Hearts 2-1 St Johnstone: Jambos win again to stay five points clear
Hearts maintained their five-point lead atop the Ladbrokes Premiership with a 2-1 win over St Johnstone.
Peter Haring's fifth goal of the season and Jimmy Dunne's first for the Edinburgh club secured another three points for the league leaders despite Ross Callachan scoring a consolation for the visitors on his return to Tynecastle Park.
Both Hearts goals were headers from corners, although it should be said the hosts stroked the ball around on the ground and fashioned plenty scoring opportunities throughout the 90 minutes. St Johnstone competed well in midfield but, with top goalscorer Tony Watt only able for a substitutes' role due to a niggling injury, they lacked guile up front.
Callachan's composed finish 14 minutes from time raised hopes that they could salvage a point after being 2-0 behind. It certainly made for a more intense ending, but Hearts did enough to retain their advantage.
After two days of Betfred Cup semi-final furore, they were relieved to resume league duties and kept the same team following Wednesday night's 4-2 cup win against Motherwell. St Johnstone started midfielder Callachan on his first trip back to Gorgie since leaving last month.
Visiting goalkeeper Zander Clark made a smart early save to deny Michael Smith. His opposite number, Zdenek Zlamal, then had to react quickly when Matthew Kennedy's cross spun off John Souttar and headed for the bottom corner. It was a predictably lively start from both sides.
St Johnstone missed another opportunity after 14 minutes when David McMillan glanced Drey Wright's cross wide of target. The home team were playing some crisp, passing football, especially down the right where Callumn Morrison was once again in an active mood. They forced a corner on 23 minutes which led to the game's opening goal.
Olly Lee's delivery was met by the head of Arnaud Djoum and the ball ricocheted towards Haring. The Austrian's looping header towards the far away corner of the net was impossible for Clark to reach, and with that Hearts had the advantage.
Zlamal was forced into another diving save moments later when the St Johnstone midfielder Blair Alston tried an attempt from 25 yards. Play continued to sway from one end to the other. Hearts constructed another neat passing move involving Lee and Demetri Mitchell, who produced a sublime piece of ball skill down the left. The ball was quickly worked out to Morrison in space for a shot on the right, but he skewed his effort past the near post.
Smith sprinted forward to meet another Lee corner on 36 minutes, only to shoot first time into Clark's arms. Then came a strong one-handed save from the goalkeeper to deny Lee, and a quite breathtaking fist to prevent Mitchell's blistering drive soaring high into the net. Hearts were firmly on top, although their search for a second goal stretched into the second half.
Morrison and Lee both had strikes at goal shortly after the restart but the home players also needed to remain mindful of the opposition. Wright linked well with Callachan inside the Hearts penalty area and should have done more than drag his shot across the face of goal.
A glaring chance to put the game beyond Saints arrived on the hour mark. Clark couldn't hold Steven Naismith's 25-yard drive and Steven MacLean rushed in for the rebound against his former club. However, his first-time shot was side-footed over the crossbar.
Eventually, the much-anticipated second did arrive – and it came via another corner-kick. Again Lee's delivery was angled into the penalty box and this time Dunne rose highest to nod the ball out of Clark's reach and into the net. It was the first time the on-loan Burnley centre-back had found the net since arriving in Scotland.
Naismith and Djoum both wasted chances to increase Hearts' lead before Saints reduced it. Ricky Foster's cross from the right landed with Callachan, and he produced a cushioned finish low into Zlamal's bottom left corner from around 18 yards. It was game on at that point, although Callachan didn't celebrate against his old team-mates.
St Johnstone pressed for an equaliser in the final stages, however Hearts held firm to maintain that cushion at the league's summit.
Hearts (4-4-2): Zlamal; M Smith (Dikamona 84), Souttar, Dunne, Mitchell; Morrison (Bozanic 79), Haring, Lee, Djoum; MacLean (Amankwaa 87), Naismith. Unused subs: Doyle, Wighton, Garuccio, McDonald.
St Johnstone (4-4-1-1): Clark; Foster, Kerr, Shaughnessy, Tanser; Wright, Callachan, Alston (Craig 84), Kennedy (Swanson 57); Kane; McMillan (Watt 65). Unused subs: Hurst, Anderson, Wotherspoon, Nydam.
Referee: Nick Walsh.