St Johnstone 1, Hearts 2: September 13, 1997
Hearts made it three wins from their first five league games, but they were fortunate to come away from Perth with all three points after producing an underwhelming display.
Both goals were superb Jim Hamilton headers from pinpoint deliveries. Jim Jefferies’ side, however, weren’t at the races, and in the end they were fortunate to get away with a victory. St Johnstone had more chances, but contrived to spurn them all. Hearts were ultimately indebted to the hosts’ profligacy.
The match was so dull in the early stages that you could hear the shouts of the players for much of the first 20 minutes. Some of the play was pleasing, none of it was eventful until Steve Fulton decided to make it so. He took possession just inside his own half, evaded a tackle, ran on and picked up Stephane Adam making an unfettered run. The jabbing little pass was precise, the cantor and the cross equally so, and Hamilton, in the spearhead striking role, had only to head the ball the way he was travelling to unhinge Alan Main and the first marker was on the sheet.
Saints had not been noticeably inferior until then and might have quickly returned to equality after a swift one-two freed Callum Davidson to chop in a cute cross from the byeline, but Roddy Grant’s looping header had a touch too much weight on it. Grant, a boyhood Hearts fan, had another chance, this time a diving header, saved ten minutes before the break and George O’Boyle, who had been beavering away in his blue boots, saw his first-timer on the turn deflected over. A flurry of effort then ensued. John O’Neil had a shot clawed away by Gilles Rousset, O’Boyle turned another over the top. St Johnstone must have gone in for tea, and a hectoring, feeling raw about their luck.
It was decidedly in their favour, however, five minutes after the turnaround. Neil Pointon clumped a long ball upfield which reached Adam. The Frenchman motored to the byeline and cut the ball back for Hamilton for what should have been an easy tap-in. Unfortunately the big striker got his limbs in a fankle and sclaffed his shot.
He was much more punctilious with his head, though. There seemed to be little deadly intent when Stefano Salvatori took the ball for a walk 30 yards out on the right, then launched a long flat cross. Hamilton, just inside the box, met it vehemently with his head and the ball roared home. Other sides might have smothered the remaining life out of the game but Hearts seemed only to slumber, allowing the home side to come back with a goal and a flurry of other chances which, with more composure and accuracy, would have rescued their cause.
The goal had a measure of good fortune – a defensive header came back to sub Steve Tosh as he tried to find the galloping O’Boyle on the wing – but there was nothing fortuitous about his finish.
He smacked the ball first time from the edge of the box, making Rousset’s dive theatrical but unnecessary. O’Boyle then followed the goal with a volley into the stand.
Phil Scott finished equally dreadfully, as did Grant, and Hearts held on.
Hearts: Rousset, McManus, Pointon, Weir, Salvatori, Ritchie, McCann, Fulton, Hamilton, Cameron, Adam.