Maroon Memories: Juanjo’s perfect leaving gift

Juanjo ran St Johnstone ragged at Tynecastle
Juanjo ran St Johnstone ragged at Tynecastle
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Hearts 3, St Johnstone 0: October 13, 2001

FANS’ favourite Juanjo could not have written a better script for what turned out to be his last Hearts game in front of his own supporters at Tynecastle as he grabbed a double in a three-goal triumph.

The former Barcelona winger was coming towards the end of his three-year stay in the Capital and was already on the look-out for another club, with his contract due to expire at the end of the month.

Craig Levein had moulded his side into a solid, hard-working unit but in Juanjo he had the type of player who provided the type of unpredictability and skill the fans loved.

His flashes of brilliance were there for all to see as he inspired his team-mates to a convincing 3-0 win over St Johnstone. The ex-Nou Camp kid could easily have had a hat-trick as Hearts romped to their first win in six attempts to ease the tension which had been building around Tynecastle.

The excellent performance, which merited more goals than the three they managed to put into Alan Miller’s net, was all the more commendable given the fragile state of the team’s confidence going into the clash.

As Juanjo tore the St Johnstone defence to shreds, there had been chants of “are you watching Robinson” from the stands.

This was a reference to the suggestion that unpopular chairman Chris Robinson was unwilling to dig deeper into his pockets in order to come up with a deal to keep the 24-year-old. Whatever Robinson’s thoughts, Juanjo was too hot for Saints to handle on Saturday.

Billy Stark’s men had no answer to his dribbling skills or his darting runs as he drove the Jambos forward at every opportunity and it was a relieved Levein who emerged at full-time to discuss his first win since beating Dunfermline two months previously.

The Spanish star looked in the mood from the first whistle, curling an ambitious 35-yard free-kick just wide in the opening minute. With Alan Maybury enjoying an impressive debut at right-back following his transfer from Leeds United, the hosts coped easily with what little threat Saints posed and duly took the lead in the 26th minute when Juanjo, one of the smallest players afield, rose above the visitors’ defence to head home the opener.

Shortly after the unfortunate Andy Kirk had been stretchered off with a leg injury, the Jambos got their second goal. It was a disaster for Benito Kemble, who completely missed his kick in attempting to clear Stephane Mahe’s cross, and Stephane Adam made no mistake in converting the simplest of opportunities. The Saints stopper repeated his brainstorm 12 minutes after the interval, with Thomas Flogel just failing to make the most of his blunder.

The third goal, though, was only delayed three minutes and what a beauty it was. Juanjo set off on another darting run before finding Mahe in acres of space galloping down the left. The full-back sent a dangerous ball across the face of the goal and there was Juanjo, who had continued his run, to knock the ball home past Miller.

The Saints keeper had looked unsure on his debut following his loan move from Blackburn Rovers but he produced a cracking save to tip over a Flogel shot, before denying Juanjo his hat-trick with a superb block at his near post.

Hearts: Niemi, Maybury, Mahe, Severin, Pressley, Flogel, Adam, Kirk, Juanjo, Webster, Simmons.