HEARTS bowed out of the Scottish Premiership with a hard-earned draw in Paisley thanks to Dale Carrick’s equaliser early in the second half.
The result leaves them with 23 points, 12 behind second-bottom Hibs who now face a relegation play-off for the right to stay in the top flight after losing to Kilmarnock at home.
Both goals at St Mirren Park came from rebounds after saves by the respective goalkeepers. Conor Newton broke the deadlock in the first half following Jamie MacDonald’s parry from Kenny McLean, who was undoubtedly St Mirren’s best player. Then Carrick equalised just after half-time after Chris Dilo pushed Jamie Walker’s shot into his path.
The huge away support were in fine voice throughout the game and gave the Hearts players a tremendous send-off at full-time. Chants of “we’ll support you evermore” rung around the stadium as those in maroon contemplate life in the Championship next season after being relegated.
Seventeen of Hearts’ 18-man matchday squad passed through the club’s youth academy, with captain Danny Wilson being the only exception. Furthermore, he was the oldest outfield player at the age of 22 with Jamie Hamill suspended and Ryan Stevenson injured.
After securing Premiership safety, St Mirren rotated their squad and gave Josh Magennis, Gary Teale and Gregg Wylde starting places. However, it was their goalkeeper Dilo who was in action first to repel Walker’s fourth-minute shot. He held another attempt from the same player on 14 minutes as Hearts controlled the early exchanges.
McLean began influencing midfield for St Mirren and it was his 20-yard shot which led to the opening goal on 27 minutes. MacDonald, restored in goal for Hearts in place of Mark Ridgers, parried the midfielder’s powerful drive and Newton dispatched the rebound high into the net.
Moments later, Wylde’s cross was glanced wide by Magennis. St Mirren had altered the flow of the game and were now the side pressing forward. In particular, they exploited the left flank where Wylde had the better of the Hearts right-back Callum Paterson. McLean stung MacDonald’s palms again witha free-kick a minute before the interval.
The biggest cheer of the first 45 minutes came from the 2500-strong travelling support when news of Kilmarnock’s goal at Easter Road filtered through to Paisley. However, the noise was just as loud when Carrick produced an equaliser early in the second half. The striker pounced on the rebound after Dilo parried Walker’s shot to finish from close range and continue his rich recent scoring streak.
The game became slightly tousy thereafter. MacDonald held another shot from distance by McLean but neither side was able to cause the other serious problems as the final stages approached. The only moment of consternation for the hosts was Paterson’s header in the dying seconds from Sam Nicholson’s cross, however Dilo’s fingertips saved the day.
The final whistle sounded and there were some emotional scenes as both sets of players thanked their respective supporters. Hearts are preparing for life in the Championship following their relegation, while St Mirren live to fight another day in the top flight.
St Mirren (4-2-3-1): Dilo; Naismith (Van Zanten 90), McGregor, McAusland, Kelly; Goodwin, Newton (McGinn 73); Teale (McGowan 62), McLean, Wylde; Magennis. Subs: Kello, Reilly, Van Zanten, Djemba-Djemba, Campbell.
Hearts (4-4-1-1): MacDonald; Paterson, McGowan, Wilson, McHattie; D Smith (McGhee 46), Robinson, Holt, Nicholson; Walker (King 73); Carrick (Oliver 82). Subs: Ridgers, McKay, Beith, L Smith.
Referee: Stephen Finnie.