Stephen Kingsley's Hearts stunner lights up ugly win - but this one over St Mirren could be so important
Stephen Kingsley doesn’t appear to score ugly goals, but as this victory – a 2-0 triumph for Hearts over St Mirren – illustrates, there are no extra points for style.
It took until the second half for Hearts to really get going and pull everything together in such a way that they were able to find a route through the defiant St Mirren backline.
But, come the end of the season, if the Gorgie side have fulfilled their ambitions, matches like this one will be just as important as previous Tynecastle wins where they dazzled against the likes of Livingston and Dundee United.
And, while Kingsley’s inch-perfect set pieces will no doubt feature among the goals of the season, few in the stands and even fewer in the home dressing room will care whether decisive efforts are curled into the top corner or sclaffed over the line.
The defender’s postage stamp strike was his side’s second goal of the game and helped seal the outcome, but it was Gary Mackay-Steven’s 60th-minute opener that tipped the finely-balanced contest in their favour.
In a game between a team with the best home record in the league and opponents with the third best away form, there was little to separate them at half-time, as both goalkeepers pulled off quality saves – Craig Gordon denying Eamonn Brophy and reacting superbly to foil Charles Dunne before sparing Michael Smith’s blushes when he prevented a deflected Joe Shaughnessy effort finding the net.
At the other end, Jak Alnwick was tested by Barrie McKay – whose link up with Liam Boyce, Michael Smith and Gary Mackay-Steven was inventive throughout the game – and Makay-Steven forced another spritely save from the St Mirren keeper but Gordon was soon back in the midst of the action, pulling off a series of stops, the best from Jamie McGrath. Back defending Boyce then had to clear off the line before Gordon charged down another attack and then tipped Kyle McAllister’s strike over the bar.
After the disappointment of last week’s trip to Fir Park, Hearts knew they had to bounce back if they still had realistic hopes of mixing it with the likes of Rangers and Celtic, who don’t play until Sunday.
Aware that few teams can muster and remain undefeated all term, the difference between the teams at the top and those left chasing is ability to respond positively to any loss.
Boyce made a huge difference in that regard, adding graft and guile to the attack, while Craig Halkett returned from injury to bolster a back line that had to retain its composure as their guests pressed the play.
But, having had Richard Tait’s ‘goal’ chalked off for offside, it was the home side who eventually opened he soring in the 60th minute. McKay’s angled strike was parried and Mackay-Steven pounced on the loose ball to slot it inside the left post and give Hearts the impetus.
They built on that and when Kingsley stepped up to execute his free-kick with 15 minutes remaining, the win Hearts needed to move into second place was secured.
There was some concern when midfield star Beni Baningame was carried off but the prognosis is good.
But a disappointing day for Paisley boss Jim Goodwin got worse when Shaungnessy picked up a stoppage time red card after toppling Cammy Devlin.