St Johnstone 1 - 0 Hearts: Visitors whipped by Kane

If some Hearts fans were eying next season's derby matches with some trepidation given their form in the second half of this campaign and the upper hand enjoyed by their capital rivals in the latest cup outings, the fact that they will also have to contend with Danny Swanson in those head-to-heads will do little to alleviate their concerns.
St Johnstone's Chris Kane celebrates his goal. Picture: Ross Parker/SNSSt Johnstone's Chris Kane celebrates his goal. Picture: Ross Parker/SNS
St Johnstone's Chris Kane celebrates his goal. Picture: Ross Parker/SNS

The winger, who has signed a pre-contract with Hibernian, has been a source of torment to his former employers since his short-lived spell at Hearts came to an end in February 2016 and he reprised those fine past performances against them last night, riling up the away fans in the process to ensure himself a warm welcome in the first capital head-to-head of next term.

It was the attack-minded midfielder who provided the 26th-minute pass through for Chris Kane, which the striker latched on to. He then waited for the out-rushing Viktor Noring to go to ground and neatly clipped it round him and slotted the ball into the empty net.

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Less than half an hour in, it was not the start the goalie had been looking for after his blunder cost the team against Rangers in the last game.

Hearts had been looking to build on that second-half performance at Ibrox and started off with enough possession to suggest they may be able to conjure up something but they were never going to get anything for nothing here and yet again an inability to turn that possession into clear-cut chances undermined them.

There is no such thing as a meaningless match at St Johnstone. Tommy Wright’s men were well aware that they are guaranteed a fourth-place finish but they are not a team renowned for taking the the foot off the gas, not when they feel that they still have something to prove to people who are perpetually surprised by their high performing Premiership finishes.

Hearts will have been hoping that they could head to McDiarmid Park last night with the fight for a European place still alive but St Johnstone made sure that was off the table with a win over Partick Thistle on Saturday.

But this Hearts side are desperate for any small positives to build on, or at the very least, to curb the negativity that has engulfed the support on the back of their unceremonious slide down the standings.

The difficulties they have faced in trying to carve out the required numbers of wins under Ian Cathro to meet expectations have been well-publicised. Infuriating the fans and frustrating those within the football staff, it was unlikely that a trip to Perth was going to release any of the pressure.

Not since November 2010 have Hearts managed to escape the Fair City with a victory and having bristled at the notion that many had predicted the Gorgie outfit would beat his side to the Europa League qualifying berth not so long ago, Wright would have sent his men out to underline that superiority.

Hearts were forced into a reshuffle, with Prince Buaben suspended thanks to his red card at Ibrox on the weekend but, once again, Alex Tziolis stepped into the void.

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After the home side had opened the scoring, Bjorn Johnsen had a decent effort for Hearts. But his 38th-minute screamer from about 30 yards out was tipped away from goal by Alan Mannus.

Joe Shaughnessy then had to be alert to clear the danger from Malaury Martin’s long ball forward but then St Johnstone hit back.

As the first half drew to an end, Kane’s shot crashed off the bar and Graham Cummins pulled his shot from the rebound and sent it wide.

In the 55th minute Craig Thomson sent in a cross and Kane, in front of goal, tried a cheeky wee flick but Noring got to it.

Mannus had to be lively two minutes later to get hands to a deflected shot and push it away. But at the other end Richard Foster zipped a ball deep into the six-yard box and it needed only the merest of touches but Cummins just couldn’t get to it.

In the 70th minute Swanson left the field to boos from the away fans and a standing ovation from the home contingent. Suspended next week, this was his last outing at St Johnstone. It has been a rewarding spell and has helped rejuvenate him after that disappointing stint at Hearts. But here, as is often the case, Tommy Wright has worked some magic.

That is evident throughout his team, though, as once again they did what was necessary to see out the game and claim another three points. Every year St Johnstone’s presence in the European slots may surprise people but every year they deserve it.