St Johnstone 3 - 3 Hearts: Stevie May hits Saints double but Sean Clare has final say

Hearts moved off the foot of the Premiership table but left McDiarmid Park knowing that things could have been better.

Stevie May puts St Johnstone ahead.
Stevie May puts St Johnstone ahead.

Ahead at half-time and looking comfortable, in the end they were grateful for a late equaliser from the burgeoning Sean Clare which rescued a point.

It was enough to take them above relegation rivals Hamilton, who face Celtic on Sunday, but it was a sickener for Tommy Wright and his side and not enough to eradicate the frustration felt by Hearts boss Daniel Stendel, who saw his men dictate much of the first half but collapse after the break.

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“I will need time to understand what happened in the second half,” said the German who, on the back of last weekend’s triumph over Rangers, had been hoping to deliver the club’s first back-to-back wins in a year. “I thought in the first half we were in control, even when St Johnstone scored I felt we controlled the game.”

In a scintillating match, full of fightbacks, character and action, it was the home side who took the lead against the run of play when Ali McCann picked out Stevie May with the cutback and the forward slotted the ball past Joel Pereira.

Hearts fans had been buoyed by recent results and had travelled in huge numbers to Perth to back their men. On the pitch, that blossoming confidence was mirrored by players who refused to be panicked by slipping behind and, enjoying great possession, they pressed the game up the park, with plenty of attacking verve and another accomplished showing from young Andy Irvine and Toby Sibbick as they shored up the middle of the park and offered tenacious cover to their back line.

They were key contributors in attack as well and in the 26th minute carved out an equaliser. From a short corner, Steven Naismith was the instigator, sliding the ball inside for Irving, who showed vision as he played an incisive angled pass through the home rearguard to Sibbick. The newcomer, making his second appearance, had peeled off to offer more width and he squared it for Liam Boyce who slid in to divert it past the goalkeeper off Jamie McCart.

It was the striker’s second goal in two games since joining and he enjoyed a tough battle with the hosts, ending the match with a bandaged head, while the home team saw Liam Gordon and Scott Tanser go off injured, the former with a head injury that saw him taken to hospital for a check-up and the latter with a thigh niggle.

Hearts took the lead four minutes later when Zander Clark was unable to properly deal with an Irving free-kick and John Souttar hooked it over his head towards the top corner of Clark’s goal. Popping up inches from goal, Naismith made sure it found the net, heading it over the line.

But if Hearts were in charge at that stage, there was an immediate change after the break when St Johnstone emerged invigorated and crackled with intent, severely rattling their visitors, who had not won at McDiarmid Park on league duty in a decade.

Their extra energy and ability to find space to exploit saw them pull Hearts apart and they restored parity in the 51st minute when a breakaway move caught full-back Clare upfield and Liam Craig capitalised, sending a great pass forward for May, who got in behind Craig Halkett and then laid it on a plate for the untracked McCann, who drilled it past the away keeper.

As the pace of play got to Sibbick, the defence was being left more exposed to a hungry Saints attack and they got the goal their dominance at that time deserved when May slotted home a 62nd-minute spot-kick after Halkett was caught pulling back Jason Kerr at a set piece.

But with time ebbing away Clare was to pop up and lash home a low 90th-minute drive with venom. Coming from a disputed throw-in, it infuriated Saints boss Wright but cheered up the travelling support.

“It was a poor decision, it was our throw-in and the fourth official is right in front of it and he clearly says ‘blue, blue’. You can bring VAR into Scotland all you want but it wouldn’t have worked today because the ref didn’t listen. You can say we should have dealt with it and that’s right, but it’s beyond comprehension that can happen.”