Hearts owner Ann Budge left with serious thinking to do as Hearts hit their nadir since rejoining elite
Tynecastle club left joint-bottom of Premiership - with pressure now booming down on manager Craig Levein
The nadir since Hearts regained their Premiership status four years ago arrived in Perth as they slipped to joint-bottom of the league. Christophe Berra’s own goal was the lowest moment during another turgid display which left supporters chanting for manager Craig Levein to be removed from office.
The Edinburgh club find themselves with just one victory after the first quarter of the Ladrokes Premiership campaign. That came against Hibs at Easter Road. Injuries have been a factor as many of their most influential players have been sidelined for most of the season.
Nonetheless, with a first-team squad of more than 30, and plenty international quality still on the field, such form can’t be allowed to continue. That is unless the Tynecastle hierarchy aspire for a relegation battle through the winter and into 2020.
Owner Ann Budge will have some serious thinking to do. On current form, Hearts do not look capable of pulling away from the likes of St Mirren, who sit below them only on goal difference, or Hamilton and Hibs a point above. They have won just five league matches throughout 2019.
After drawing with Rangers and taking a point at Livingston in their previous two outings, victory at McDiarmid Park would have helped momentum ahead of Sunday’s Betfred Cup semi-final. Quite simply, the visitors did not look like scoring in Perth. Not at any moment. They registered just one shot on target during the entire evening.
St Johnstone did their job in the sense that they battled hard, forced themselves in front and did enough to see the game out. They were far from scintillating but didn’t need to be. That was perhaps one of the most galling aspects of the entire night for the visitors.
The sight of Jamie Walker’s name reappearing on the teamsheet was a welcome pre-match lift at a venue where Hearts last won a league fixture back in 2010. Aidy White and Loic Damour were also reinstated but St Johnstone had momentum after their first league win on Saturday against Hamilton. They remained bottom of the Premiership at kick-off, with their guests just one point better off.
David Wotherspoon created the game’s first scoring opportunity for Murray Davidson, whose shot ricocheted off Berra as it headed for goal. Stevie May then hooked a half chance into the stand following Wotherspoon’s through ball. Hearts saw plenty of the ball but creativity was minimal, as it was at Livingston on Saturday, and final passes too often went astray.
Play was interrupted by regular fouls from both sides and that impeded the flow of the game. St Johnstone’s teenage midfielder Ali McCann found himself bearing down on goal after a defensive mix-up involving Oliver Bozanic and Michael Smith on 37 minutes. The Hearts players left the ball to each other and McCann stole possession, however his heavy touch allowed goalkeeper Joel Pereira to collect.
Callumn Morrison produced the visitors’ first shot on target near the interval which Zander Clark collected. Perhaps befitting of an affair between two teams near the bottom, there was little sparkle on show at McDiarmid Park in the first 45 minutes. If anything, it was the hosts who looked marginally more likely to force a goal.
They did just that by emerging strongly for the second half and were rewarded before the hour mark. Michael Smith had cleared Matty Kennedy’s driven effort before Davidson’s volley was pushed away for a corner by Pereira. The resultant delivery from Wotherspoon brought the breakthrough, Jason Kerr jumping without connecting as the ball ricocheted off Berra and into the net. It was a goal to sum up a year of wretched form for Hearts.
Saints were deserving of their advantage and instantly sensed the chance for a second successive victory following Saturday's 3-2 win against Hamilton. Walker and midfielder Glenn Whelan were immediately introduced by Hearts and before long chants of “Craig Levein, we want you to go”, emanated from the away support.
A second goal would have arrived on 83 minutes had Aaron Hickey not cleared Wallace Duffy’s header from beneath his own crossbar. Hearts had offered a paltry response after falling behind and looked toothless in attack. St Johnstone should probably have been content to hold their advantage entering the closing stages but they looked equipped to score again.
After four minutes of stoppage time, the evening ended with cries of delight as St Johnstone moved off the foot of the league. Those were soon drowned out by jeers and booing from the travelling fans.