Demetri Mitchell proud to get off mark for Hearts
“It’s the first goal I’ve scored at first-team level so I’ll always remember it,” said Mitchell.
“My dad came up this weekend, that’s why I had to show him a goal. He watches every game on Hearts TV and I’ve been close in previous games against Hibs, and in the home game against Motherwell I hit the post. I’ve been unlucky, but I’ve finally got the first goal and I’m buzzing.
“I practised them in training on Friday and they weren’t quite coming off. But I felt like I had made a good connection when it left my boot. To be honest I was also relieved that we got 2-0 ahead and had something to fall back on.”
It topped off a quality performance by the 21-year-old loanee, one of many among the team in maroon, as they eased away from Saints to end the game comfortably in control.
Just a week earlier the Perth side had made life extremely difficult for Hearts but this weekend they gifted them two goals and, at Tynecastle, against a team who have now made it ten clean sheets in a dozen games, they could not bounce back from that.
It had been another positive start by both teams as they battled for the upper hand and Joe Shaughnessy had caused a few flutters in the home defence, landing a couple of his long throws on top of the packed Hearts box and troubling first Christophe Berra and then Aaron Hughes, but it was his own team he put under the most pressure in the seventh minute.
It was his throw into the middle of the park that was nicked from Murray Davidson by an opportunistic Arnaud Djoum. He nodded it forward to Kyle Lafferty and the striker drove a low shot from a narrow angle on the left of the box across Alan Mannus and into the net.
It left the St Johnstone boss livid and Hearts in control. Craig Levein, inset, had altered personnel across the middle of the park and was delighted with the response. Young Anthony MacDonald came in and was immense, showing no fear and was willing to take responsibility on to his 16-year-old shoulders. He wasn’t the only one.
The full-backs – Mitchell and Michael Smith – were adept in defence and a driving force down the flanks as they provided overlapping runs, crosses and pulled their opposing numbers all over the place, while Ross Callachan embodied the team’s determination to extend this year’s cup run after a six-year hiatus from the latter stages.
One of those who retained his place was Arnaud Djoum, but he was a different player from the one who had been bossed in the league encounter. As he produced one of his best games for the capital side, nobody among the visitors could tether him as he pulled the strings.
St Johnstone didn’t give up hope of getting back into the game, but they met stern resistance and while Hearts keeper Jon McLaughlin had been a stand-out a week earlier, he had little to do this time as the guests were pushed on to the back foot.
Eventually Hearts got their second, in the 53rd minute and it was a cracker, from Mitchell. Djoum had set off down the right flank and, looking up, picked out Mitchell who was charging down the left. The cross-field pass was perfect and Mitchell dinked an unstoppable lofted shot into the postage stamp corner of Mannus’s goal.
The home team added a third goal four minutes later. It was a second by Lafferty as Smith and Callachan linked up before playing a pass into a central area for the Northern Irishman to slot into the net from close range.
With more than 30 minutes remaining and the game growing feisty as frustration seeped into the Saints ranks and bookings and injuries threatened to become an issue for Hearts, both managers would probably have shaken hands on things there but were forced to negotiate the last half hour of a match that had been long since won and lost.
“I know how it works with winning the Scottish Cup and getting into Europe and that’s something obviously we’re striving towards,” said Mitchell, demonstrating how quickly the Manchester United youngster has adjusted to the demands at Hearts. “Just to get through to the next round without having to play a replay is a relief and now we can look forward to the quarter-finals.”