Hearts 1-0 St Mirren: Jambos six clear in third place with two debutants as Robbie Neilson is sent off
Two new loan signings enjoyed Hearts debuts in a narrow victory over St Mirren which put the Edinburgh club six points clear in third place in the Premiership.
James Hill and Garang Kuol featured whilst a third, Yutaro Oda, remained on the bench watching Barrie McKay’s solitary goal decide the game. The Hearts manager Robbie Neilson was sent to the stand for a second yellow card for protesting at referee David Munro during the second half.
There was a slightly nervous end to the night but, six days after a 1-1 draw in Paisley, Hearts were relieved with the victory and a clean sheet. Hill left the field after a man-of-the-match performance and looked a very useful acquisition.
A sombre beginning to the night saw a moving round of applause on eight minutes for eight-year-old schoolboy Hearts fan Rudi Abbot. He sadly died last week from a rare and aggressive grade four brain tumour known as pineoblastoma. The three points were a fitting tribute to the youngster.
Hill started in on the right side of the three-man Hearts defence after completing a loan move from Bournemouth. Oda, a permanent signing from Vissel Kobe, and Kuol, a loanee from Newcastle United, were among the substitutes. St Mirren were without Marcus Fraser, Charles Dunne and Ethan Erhahon through suspension, while Ryan Strain was injured. Scotland international centre-back Declan Gallagher returned after injury.
Both goalkeepers made straightforward saves before Hearts broke the deadlock on 29 minutes with a scintillating move full of passing interchanges. McKay moved forward to feed Lawrence Shankland and take a return ball, which he then slid in to Andy Halliday. The midfielder waited patiently to release again into the path of the onrushing McKay, who placed a high finish beyond Trevor Carson in the St Mirren goal from 18 yards.
In truth, that was a rare moment of quality in an otherwise unremarkable first half. The only other notable incident involved Alexander Gogic catching Halliday on the head with a flailing arm. There was no punishment despite protests from the home camp.
Hill was enjoying a convincing debut laced with several arrowed passes out of defence to team-mates further forward. Short of full match fitness, he looked like a player who will only improve with more game time in Scotland. Hearts’ possession-based style certainly seemed to suit his intentions.
Alex Cochrane departed with an apparent hamstring complaint early in the second half which the hosts will hope is nothing serious. St Mirren were probing and on 71 minutes substitute Jonah Aynunga drove a shot off Zander Clark’s right post.
Munro sent Neilson up the tunnel 11 minutes from time and the manager took his seat just in time to see Clark produce two breathtaking saves. After a wayward pass in midfield by substitute Cammy Devlin, the goalkeeper parried efforts from Kiltie and Curtis Main in quick succession to preserve his team’s narrow advantage.
Hearts lost Halliday to a head knock before substitutes Kuol and Humphrys combined on the break. Kuol sent Humphrys in on goal but the Englishman somehow contrived to send a sitter wide of the post. Thankfully for him, it didn’t affect the overall result.
Nor did a late penalty claim by St Mirren. A deep cross bounced up and struck Kye Rowles on the arm, however a VAR review concluded that there was no infringement.
Hearts (3-5-2): Clark; Hill, Sibbick, Rowles; M Smith, McKay (Kuol 77), Snodgrass, Halliday (Forrest 87), Cochrane (Devlin 60); Shankland, Ginnelly (Humphrys 77).
St Mirren (3-5-2): Carson; Gallagher, Shaughnessy, Taylor (Brophy 85); Flynn, Baccus (Reid 67), Gogic, O’Hara (Kiltie 32), Tanser; Main, Greive (Ayunga 67).
Referee: David Munro.