For two teams desperate for a win, the first goal was always likely to be key in this fixture.
Hearts are a team who started the season flying high, seemingly impervious to every blow as captains dropped like flies and tough questions were answered with an impressive resilience, bolstering optimism and leaving them leading the Premiership standings.
But injury to talismanic striker Steven Naismith has rattled them. Ousted at the semi-final stage of the League Cup and toppled from the top of the league table, they have now gone five games without a win and, more worryingly, five without a goal.
There is a sense that a goal, any goal, whether off someone’s backside or scruffily scrambled over the line, may be all the boost they need to steady the ship and keep them afloat until the Scotland striker returns in a few weeks but, with pressure mounting that is easier said than done as MacLean proved in the opening minutes when he lashed at a back-post opportunity and sent it into the side netting when he should have given the capital team an important advantage.
Instead of taking the lead to restore some of the lost swagger, the miss gave the host side belief and that grew the longer the match continued as Hearts, who enjoyed plenty of possession, failed to turn that into anything tangible.
“Look, these things happen in football and you have just got to roll your sleeves up,” said experienced attacker MacLean, who joined the club in the summer. “Listen, we are in it together and we are the ones who can get ourselves out of the predicament we are in at the minute and we can do that by working hard and getting in good areas and getting better balls into the box and then looking to put them away.
“But I have been on worse runs than this so I wouldn’t worry about that. And you know what? The only way to get out of it is to roll your sleeves up. If you keep doing the right things then you will eventually get the results you deserve. Hopefully it will turn for us. We have good characters in there.”
But that counted for little on Saturday as they relied on the crossbar to keep out a Kyle Magennis strike as St Mirren demonstrated a desire to get their first win since the opening day of the campaign, on 4 August, and prove that the work being carried out by manager Oran Kearney since his arrival in September is beginning to pay off.
In the 46th minute that amounted to a stunning opening goal, as Hammill sent a 40-yard dipping effort over Zdenek Zlamal in the Hearts goal and into the net.
Before Craig Levein’s could try to conjure a response the former Liverpool trainee added a second as he curled a shot across the keeper and inside the far post. “He’s one of those players who tries things all the time,” said team-mate Simeon Jackson. “When it pays off like today, it’s not surprising those who train with him every day.
“We’ve been building to get this win and we need to try and back this up by winning next week too.”
Victory over Hamilton next weekend would see St Mirren leapfrog them and escape the bottom two but for Hearts the test is tougher, as they welcome second-top Rangers, the first team to beat them this term, to Tynecastle.
But MacLean believes that an upturn in fortunes could be all the catalyst they need.
“We are not getting the little breaks just now,” he said, “but they will come.”