Hearts offer further proof of progress

St Mirren manager Danny Lennon, left, and his Hearts counterpart Gary Locke embrace at full-time. Picture: SNS
St Mirren manager Danny Lennon, left, and his Hearts counterpart Gary Locke embrace at full-time. Picture: SNS
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HEARTS could not round off their season, and their stay in the Premiership, on a winning note. But Saturday’s game was still a moral victory of sorts, according to manager Gary Locke, as it gave further proof of his young team’s ability to compete with their rivals.

St Mirren 1-1 Hearts

Scorers: St Mirren - Newton (28); Hearts - Carrick (48)

St Mirren, who finished eighth, were safe before kick-off. Hearts, although relegated last month, already knew that, whatever happened here, they would end the season having won more points than at least one other club. The fact that club turned out to be Hibernian just made the achievement that bit sweeter. It was an academic consolation, of course, given Hearts’ 15-point penalty for going into administration last summer. But for the manager, who hopes to be confirmed in his job this week, it was a compelling sign that substantial progress has been made over the course of the campaign.

There is little doubt that starting off at a significant disadvantage had a demoralising effect on Locke’s youthful squad, as did the ban on signing new players, especially around the turn of the year.

More recently, though, that same squad has grown up remarkably quickly. Playing here without their two most experienced players, Ryan Stevenson and Jamie Hamill, Hearts, while never hitting top gear, played some clever and creative football. St Mirren, it should be said, matched their opponents in most departments, and after an opening spell in which Jamie Walker twice had shots saved by Chris Dilo, the home team took the lead through Conor Newton. Kenny McLean was allowed too much space outside the box, and when his shot was saved by Jamie MacDonald, Newton pounced to sidefoot home from a tight angle.

In an open, adventurous game, MacDonald then pulled off a clean save from a long-range McLean free kick. Dale Carrick sidefooted past the post from a low Walker cross not long before the break, then minutes after the restart the Hearts striker had more joy.

Sam Nicholson, arguably the brightest prospect in Locke’s squad, broke from midfield before releasing Walker, whose early shot was blocked by Dilo, but the ball fell to Carrick, who put the rebound away.

Callum Paterson could have claimed victory for the visitors with a header in the dying minutes, but Dilo pulled off an excellent diving save.