The fact is either could have triumphed as it all rested on the finest of margins. Each created openings and while St Johnstone felt aggrieved that they had what they considered a perfectly good goal chalked off, Hearts were of the opinion that the guests were awarded another that should never have stood.
It all means that they remain locked on 19 points, alongside Rangers, in the Premiership but Hearts stay ahead of Tommy Wright’s men and leapfrogged Rangers to move into third courtesy of a better goal difference. That goal difference could have been bolstered significantly in the past couple of games but, having scored five, they have also conceded five, something that has frustrated full-back Callum Paterson.
“We’re happy not to have lost but not really satisfied with a point,” said the Scotland international, who, like his team-mates, felt annoyed that the St Johnstone second goal was allowed to stand, claiming that Steven MacLean had been loitering in an offside position and interfering with play as Chris Kane fired home.
“At least we came back, something we’ve done the last couple of weeks now. It shows we have a good attitude, we just need to stop conceding. We’ve scored five in the past two games, but not to have won any of them and come away with only two points isn’t a great return. That needs rectified.”
Hearts had started the game brightly. In a pulsating encounter, they were pressing high and trying to hustle St Johnstone into leaving gaps. Bjorn Johnsen’s looping header had to be tipped over the bar by Zander Clark. Tony Watt then appealed for a penalty after a tangle of legs with Steven Anderson but nothing was given and Jamie Walker shot from distance before the opening goal came in the 24th minute. It was a messy affair. Johnsen had the initial shot, Don Cowie then had an effort which was deflected on to the bar and when it came back Prince Buaben headed in. Brian Easton and the St Johnstone hordes were convinced he had headed it clear off the line but the assistant referee awarded the goal. “It happened so quickly but I felt I was maybe behind the line but leaning forward so I was certain I had done enough to keep it out,” Easton said.
It was good early pressure but St Johnstone are adept as anyone in the league at absorbing that kind of thing and then pouncing when opposition teams overstretch. They find it easier to make those counter-attacks thanks to the footballing intelligence of MacLean and David Wotherspoon and the guile of Danny Swanson who again returned to haunt a manager who offloaded him last season. Having hit Hearts with a double in the Betfred Cup he was again the model of calm in a game played at a frenetic pace.
In the 41st minute, MacLean picked up the ball in the middle of the park and turned Igor Rossi before playing the ball through to Swanson. Having evaded the chasing John Souttar, he sent a right foot shot past Jack Hamilton.
The second half was compelling in its combativeness but lacking in finesse and, although Joe Shaughnessy had followed in Wotherspoon’s 51st minute free-kick, his effort was flagged offside, and it took until the dying minutes for any more goals.
First came the contentious Kane effort in the 85th minute, before Hearts restored parity two minutes later, thanks to Paterson heading home a corner. It is an asset Scotland can now utilise against England in Friday’s World Cup qualifier, according to his manager. “I would definitely be putting him in,” said Robbie Neilson. “If we get a set play at Wembley he’s the man you want in there. No matter who you are playing he’ll score.”