How Hearts, and a red card, spoiled St Mirren's Stephen Robinson welcome with 2-0 Paisley win
Just three points separate the sides sitting fourth to ninth, with St Mirren firmly embroiled in that battle for a top six position and then a European qualification spot.
The next half a dozen rounds of fixtures will clear up the melee and determine just who will have a punt at the second target and St Mirren showed that, despite losing manager Jim Goodwin to Aberdeen, they have not been distracted from that task.
But, in Stephen Robinson’s first match in charge, they were unable to halt a Hearts team looking to get back on track after a disappointing run of results, even though Robbie Neilson’s men offered their hosts more hope than they should have by failing to cash in some early chances.
Even when St Mirren were reduced to 10 men, when Connor Ronan was red carded for a dangerously-high lunge on Beni Baningime in the 23rd minute, they struggled to make the breakthrough, foiled by their hosts and, in truth, often proving too intricate in their build up as they struggled to find space and tried to walk the ball in to the net.
Dominating possession and chances, the home side did well to minimise the impact of that but with the away defence bolstered by the return of Craig Halkett and Craig Gordon in goal, they were unable to respond with any real chances of their own.
Which meant that once Hearts striker Ellis SImms found the net in the 64th minute, the outcome was all but settled.
The capital side had started strongly, with Barrie McKay and Stephen KIngsley offering a steady supply of tempting deliveries but Jak Alnwick twice denied Liam Boyce before the Northern Irishman proved profligate with another effort.
When Ronan was sent off, it seemed likely that Hearts would ram home their early advantage but losing a man seemed to galvanise St Mirren players looking to impress their new gaffer and it took a 55th minute reshuffle to help them finally find a way past the home rearguard and a determined showing by the Buddies’ keeper.
Simms stuck at it when Alnwick blocked his initial 64th minute shot and drove it at him with enough power to spin up and into the net at the second attempt.
There was some controversy at the second goal three minutes later, when Baningime threaded a lovely ball through for Simms to run onto but Alnwick darted out to intervene. Motherwell questioned that coming together, which seemed to be a legitimate challenge for the ball, and were infuriated when Cammy Devlin followed in to score.
Already angry at the sending off and frustrated that hopeful appeals for a penalty were ignored, they fought to find a way back into the game but Hearts refused to leave the door ajar.
After three defeats in a row, and their only successive defeats this term, they were ready to get back to winning ways and ensure they could not be dragged back into the scramble for placings below them.
In the end, they did that with relative ease.
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