For Hearts, the build-up to this trip to Perth was dominated by fall-out from the weekend, but there was more to rankle Craig Levein after this controversial draw.
Levein had stolen the limelight in the wake of Sunday’s 2-1 defeat to Rangers with his cutting criticism of referee Bobby Madden’s display and, yet again, the officials were in the firing line at McDiarmid Park. With Hearts leading 2-1, and in line for a first victory in seven matches, Andrew Dallas gifted St Johnstone a penalty that allowed Matty Kennedy to earn the home side a point.
Levein’s feelings were clear at full-time as he strode onto the pitch and made a bee-line for Dallas to remonstrate with the whistler.
Arnaud Djoum had given the Tynecastle side an early lead when he became the first Hearts players to score in nearly six hours of football. Blair Alston almost instantly responded for Saints but Olly Bozanic restored the Gorgie outfit’s lead before the interval. It was left to Dallas to take centre stage thereafter.
Chat of being up against 13 men because of Madden’s leniency and his assistant’s failure to flag Alfredo Morelos offside at Rangers’ winning goal at the weekend deflected attention from a fourth successive defeat for the Gorgie outfit and a sixth without a victory, and they will be angered by the manner that victory was denied them here.
The Jambos had suffered a massive setback with the news that centre-half Jimmy Dunne has been ruled out for six weeks with an ankle injury, the blow softened by the sight of captain Christophe Berra returning to action at the weekend. Marcus Godinho, Harry Cochrane and former St Johnstone striker Steven MacLean were the men to drop out from Sunday, with Clevid Dikamona, Olly Lee and Craig Wighton being drafted in.
In the home ranks, Hearts’ rancour was replaced by satisfaction. Manager Tommy Wright lifted the manager of the month accolade after a six-game unbeaten run in which they had not lost a goal for 546 minutes. Wright made just one enforced change, with Blair Alston replacing the injured Drey Wright but it didn’t take long for that clean-sheet record to disappear.
There were just five minutes on the clock when Hearts rediscovered that scoring touch and the Saints defence was finally breached. Michael Smith, lurking on the right flank after hurling in a long throw, floated over a superb cross and Djoum climbed above Richard Foster at the back post to loop his header over Zander Clark.
For a team who could have forgotten the feeling of conceding a goal, St Johnstone recovered remarkably well and within 14 minutes they had restored parity. David Wotherspoon bamboozled Smith with a cute drag over on the left edge of the area and Alston streamed into the heart of the penalty area to volley in from 12 yards out.
The goal restored belief to the home ranks and they dominated possession for a spell. Zdenek Zlamal beat away another Alston effort after the midfielder punctured the heart of the visitors’ rearguard with a run from deep and then the Hearts keeper held Tony Watt’s glancing header.
However, it was Hearts who found a second as the previously dependable home defence was posted missing. Olly Lee flung over a free-kick from the left touchline and Bozanic emerged unmarked to nod in from six yards out.
The play became increasingly fractious after the interval and, as referee Andrew Dallas struggled to retain control, controversy reigned again. Dallas, who mistakenly awarded Celtic a penalty in Sunday’s Betfred Cup final, pointed to the spot as substitute Liam Gordon went flying trying to connect with a high ball under pressure from Peter Haring. There appeared little, if anything, in the incident but Kennedy was not bothered as he sent Zlamal the wrong way.