ST MIRREN secured their first win of season 2013/14 in their most crucial fixture to date, leaving Hearts facing a ten-point gap at the bottom of the Scottish Premiership.
Goals from John McGinn and Paul McGowan brought the visitors three vital points at Tynecastle in a game they largely controlled.
Starting on just two points, with Hearts on minus seven, this was relegation six-pointer between the league’s bottom two clubs even this early in the campaign. In the end, St Mirren’s experience had a major influence on the outcome as key players like Steven Thompson, McGowan and Conor Newton stood out.
Hearts exerted plenty energy and commitment but lacked the creativity to regularly trouble their guests. They were applauded off the pitch at full-time as supporters recognised the efforts of their young team, but the afternoon belonged to those from the other end of the M8.
St Mirren, who left former Hearts defender Danny Grainger on the substitutes’ bench for his first return to Tynecastle, were presented an early opening from Dylan McGowan’s short backpass. Goalkeeper Jamie MacDonald sprinted out to block the onrushing Kenny McLean, though.
Then came a fine fingertip stop by the visiting goalkeeper Chris Dilo from Danny Wilson’s header, and a parry low to his right from Callum Paterson’s 20-yard drive. Play was fluctuating from one end to the other in the early stages, and a delicate 14th-minute lob from Paul McGowan dropped narrowly wide of MacDonald’s right post.
St Mirren weren’t afraid to assert themselves, with captain Jim Goodwin wading into one challenge after another. They fashioned another chance in the 20th minute when Paul McGowan dispossessed his namesake Dylan and crossed low for Thompson. His sliding effort at the back post bounced wide.
Hearts found themselves pressed back further and further as the first half progressed. A booking for Jamie Walker for simulation hardly helped the increasingly sombre mood inside Tynecastle.
Paul McGowan passed up another excellent opportunity by shooting over MacDonald’s crossbar after McGinn had robbed young Jordan McGhee of the ball. Then Kenny McLean’s free-kick attempt was beaten away by the Hearts goalkeeper.
A goal looked inevitable and it arrived four minutes from the interval. The impressive Newton crossed from the right, Thompson failed to connect in the air but McGinn headed beyond MacDonald at the back post for a crucial St Mirren strike.
Paterson squandered a glorious chance 11 minutes after half-time, slicing Stevenson’s cutback into the Roseburn Stand. Seconds later the teenager was left to rue his miss as St Mirren doubled their advantage.
David van Zanten crossed from the right and, as a cluster of bodies challenged including the Hearts goalkeeper MacDonald, the ball fell at Paul McGowan’s feet six yards out. He instinctively prodded it into the unguarded net. St Mirren celebrated sensing that their elusive first win was there for the taking.
McLean would have scored a third moments later but for an acrobatic save from MacDonald. St Mirren were now in command of the match and their priority became closing out the 90 minutes.
The last 15 minutes brought some intense pressure from the home side. Walker’s free-kick was deflected wide, Dilo saved from the same player and held a 20-yard effort from Kevin McHattie.
Time ran away from Hearts in the end and St Mirren left Edinburgh with a vital win which may well now kickstart their season.
Hearts (4-2-3-1): MacDonald; McGhee, McGowan (Tapping 66), Wilson, McHattie; Robinson (B King 46), Hamill; Stevenson (Carrick 76), Holt, Walker; Paterson. Subs: Ridgers, Smith, McKay, Oliver.
St Mirren (4-4-1-1): Dilo; Van Zanten, McGregor, Mair, Kelly; Newton, Goodwin (Teale 83), McLean, McGinn; McGowan; Thompson. Subs: Cornell, Naismith, Bahoken, Grainger, Caprice, Harkins.
Referee: Craig Thomson.