Spirited Hearts fight back from 2-0 down after Peter Haring's red card - but recurring issue is still a problem
Set-pieces remain the bane of Hearts’ entire campaign, a recurring problem which resurfaced in Paisley to further damage the Edinburgh club’s chances of finishing third in the Premiership. However, they deserved enormous credit for fighting back from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 with ten men.
St Mirren engineered two goals from set-plays in the first half as their aggression and physicality proved too much for the visitors. Joe Shaughnessy’s close-range strike following a corner and Ryan Strain’s free-kick gave Saints a comfortable 2-0 lead at the break. Josh Ginnelly struck for Hearts after the break before Peter Haring was ordered off for a challenge on Mark O’Hara. Lawrence Shankland's last-gasp penalty salvaged a draw.
Some of the away support spilled onto the track in celebration at the late equaliser, prompting some St Mirren fans to do likewise in retort. Stewards intervened without any physical altercations but it all made for a dramatic ending.
Uncompromising and sometimes cynical challenges from both teams dominated the early exchanges in the Paisley sunshine. Stephen Kingsley missed this match due to a family matter but Hearts named four teenagers among their substitutes – defender Lewis Neilson (19), striker Garang Kuol (18), midfielder Macaulay Tait (17) and forward James Wilson (16).
St Mirren missed striker Tony Watt through injury, although the New Zealand internationalist Alex Greive was a lively deputy. He had a clear chance on 24 minutes, thwarted by a brilliant block from Hearts centre-back Toby Sibbick.
Saints forced the opening goal from a corner nine minutes before half-time. Alex Gogic won the delivery and directed the ball across goal. Shaughnessy volleyed home from point-blank range as Hearts questioned their marking. It would have been 2-0 minutes later but for Zander Clark’s vital one-handed save repelling Curtis Main’s shot.
The hosts were firmly in the ascendancy near half-time and it was no surprise when they scored again. Hearts defender James Hill won the ball but was judged to have fouled O’Hara. From the resultant free-kick, Australian wing-back Strain fired a stunning angled free-kick beyond Clark at his near post.
Interim Hearts manager Steven Naismith introduced another Australian, Nathaniel Atkinson, and switched to a three-man defence for the second half. Strain tried another audacious attempt after cutting in from the left, requiring Clark to touch the ball over his crossbar. Seconds later, he parried Shaughnessy’s header to keep his team in the game.
Just when they needed it, Hearts received an injection of hope when Ginnelly halved the deficit by prodding home Atkinson’s cross. However, Haring’s red card left them once again facing adversity. The Austrian’s sliding foul on St Mirren’s Mark O’Hara was deemed serious foul play by referee David Dickinson, a decision VAR agreed with.
Hearts pressed and probed for an equaliser even with 10 men, and it arrived in stoppage-time. St Mirren substitute Ryan Flynn fouled Ginnelly in the penalty area and, following a VAR review, Shankland levelled the game from the spot.
St Mirren (3-5-2): Carson; Fraser, Shaughnessy, Taylor (Dunne 46); Strain (Flynn 89), Kiltie (Jamieson 84), Gogic, O’Hara, Tanser (Small 84); Main, Greive (Baccus 55).
Hearts (4-2-3-1): Clark; Hill (Kiomourtzoglou 75), Sibbick, Rowles, Halliday (Atkinson 46); Devlin (Grant 61), Haring; Oda (Forrest 81), Shankland, McKay; Ginnelly.
Referee: David Dickinson.