One team looked as if it was fighting for its top-flight survival last night. It wasn’t Hearts. A paper bag would have fancied standing up to the pitiful efforts of Daniel Stendel’s men as they were deservedly beaten by a St Mirren team with the spirit and gumption of which the Tynecastle men were utterly devoid.
A Jon Obika goal in 48 minutes means the prospect of relegation – save for the season being wrecked by the Covid-19 pandemic – isn’t simply staring the Tynecastle club in the face; it is laughing in their face.
The reverse last night might have been Hearts’ first loss in five outings. Yet, it was as grim as any defeat in the past eight months because it seemed that, unlike a Saints side now in ninth place and six points above the Gorgie team propping up the Premiership, there wasn’t the drive to produce any other outcome.
It was an encounter that often struggled to shake-off its origins. Time and again in the opening period came the reminders that this was a dust-up of the deficient.
Opinion was divided about the likely outcome beforehand. The takers for a Hearts victory – emboldened by Stendel’s men having engineered celebrated successes over Rangers and their arch rivals Hibernian in recent weeks – overlooked the absence of a league win outside the capital for the Tynecastle club in a calendar year.
Meanwhile, those feeling that St Mirren’s capacity for digging out big results to keep them free from a relegation floor that Hearts have seemed flat out on at times, cast to one side the fact the Paisley club hadn’t won a home game this year.
Learned observers of Scottish football are never slow to rush forth with reasons as to why the Gorgie club won’t go down this season that involve their own endeavours.
Chief among these is the much-vaunted firepower provided by Steven Naismith, pictured, Conor Washington and Liam Boyce, the first two paired last night following Washington’s goals in the derby and the weekend draw with Motherwell. However, strikers need service to score goals.
Perhaps that played its part in Naismith earning a booking for petulantly blocking a free-kick. Mind you, the Scotland striker has never needed an excuse for careering around the pitch and getting himself into querulous situations.
He couldn’t involve himself with any that had a bearing on the game last night, though. A common theme among those meandering around in maroon.
For about half an hour, St Mirren dominated without doing diddly squat. Stendel’s men simply settled for the diddly squat, the energy and forcing play of their mini-revival absent.
When the pace did pick up towards the end of the opening half, Hearts were made to retreat further because they did not provide it.
But for a one-handed save by Zdenek Zlamal that seemed to require the keeper to be double-jointed to repel a venomous drive by Cammy Macpherson from a Alex Jakubiak cross, the visitors would have been trailing at half-time.
The break seemed a blessed relief for Hearts, save for the cacophony of jeers from the packed away end, but this was only temporary.
Despite Boyce being sent on for the uninvolved Washington, the visitors’ lacklustre performance persisted in the early minutes following the restart.
And this time, it was punished. Three minutes in, slackness from Loic Damour allowed Ross Wallace to pinch possession deep in his own half. The wily campaigner then had the vision to launch a ball over the top that allowed Obika to tussle with Clevid Dikamona for a run in on goal.
The forward teetered and tottered but never lost sight of the ball, as the Hearts defender failed to dislodge him, before a bit of bouncing around as Craig Halkett bounded in, ended with the Englishman getting the touch that sent it towards the corner of the net.
The limp response from Stendel’s men could only shock given what was at stake. A bit of late pressure with balls hoisted into the penalty box, and flashed across goal – Boyce only just failing to connect – spoke of the ineptitude that has scarred their campaign. Not least because injury deprived St Mirren of their crucial performers, centre-back Conor McCarthy lost in the first period, while Macpherson and Ilkay Durmus limped off in the second.
The only cheer of the night from the 1,388 away supporters who had travelled from Edinburgh summed it all up. It resulted from Damour being withdrawn for Ryo Meshino in the 74th minute. Goading others over misfortune is something that the Tynecastle faithful better prepare themselves to endure for the foreseeable future.