St Mirren and Hearts miss big Euro chance: Airport reminder, mini pitch invasion, SFA protestations

St Mirren manager Stephen Robinson was hunched down on one knee at the corner of his technical area. He couldn’t bear to look, instead choosing to cast his gaze in the opposite direction of the action, the commotion. It was deep into stoppage time. Josh Ginnelly had just got to a ball in the box when, under pressure from Ryan Flynn, he was felled.

Referee David Dickinson had no doubt. Penalty. St Mirren fans didn’t agree. Hearts fans, despite earlier SFA protestations following a dubious red card for Peter Haring, most certainly did. Of course, VAR still had to be consulted. There was contact but enough to warrant a penalty? Every single one of the 7,238 in the SMiSA Stadium nervously waited to find out.

Some Hearts fans had already left. They trailed 2-0 at the interval after an inept first 45 minutes. The reaction took time to come, Josh Ginnelly eventually reducing the deficit after 73 minutes, netting a brilliant cross but then Peter Haring was sent off for what looked like a cynical challenge that normally warrants a yellow card. That was it, surely? St Mirren looked like they were going to do enough to hold on. Then the penalty. And the VAR decision. It was confirmed.

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Lawrence Shankland, 12 yards out. It usually means a goal. He didn’t disappoint. 2-2.

‘Still in it’

"It feels like a defeat but when we’re disappointed with a point against Hearts it tells you how far St Mirren have come," Stephen Robinson said. “The circumstances with the game practically done makes it hard to take.”

For interim Hearts boss Steven Naismith, it was a goal which means the team are “still in it". It being the hunt for third place in the Premiership. Which perhaps explains the scenes of celebration. A few away fans entered the pitch. It brought an angry response from the home fans in the corner beside the visiting support. The duality of football fandom and the emotions it provokes. Yet, it was a result that does neither team much good. There were regular reminders throughout the match of what was at stake. Just two miles from SMiSA Stadium lies Glasgow Airport. Every now and then those in the stadium were treated to the sight of a plane, flying over, jetting off to more exotic climes. The objective was clear for both sides. Hearts had to win to keep the pressure on Aberdeen in the race for third and ensure they kept Hibs at arm's length. The Buddies, despite losing their last two matches, they had not given up hope of a first European qualification since 1988.

"Our ambitions don't stop at making it to the top half of the Premiership, we now want to try and claim a place in European competition next season,” Robinson wrote in his pre-match notes.

Hearts scored in stoppage time to get a 2-2 draw at St Mirren - a result which helps neither team.  (Photo by Rob Casey / SNS Group)Hearts scored in stoppage time to get a 2-2 draw at St Mirren - a result which helps neither team.  (Photo by Rob Casey / SNS Group)
Hearts scored in stoppage time to get a 2-2 draw at St Mirren - a result which helps neither team. (Photo by Rob Casey / SNS Group)

With Hibs doing everything but scoring the winning goal at Aberdeen presented both of these sides with a massive opportunity. Hearts to close the gap to third. St Mirren to move into joint-fifth which, providing Celtic defeat Inverness CT in the Scottish Cup final, will bring entry to the Conference League qualifiers.

Hearts reminder

The visitors were handed a painful pre-match reminder of brighter times, when positivity flowed through the streets of Gorgie. "It wasn’t that long ago that Hearts looked like a shoe-in for third pace and all the rewards that position brings in,” read the St Mirren matchday programme. A seven-point lead in third over Livingston on February 4, gave way to a five point lead over Hibs a month later. Now? Fourth. Five points behind Aberdeen. One win in the last nine. But it is five points which, if the team had turned up in the first 70 minutes, might well have been three. Yet, the Buddies were by far the better side for the majority of the game, especially in the first half.

Despite a high tempo start from Naismith's men, it was the hosts who quickly took control. Stronger, quicker, more competitive, more aggressive, more switched on, more direct. The front pairing of Curtis Main and Alex Greive spread nervousness and indecisiveness through the defensive ranks of Hearts. Greive in particular ran and ran, unnerving Kye Rowles on a number of occasions, the Hearts defender picking up an early booking. He stretched them, vertically and horizontally. The New Zealand international had a great shot blocked by Toby Sibbick. The goals came in 36 and 45 minutes. The latter a brilliant free-kick from Ryan Strain, the former a corner deep, headed back by Alex Gogic and thundered into the net by Joe Shaughnessy, unmarked despite being between the posts, just six yards out.

St Mirren manager Stephen Robinson dejected after Hearts win a late penalty.  (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)St Mirren manager Stephen Robinson dejected after Hearts win a late penalty.  (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)
St Mirren manager Stephen Robinson dejected after Hearts win a late penalty. (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)

It was another moment of fragility from Hearts at set pieces and from corners. Without the injured Craig Halkett, no-one stepped up to take control at the back.

Formation change

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That was meant to be it. Formidable at fortress SMiSA Stadium, this is the Buddies most successful league campaign since 1985. They have the backing of a noisy, passionate fan base. The club took the decision to take back one of the stands from the Old Firm when they visit Paisley. Their crowds, helped by a winning team, have grown. Robinson, a manager of the year candidate for a reason.

In the opposite dugout, Naismith often cut a frustrated figure. A set piece routine between Barrie McKay and Andy Halliday saw a Hearts corner become a St Mirren throw-in summed up the first 45 minutes. The manager was not happy with the direction and pace of his team’s passing. “Safe and passive" he called it. He admitted that he was “frustrated” having to switch from a back four to a back three at half-time. It worked.

Hearts had to rely on Zander Clark to ensure they were still in with a chance of getting something out of the game. That they did ensures a frustrating season isn’t quite over but ensures Robinson and everyone connected with St Mirren has a frustrating week ahead.

St Mirren (3-5-2) – Carson; Fraser, Shaughnessy, Taylor (Dunne 46’); Strain (Flynn 89’), Gogic, O’Hara, Kiltie (Jamieson 84’), Tanser (Small 84'); Main, Greive (Baccus 55’).

Hearts (4-2-3-1) – Clark; Hill (Kio 75’), Sibbick, Rowles, Halliday (Atkinson 46’); Devlin (Grant 61’), Haring; Oda (Forrest 80’), Shankland, McKay; Ginnelly.



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