Story of St Johnstone 1-1 Hearts: Josh Ginnelly and John Souttar stand out but frustration in Perth continues for Jambos
Frustration in Perth is nothing new to Hearts given they haven’t won a league game at McDiarmid Park for 11 years.
This was more of the same, abeit the Tynecastle side will simply not get closer to victory at St Johnstone than this. Relentless second-half pressure could not yield a winner and the throng of away supporters responded positively at full-time after a gargantuan effort by their team.
Rangers’ 2-2 draw with Aberdeen at Ibrox created a chance for Hearts to close the gap at the top of the Premiership and they did everything but score after the break. Celtic’s victory at Hibs pushed Robbie Neilson’s side down to third in the table – although they remain unbeaten having now played a full round of league fixtures.
Liam Gordon’s early goal put St Johnstone ahead before Josh Ginnelly’s equaliser near the interval. Ginnelly and John Souttar were undoubtedly Hearts’ most impressive players on the night. However, St Johnstone fought courageously to hold out for a point despite their jaded legs on a heavy pitch.
Torrential rain during the afternoon prompted a 6.45pm pitch inspection but there was very little danger of this fixture being postponed due to the surface. The precipiation did cause a number of mistakes, though, and the surface would have sapped huge amounts of energy from both teams.
They deserved enormous credit for a compelling match containing plenty incidents and drama, not to mention six yellow cards in total.
St Johnstone wanted the points to push upwards from tenth position in the league table, while Hearts were hoping to stay in pursuit of leaders Rangers. Without Liam Boyce due to a calf injury, they gave the imposing Frenchman Armand Gnanduillet an opportunity at centre-forward. Ginnelly was also back in to provide supply.
The hosts reinstated their on-loan Brighton defender Lars Dendoncker along with Ali Crawford and Stevie May. With more than 3,200 away fans in attendance allied to a noisy home singing section, the atmosphere crackled in the evening air around Perth following a minute’s silence for Walter Smith at kick-off.
A few players slipped on the soft pitch during the early moments and St Johnstone seemed to adapt better. They forced a corner which produced the opening goal on 11 minutes as Cammy MacPherson’s delivery bounced through a ruck of players and landed at the back post for the unmarked Gordon to convert.
As blue shirts celebrated, the Hearts midfielder Cammy Devlin responded by gesturing to colleagues to get going. Saints tackled and pressed aggressively and weren’t slow to pile into challenges on the slick pitch. Both Gnanduillet and Ginnelly felt the force of Jamie McCart and Murray Davidson respectively.
Ginnelly responded with a run and left-footed attempt from 25 yards which sailed over Zander Clark’s crossbar. The winger then teed up Michael Smith, but again the strike was off target.
Hearts almost gifted their hosts a second goal in a crazy few minutes after the half-hour. Goalkeeper Craig Gordon received a pass across his six-yard area and May slid in to block his clearance. The ricochet fell for Kane to hit first-time, an effort which Gordon beat away instinctively.
Moments later the keeper slid out to catch a rolling through ball after his defence conceded possession cheaply. He skidded completely out of the penalty area due to the rain and had to release his grasp as Saints players swarmed around. None of them could capitalise.
Their energy forced several errors from the visitors around that stage, yet there was always the threat of a quick forward delivery to utilise Ginnelly’s pace. That combination produced the equaliser five minutes from half-time.
As St Johnstone appealed for a foul by Beni Baningime on Crawford in midfield, the Congolese slid a perfect ball through for Ginnelly. He outpaced his marker to thump a left-footed shot beyond Clark into the net.
Hearts would have retreated at the interval with the advantage had Clark not pushed away Gnanduillet’s header from Andy Halliday's corner in stoppage-time. Both sides were embroiled in a full-blooded affair and tackles continued to fly in when play resumed, resulting in a number of yellow cards.
The Edinburgh side asserted themselves better after the interval by playing at a higher tempo. John Souttar’s 30-yard attempt flew wide after he instigated an attack for the umpteenth time. Both full-backs, Smith and Halliday, also advanced frequently to join in with midfielders.
McKay’s cross found Ginnelly for an acrobatic strike on 71 minutes which Clark pushed away. Souttar’s angled shot from 20 yards then bounced narrowly past the goalkeeper’s right post. As Hearts forced the issue, Devlin’s tenacity upset several St Johnstone players.
Gnanduillet found himself with a clear chance to win the game with 15 minutes remaining. Played in at an angle by substitute Ben Woodburn, the giant striker rolled a right-footed shot beyond the far post.
Referee Steven McLean incurred the wrath of the away fans by awarding a throw-in following Efe Ambrose’s 84th-minute clearance, which quite clearly ran behind for a corner near the flag. That intensified the atmosphere further during a frenetic closing period.
For all Hearts’ pressure, they couldn’t fashion a winning goal despite St Johnstone visibly tiring. They left Perth with a point but will feel it should have been more.
St Johnstone (3-5-2): Clark; Dendoncker (Ambrose 46), Gordon, McCart; Brown (Devine 46), MacPherson, Davidson, Crawford, Booth; May (Middleton 81), Kane.
Hearts (3-4-3): Gordon; Souttar, Halkett, Kingsley; M Smith, Devlin, Baningime, Halliday; Ginnelly (Woodburn 75), Gnanduillet, McKay (Mackay-Steven 89).
Referee: Steven McLean.