Hearts were denied a first league victory at McDiarmid Park in eight years by another piece of contentious officiating. Matty Kennedy’s 70th-minute penalty for St Johnstone levelled the score at 2-2 after referee Andrew Dallas judged that visiting midfielder Peter Haring fouled the home substitute Liam Gordon.
There appeared to be no contact and the Edinburgh club were aggrieved at the decision, which comes just days after Rangers beat them at Tynecastle Park with an offside goal. Manager Craig Levein publicly raged at that decision and entered the pitch to confront Dallas at full-time in Perth.
Arnaud Djoum headed Hearts in front after only six minutes but Blair Alston quickly equalised for St Johnstone. Oliver Bozanic restored the advantage three minutes from half-time, but the disputed penalty remained the main talking point of the evening.
Hearts’ last league win at McDiarmid Park came on November 13, 2010. Their form entering this game had been poor, with Djoum’s opener the first goal by a Tynecastle player for 590 minutes of football since Steven MacLean struck at Dundee on October 23.
Despite being tempted to leave Christophe Berra out to ease him back gently from injury, Levein kept his captain in central defence. However, he handed him a new partner in Clevid Dikamona, with Michael Smith moving out to right-back. Olly Lee returned in midfield, as did Craig Wighton up front.
St Johnstone were digesting news that winger Drey Wright – one of their most effective and dangerous players – was out for the rest of the season with a knee ligament injury. They replaced him with Alston. Having won five and drawn one of their last six games without conceding a goal, there was no call for any other alterations to Tommy Wright’s settled starting line-up.
That run of defensive resistance was soon broken, though. Hearts moved ahead on six minutes when Djoum rose above Richard Foster to meet Smith’s cross at the back post. His looping header sailed over Zander Clark in the home goal to nestle in the far corner of the net.
It was the first goal St Johnstone had conceded since October 7, although Hearts were merely relieved to have ended such a long wait for one of their players to score.
The hosts came frighteningly close to equalising moments later. Kennedy scuffed Tony Watt’s cross but reacted quickly to square the ball into the path of left-back Scott Tanser. His powerful left-footed drive arced across goal and millimetres wide of the far post.
The score was levelled on 20 minutes. After some delightful skill to evade Smith wide on the St Johnstone left, David Wotherspoon crossed for the unmarked Alston to cushion a perfect volley into the net from ten yards. The Hearts goalkeeper Zdenek Zlamal then made successive saves to stop another effort from Alston and one from Watt.
Play remained open with both sides attacking and exploiting gaps in the other’s defence. They both enjoyed success from wide areas and, on 32 minutes, Djoum ought to have done better from Demetri Mitchell’s left-sided delivery. Foster’s foul on Mitchell out wide led to Hearts regaining the lead three minutes from the interval.
Lee swung the free-kick into the penalty area and, from eight yards, Bozanic rose among a crowd of bodies to head strongly past Clark. He set off to celebrate with a kiss of the badge and looked suitably ecstatic at converting his second goal for the Edinburgh club.
The second period became considerably more tense as niggly confrontations developed all over the pitch. Tempers simmered and threatened to boil over as referee Andrew Dallas tried to maintain order.
Wotherspoon, Peter Haring and Sean Clare were all booked for fouling. When Haring then clipped the heels of St Johnstone substitute Chris Kane, home players and supporters howled for the Austrian to receive a second yellow and subsequent red. Dallas resisted.
Loud cheers rang around McDiarmid Park soon after when Dallas awarded Saints a penalty. He judged that Haring fouled Gordon during an aerial challenge inside the penalty box, but Hearts players protested strongly. Dallas stood firm and Kennedy made no mistake with the spot-kick to restore parity for a second time.
St Johnstone: Clark, Foster, Kerr, Shaughnessy, Tanser (Gordon 46), Alston (Kane 66), Davidson, Craig, Wotherspoon, Kennedy, Watt (McMillan 83). Unused subs: Nydam, Callachan, Scougall, Hurst.
Hearts: Zlamal, Smith, Dikamona, Berra, Mitchell (Godinho 77), Haring, Djoum, Lee (Morrison 80), Bozanic, Clare (MacLean 89), Wighton. Unused subs: Doyle, Hughes, Cochrane, Mulraney.
Referee: A Dallas