Maroon Memories: Gary McSwegan has Hearts heading for Europe

Hearts striker Gary McSwegan
Hearts striker Gary McSwegan
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St Johnstone 0 Hearts 1. SPL. Wednesday, March 15, 2000

Gary McSwegan offered Craig Brown a timely reminder of his presence as he headed Hearts into UEFA Cup contention at St Johnstone.

The former Rangers striker was mentioned in despatches by national coach Brown last week as a possible member of the squad for the friendly against world champions France in a fortnight.

And after his 64th-minute winner at McDiarmid Park lifted Hearts into third spot in the Scottish Premier League, 29-year-old McSwegan has brought himself right back into the limelight in his first start since February 2.

Indeed, McSwegan’s goal was the only bright spot in a dull game in Perth as both teams struggled to find any semblance of continuity.

The first period had been a turgid affair with neither side managing a single shot on target.

Nathan Lowndes was set free down the left flank by Paddy Connolly but from the edge of the area the striker fired over without appreciating the time he had.

Lowndes was again let loose down the left six minutes later by Darren Dods but with nobody expecting the Salford-born forward to reproduce his earlier run, his cross drifted across goal without threat.

Colin Cameron was clearly unimpressed by the non-events going on around him and was offered an audacious chance to open the scoring.

Stephen Roberston raced off his line to clear from Gary Wales but his ball fell at the feet of the Hearts midfielder.

Cameron looked up once from 35 yards but could only loft a cheeky, if ineffective, lob over the bar.

Scott Severin offered some hope of goal when he slipped the challenge of John Paul McBride before laying the ball off to Gary Naysmith, who drove wide.

Grant Murray came to Hearts’ rescue with a challenge on Connolly which did enough to deflect the Saints’ man’s shot wide.

From McBride’s corner Paul Kane swung a leg at the ball but only managed an embarrassed look as it drifted towards the corner flag.

There was a brief flirtation with excitement in the opening stages of the second period but the relationship was never consummated as Wales’ first-time volley from the edge of the box was comfortably held by Robertson.

However, with the onset of rigor mortis imminent Hearts claimed the lead with only their second strike on target.

Former Blackburn midfielder Lee Makel had been on the field as a replacement for Robert Tomaschek for just two minutes when he was invited to take a free-kick after Gary Bollan had fouled Thomas Flogel.

Makel swung the ball over from the right and McSwegan lifted himself above the Saints defence to glance the ball past Robertson.

St Johnstone attempted to lift the home crowd with an exciting move down the right which culminated in Connolly’s cross being hoofed over the bar by Lowndes.

Hearts goalkeeper Antti Niemi was called into action for the first time with 11 minutes remaining when he dived to his right to parry John O’Neil’s drive.

With ten minutes remaining Jim Jefferies withdrew goal-scorer McSwegan for Darren Jackson, who had been rested ahead of the Edinburgh derby, with a rousing reception from the travelling contingent.

St Johnstone: Robertson, Weir, O’Neil, Kane (Jones 77), Lowndes, Connolly, Bollan, Griffin, McBride, Dods,Frail (McMahon 69). Subs Not Used: Cuthbert, O’Halloran, McAnespie.Booked: Kane, Griffin.

Hearts: Niemi, Pressley, Naysmith, Cameron, McSwegan (Jackson 80), Murray, Flogel, Tomaschek (Makel 61), Leclercq, Wales (Adam 85), Severin. Subs Not Used: McKenzie, Simpson.

Referee: S Dougal (Scotland).

Att: 4468.