CLINICAL finishing by St Johnstone strikers Nigel Hasselbaink and Stevie May consigned Hearts to a fourth successive league defeat. Despite their morale-boosting League Cup win over Hibs in midweek, the Tynecastle club were unable to transfer cup form to the Scottish Premiership as they try to avoid relegation.
Hasselbaink’s header opened the scoring shortly before the half hour, and May’s exquisite finish in the second half secured St Johnstone’s victory. Both teams fashioned openings - Hearts were the better team in the first half - but the visitors were rewarded for converting theirs on a wet afternoon in Gorgie.
The only positive for those in maroon was the fact St Mirren’s match with Ross County was abandoned due to heavy rain. The Paisley club were 2-0 ahead but the game will now be replayed, meaning St Mirren have not moved any further ahead of Hearts at the bottom of the league table.
An early 25-yard angled drive flew wide from Jamie Walker before Jason Holt controlled Ryan Stevenson’s head flick on the run but shot over the crossbar. Hearts enjoyed the better of the early exchanges with some crisp passing and good movement in attacking areas.
St Johnstone’s principal danger was the in-form May. He offered evidence of his ability after 15 minutes. After skipping away from Dylan McGowan and Jordan McGhee, he cut the ball back from the byline for Hasselbaink to finish first time with his left foot. However, Hearts’ midweek saviour Jamie MacDonald was alert to the task with an excellent reaction save.
Hasselbaink made no mistake 13 minutes later by opening the scoring with his head. McGowan miscontrolled a clearance on his thigh and was tackled by David Wotherspoon 35 yards from goal. Hasselbaink collected the loose ball and fed Chris Millar to his right. The Dutchman then sped forward to glance the winger’s deflected cross into the net.
Hearts looked dejected but attempted to recover before the interval. Walker’s low cross was scuffed wide by McGhee sliding in on the sodden Tynecastle surface. Hasselbaink then headed another cross over MacDonald’s crossbar despite being unmarked six yards out.
St Johnstone appealed in vain for a penalty early in the second half when Wotherpoon’s cross appeared to strike Holt’s arm. At the opposite end, McGhee sent a vicious 30-yard effort narrowly wide of target. The visitors saw successive shots from Wotherspoon blocked almost on the goal line by Jamie Hamill and McGowan before they moved 2-0 ahead.
Unsurprisingly, it was May who inked his name on the scoresheet. He dispatched a beautiful arcing shot over MacDonald and into the far corner of the net from the edge of the home penalty area. With that, the result of this game was no longer in doubt.
After introducing substitutes David Smith, Dale Carrick and Sam Nicholson, Hearts appealed for a penalty when Smith fell in the penalty area under Gary MacDonald’s challenge. Carrick drove a powerful drive over the crossbar, but the afternoon ended with a comfortable win for St Johnstone.
Hearts (4-2-3-1): MacDonald; McGhee, McGowan, Wilson, McHattie; Robinson (Smith 70), Hamill; Paterson (Carrick 58), Holt, Walker (Nicholson 54); Stevenson. Subs: Ridgers, McKay, Tapping, Oliver.
St Johnstone (4-4-2): Mannus; Miller, Mackay, Scobbie, Easton; Millar, Davidson, Wotherspoon (Caddis 90), MacDonald (Jahic 87); May, Hasselbaink (Edwards 75). Subs: Banks, Cregg, Fallon, Brown.
Referee: Bobby Madden.