St Johnstone 2-2 Hearts, December 30, 2002
HEARTS boss Craig Levein knew his side was well short of the finished article as he went on record to say that he would need to bolster each position with five or six players, but he could be in doubt about the terrific fighting spirit which existed in the Gorgie camp.
After six games at the helm Levein could take heart from the willingness of his side to force their way back into a match, another example coming in this 2-2 draw away in Perth.
In their previous clash against Dundee United in the Capital, heads could have gone down after the visitors scored against the run of play to force their way back into the game after Hearts had eased into a 2-0 lead.
They refused to let the setback knock them out of their stride, though, and eventually ran out comfortable 3-1 winners. The grit and determination was there for all to see in the Boxing Day derby after Hibs broke the deadlock just before half-time, then pummelled their hosts after the interval.
Again, though, the Jambos stood firm and fought their way back into the match to earn a point courtesy of Gary McSwegan’s clinical finish.
The latest example of the never-say-die attitude came in this entertaining encounter with St Johnstone in Perth. Having taken an early lead through Andy Kirk, Hearts found themselves trailing 2-1 at the interval after Mohammed Sylla and Paddy Connolly had struck for the hosts.
With the Jambos in the ascendancy after Kirk’s powerful shot was too strong for Main, both Robert Tomaschek, who blasted over from great position, and Juanjo, who only had the keeper to beat but failed miserably with his attempted lob, were guilty of slack finishing in front of goal.
Sandwiched in between either chance were terrific saves from Antti Niemi, the Finn twice denying Keigan Parker. However, the Jambos star had no chance with Sylla’s 24th-minute leveller, while Connolly knocked the ball home at the second attempt ten minutes later to swing the game in Saints’ favour.
However, the turning point for the travelling supporters came when Levein introduced Gordon Durie for Steve Fulton – the striker had recovered from a thigh strain – and pushed him into attack alongside McSwegan and Kirk.
It was a bold move with half an hour remaining but the decision paid a handsome dividend when the hard-working McSwegan got the better of Gary Bollan after chasing a long through ball from Gary Locke and drove the ball into the penalty box, where Durie first-timed a right-foot shot out of the reach of Alan Main.
As much as Hearts were willing to battle the side were missing a vital cutting edge to their attack.
Not for the first time in this season chances went abegging which, had they gone in, would have gone a long way towards winning the game.