Goal: Grainger 63
Referee: Bobby Madden.
It was announced before kick-off that Hearts followers have raised £500,000 so far through the recently-launched share issue. That brought players and staff out on to the pitch at 2.50pm to applaud those whose efforts are keeping the club alive. It was an emotional moment on a poignant day.
Grainger’s goal settled a stuffy encounter in which Hearts enjoyed the bulk of possession but, as so often this season, could not convert control into goals. They also survived a tortuous end to the game, with a Marc McAusland header cleared off the line as St Mirren pressed relentlessly for an equaliser. It didn’t arrive despite the best efforts of the Paisley side.
Team news announced first Hearts starts for Dylan McGowan and Jamie Walker and a first Tynecastle start for Jason Holt. With Dylan and Ryan McGowan in the same side, it was the first time two brothers had started a match for Hearts since Frank and Hugh O’Donnell in the 1940s.
Amid a spine-tingling atmosphere, Hearts enjoyed an inspired opening to the game as they kicked off at a ferocious tempo. Their dominance of the ball did not yield goals, however, and the pace dropped. Grainger’s free-kick was blocked by the legs of St Mirren’s goalkeeper Craig Samson and that was the closest the hosts came to scoring. Steven Thompson was the visitors’ most dynamic forward, although he lacked support and was restricted to shots from distance.
It was, in truth, a poor first half overall. The second period didn’t start much better although St Mirren were happy retreating towards their own 18-yard line, where they conceded free-kicks regularly as Hearts attacked.
They paid the penalty for that on 63 minutes when Grainger broke the deadlock in emphatic fashion. After Jim Goodwin fouled Andy Webster, substitute Arvydas Novikovas rolled the free-kick to Grainger and his drive spun off McLean and over Samson into the top corner. The cheer which erupted as ball reached net was evidence of the kind of backing Hearts have had all week.
Home fans appealed for a penalty on 72 minutes, claiming another Grainger shot had struck Goodwin on the arm. St Mirren’s attacks had been rare until that point but the closing stages proved to be their best period of the afternoon. McLean volleyed over Jamie MacDonald’s crossbar and then arced a free-kick goalwards which the goalkeeper could only parry. McAusland’s header was then cleared off the goal line by Jason Holt on 79 minutes.
Andy Driver, on as substitute, ought to have put the result beyond doubt after sprinting in behind the St Mirren defence, however he guided a low shot wide of target. The final minutes became increasingly nervous but the final whistle sounded to chants of “we’ll support you evermore” from the Hearts fans. Three points certainly sent them home happy.
Hearts (4-4-1-1): MacDonald; R McGowan, Webster, Zaliukas, Grainger; Paterson (Novikovas 62), Barr, D McGowan, Walker (Driver 76); Holt (Taouil 85); Stevenson. Subs: Enckelman, Sutton, G Smith, King.
St Mirren: (4-1-4-1): Samson; Van Zanten, Mair (Robertson 74), McAusland, Dummett; Goodwin; Teale (Imrie 71), Reilly (Parkin 71), McLean, Carey; Thompson. Subs: Smith, Barron, McGinn, Brady.