Wednesday 5th April
Joe Shaughnessy picked the right match to grab his first league goal of the season, as his 73rd minute header from a Liam Craig corner was the winner in tonight's vital clash with Hearts.
After a fairly balanced opening half hour, Saints started to press and create chances before the interval and carried that momentum into the second half leading up to Shaughnessy's goal, which was richly deserved.
The precious victory moves fourth place Saints five points clear of the Jambos in the fight for a European spot.
Saints headed into Wednesday night’s crucial tie with Hearts looking to establish themselves as favourites for fourth place and edge ever closer to another European adventure. Without the suspended Foster and Swanson, Tommy Wright handed loanee Clive Smith a first start after the Welshman impressed as a substitute at New Douglas Park on Saturday.
The visitors kicked off, shooting into the Ormond Stand, but the first real chance came on 17 minutes, as MacLean nodded down a volleyed cross by Easton from the left into the path of Cummins, but the Irishman’s powerful attempt flew over.
After a dull start, excellent linkup from debutant Smith and Alston culminate in the former Bairn squeeze a lofted volley at goal from inside a packed penalty area, but the midfielder could only find the roof of the net.
It was Paul Paton however, how first tested Hamilton in the Hearts goal, producing a trademark volley from the edge of the box following a scramble from a Smith free kick, however his rasping effort was tipped wide.
Even closer came Brian Easton, who rattled the underside of the crossbar with a thunderous drive after being teed up beautifully by MacLean who had shown expert composure inside the box the set up the fullback. Having committed to diving, Hamilton was lucky to have his defence bail him out, blocking Alston’s follow-up shot on the line as Hearts clung on to their clean sheet.
The Saints onslaught continued, Tam Scobbie saw his glancing header tipped over from a brilliant Craig free kick, as Hamilton denied the former Falkirk man a rare goal and Saints from taking the lead.
As half time approached, Wotherspoon directed another Craig free kick at goal, but his header was held by Hamilton as Saints failed to capitalise on their dominance.
With three minutes of the first half remaining, Alston’s low driven cross was caught in Avlonitis’s legs at the front post, and the Greek defender was relieved to see the loose ball bobble wide of the goal.
The teams went in at half time goalless, with Saints in the ascendancy and looking to take advantage of their possession in the second half and move closer to clinching that all important fourth place. Tommy Wright would also be relieved to see his players head up the tunnel free from any controversy after last week’s bust-up at Hamilton. Half time: St Johnstone 0-0 Heart of Midlothian.
Saints got the second half underway, and Liam Craig came within inches of netting inside the first 30 seconds after great build up from Alston, but the former Hibs captain dragged his shot agonisingly wide.
Hearts’ first substitution came on 59 minutes as Avlonitis made was for Prince Buaben.
Captain Brian Easton darted forward on the hour mark and after powering through the Hearts ranks, blasted an effort classic of the left back at goal, but he couldn’t open the scoring and his shot soared over.
Hearts first effort on target came with 25 minutes to play, as a low Johnsen effort was gathered with ease by Mannus. He was subsequently replaced with Nicholson.
Hearts made their final change moments later as Leonard Sowah limped off for Liam Smith.
Saints finally took the lead after 71 minutes however, having dominated for the entire match, as after Hamilton fumbled what looked to be an easy gather behind, Liam Craig’s wonderful delivery was met by the head of Saints’ Mr Cosistency Joe Shaughnessy who bulleted Saints in front, and with less than 20 minutes remaining to go five points clear in fourth. 1-0.
Things went from bad to worse for Hearts as Sam Nicholson was sent off for allegedly spitting at the linesman.
Tommy Wright made his first change on 83 minutes, bringing on Chris Millar to make his 300th appearance for the Perth outfit since signing from Morton when Saints were still in the First Division, in place of the thoroughly impressive David Wotherspoon.
In the three minutes on injury time, Ismael Goncalves came within inches of scoring, blazing his late close range effort over, giving Saints a scare but failing to level the scores.
But despite late pressure, Ian Cathro’s side couldn’t find an equaliser and Saints claimed the crucial three points on their journey towards fourth place. After the antics of Saturday, St Johnstone bounced back with a thoroughly professional and characteristic performance, delighting the home fans. Full time: St Johnstone 1-0 Hearts.
Saints: Mannus, Smith, Shaughnessy, Scobbie, Easton, Alston, Paton, Craig, Wotherspoon (Millar, 84), MacLean, Cummins. Unused subs: Clark, Coulson, Craig Thomson, Cameron Thomson, Hunter, Jardine.
Goals: Shuaghnessy (71)
Booked: Paton (52)
Heart: Hamilton, Struna, Avlonitis (Buaben, 59), Nowak, Sowah (Smith, 68), Cowie, Tziolis, Kitchen, Walker, Johnsen (Nicholson, 66), Goncalves. Unused subs: Noring, Chouley, Currie, Martin.
Booked: Johnsen (29), Struna (43), Tziolis (63) Nowak (69)
Sent off: Nicholson (83)
Attendance: 4,197 Referee: Nick Walsh Man of the Match: Liam Craig
Match report by Ross Gardiner.
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