St Mirren 2, Hearts 1 - Monday, 13 April 1987
It was to Alex MacDonald’s credit that the Hearts manager refused to blame injuries and suspensions for the poor showing of his side. “We didn’t play particularly well and those who were available didn’t play to their abilities,” he admitted.
“Take nothing away from St Mirren, though. They started the tie well then we appeared to freeze a little bit. Half-time couldn’t come quickly enough for us and, when Gary Mackay equalised at 1-1, I would have settled for a reply. After all, I don’t think we could have been as bad as that again,” MacDonald added.
The manager might not have wanted to dwell on the loss of Craig Levein, Walter Kidd, Ian Jardine and Neil Berry – all four players received hospital attention last week – or the ineligibility through suspension of John Robertson and Brian Whittaker, but the absence of half the line-up that defeated Dundee United at the semi-final stage of the Cup last season was a severe handicap.
While Hearts might have got used to living without Craig Levein’s stylish use of the ball at the back (Hearts had, in fact, gone 11 games without defeat before being beaten by St Mirren), the subsequent loss of experience in both the full-back positions meant that cracks began to appear when the team could least afford them
St Mirren exploited this uncertainty with two well-taken goals – man-of-the-match Ian Ferguson rounding keeper Henry Smith and coolly slotting the ball into the net from an acute angle in the first half and Frank McGarvey pouncing from close range near the end.
There was a spell after the interval when this youthful St Mirren side lost their way and Gary Mackay cut into the box and scored with a shot that went into the net off a post. But the introduction of Ian Cameron proved a timely substitution and it was from his cross that Kenny McDowall set up McGarvey for the winner
Alex Smith, the St Mirren manager, was also without a number of experienced contributors in Tony Fitzpatrick, Peter Godfrey, Gardner Speirs and Paul Chalmers but, on the day, it was the Paisley side who turned out to be the more resourceful outfit.
“I’ve said all along that the only problem was getting the players to believe in themselves,” commented Smith. “We have a reservoir of young talent that can take St Mirren on to greater things.
“They approached the game properly and played positively. Generally, I think we played the better football and made the best chances. Now we are only one game away from taking part in the European Cup-Winners’ Cup.”
Derek Hamilton and Abercromby both made worthwhile contributions in midfield, where Hearts created little. And, up front, the combination of McGarvey, McDowall and Ferguson, who is better known as a midfield player, was sharper than the efforts of a Hearts attack that sorely missed the opportunism of John Robertson.
It wasn’t a classic tie by any means, but all the commendations that were going went to St Mirren for producing the more fluent football. Only their finishing let them down at times and Hearts wouldn’t even have been in the position to make a fight of it if Ferguson had found the target from an inviting position after being put through by McGarvey. Whatever their other merits, Hearts have been justly praised for their battling, never-say-die qualities in recent seasons. However, even their famous spirit was less evident on this occasion and MacDonald, at the post-match Press conference, indicated it would take him about three hours to fully explain where Hearts had gone wrong.
St Mirren: Money; Wilson, D Hamilton, B Hamilton, Winnie, Cooper, McGarvey, Ferguson, McDowall, Abercromby, Lambert (Cameron 73).
Hearts: Smith; Murray, Cowie, Jardine, Watson (Crabbe 58), Macdonald, Colquhoun, Mackay, Clark, Black, Foster.
Referee: Bill Crombie. Attendance: 29,290.