Hearts show key trait in win over St Johnstone as need for reinforcements highlighted

There are some who have questioned Hearts’ ability to retain their status as third best team in the country, while also attempting to prove themselves at European level.

It will require some reinforcements if they are to reprise this level of resilience each and every week as the season grows older but they showed that they have an appetite for the challenge and a degree of back up.

It wasn’t just whether they had enough in the tank, mentally and physically, following the exertions when they went down to nine men at Celtic Park and then 10 men for even longer against FC Zurich. It wasn’t even just the rat-a-tat nature of the fixtures, which are coming at them thick and fast at the moment, it was the additional injuries and rejigging required during this match, having given their opponents a one-goal head start.

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Manager Robbie Neilson was already without the influential Beni Baningime, Craig Halkett and Steven Kingsley through injury while Alex Cochrane and Toby Sibbick were missing through suspension. Trying to manage his squad, he also dropped Jorge Grant and opted to rest Lawrence Shankland, Barrie McKay and Alan Forrest, who started on the bench but were soon called upon as enforced changes and St Johnstone’s obvious desire for points demanded.

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But, with young Lewis Neilson already in the line-up for his first competitive start, there was more chopping and changing as the men who scored Hearts’ opening two goals, Kye Rowles and Liam Boyce were replaced, the latter reappeared on the sidelines on crutches, diagnosis not yet known.

They were joined on the lengthening injury list by Nat Atkinson later in the second half.

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But by the time they all left the field, they had helped prove that Hearts might just have what it takes to battle on all fronts this term.

St Johnstone had made things tough for them by taking an early lead. If that was a surprise, given their respective starts to the season - Saints have just one win, Hearts just one defeat - the fact that it came from an uncharacteristic Craig Gordon mistake was even more of a shocker.

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Hearts' Lawrence Shankland celebrates scoring the match-winning penalty in the 3-2 victory over St Johnstone. (Photo by Ross Parker / SNS Group)

A poor clearance from the Scotland goalkeeper was pounced on by Graham Carey who quickly sent a swerving shot into the empty goal with the outside of his left boot.

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Saints had been rattled by the early loss of captain Melker Hallberg with a head knock, and Hearts were the more attacking side. Pressing their visitors, they dominated possession for large parts and conjured up 27 shots to Saints’ nine over the course of the match but with nine minutes to go it was all to play for. Headers from Rowles and Boyce had the Gorgie side in front before the interval but Andrew Considine had responded in the 54th minute.

But as time was starting to run out Hearts threw everything at Callum Davidson’s men. Having hit the crossbar and come close on a few occasions, they were denied by rivals who defended heroically. Right up until the 81st minute when they allowed their host to quickly turn defence into attack.

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The swift transition led to a penalty when McKay was caught as he glided into the box and fellow substitute Shankland sent Remi Matthews the wrong way to prove Hearts resilience.

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