LIAM Craig and Dave Mackay were St Johnstone’s goalscorers in an inspired performance at Tynecastle which left Hearts winless for the fifth game in six. Mehdi Taouil struck a consolation - his first goal in maroon - with four minutes remaining but Jamie Hamill missed a costly second half penalty which would have levelled the game at 1-1.
Under new manager Steve Lomas, St Johnstone’s intelligent performance and incisive attacking was the game’s outstanding feature. The Northern Irishman has now presided over wins against both Edinburgh clubs plus a draw at Ibrox to begin his reign in Perth with genuine purpose. Hearts, though, remain in despair.
Players at Tynecastle are still awaiting November’s wages and, for much of this match, they looked devoid of spirit. Ryan Stevenson and David Obua were dropped to the subtitutes’ bench following last week’s victory over Inverness, and Ian Black was not included in the 18-man squad despite completing a three-game SFA suspension. Those who did start seemed taken aback by the attack-minded approach of their guests.
St Johnstone signalled their intent by striking early, inside three minutes to be precise. Marian Kello sprinted from his goal to collect Mackay’s right-sided cross but Andy Webster headed clear. Craig collected the ball and, with Kello off his line, executed an impressive lob into an empty Hearts net.
Despite being without their first-choice attacking due of Francisco Sandaza and Cillian Sheridan through injury, plus midfielder Jody Morris, the visitors hardly looked weakened. A second goal was almost gifted to them ten minutes later when a careless backward header from Zaliukas fell short of Kello. Thankfully, the Slovakian goalkeeper reacted in time to clear ahead of the onrushing Carl Finnigan. Kello displayed brilliant reactions again in the 28th minute to push Marcus Haber’s drive for a corner following a flowing attacking move from St Johnstone.
Hearts, and Zaliukas in particular, looked notably disjointed in defence whenever pressure was applied. Conditions weren’t helping as driving rain and howling winds engulfed Tynecastle. Due to SFA touchline bans, both managers looked on from the stand and it would unquestionably have been Lomas rather than Paulo Sergio who was more relaxed in his seat as the interval approached.
After Hearts were jeered from the field, the Portuguese acted during half-time. Webster was replaced by Stephen Elliott with an orthodox 4-4-2 formation adopted to allow lone striker John Sutton greater support. Still there were defensive frailties, however, and another error by Zaliukas on the ball gifted possession to Liam Craig. His 25-yard effort arced away from goal.
Enckelman held shots from Ryan McGowan, Elliott and Taouil as Hearts began exerting greater pressure on the St Johnstone goal. They earned a penalty on 63 minutes when substitute David McCracken - an early replacement for the injured Frazer Wright - was penalised for holding Sutton. However, Hamill’s right-footed penalty was beaten away by Enckelman’s left fist as luck continued to desert the hosts.
That theme continued and further suspect defending granted St Johnstone an opportunity to kill the game from the penalty spot, which they duly accepted. Ryan McGowan’s tame clearance was headed back into the danger zone by Murray Davidson. Mackay collected and returned the ball to Davidson, who had his heel clipped by Eggert Jonsson inside the area. Mackay calmly converted from the spot high to Kello’s left, allowing St Johnstone to sense victory.
Hearts, though, were not quite finished. Taouil angled a deflected effort from 25 yards past Enckelman to restore hope and, in stoppage time, the St Johnstone goalkeeper used his fingertips to save at point-blank range from Elliott. The desire to prise a draw was illustrated by the sight of substitute Stevenson running around 20 yards to square up to Adrian Mrowiec after some sloppy defending by the Pole.
An equaliser remained elusive, however, and Lomas exited Tynecastle elated with another impressive win to add to his record.
Hearts (4-2-3-1): Kello; Hamill (Obua 80), Webster (S Elliott 46), Zaliukas, McGowan; Mrowiec, Jonsson; Skacel, Mrowiec, Taouil, Templeton (Stevenson 80); Sutton. Subs: MacDonald, Novikovas, G Smith, Robinson.
St Johnstone (4-4-2): Enckelman; Mackay, Anderson, Wright (McCracken 11), Davidson; Millar, Moon, Davidson, Craig; Finnigan (Maybury 76), Haber. Subs: Mannus, Gibson, Durnan, May, Gray.
Referee: Stevie O’Reilly.