Mole and Stewart see off ten-man Saints
Csaba Laszlo's rejuvenated Hearts secured their second success of this fledgling season with a hard-fought victory over Gus McPherson's stuffy St Mirren side. Despite much promising play and the sending-off of Buddies' midfielder Tonet Gueraro midway through the first half, Hearts had to wait until a minute from the break before Jamie Mole blasted them into a deserved lead.
St Mirren came back strongly after the break, though, and it looked as if they might secure a point when Billy Mehmet turned the ball into an empty net with twenty minutes remaining. All was well just four minutes later though, when Michael Stewart stroked home a penalty awarded after Andy Driver had been upended in the box.
Hearts started with two changes from the side that had lost at Ibrox. New signing Marian Kello took over from Jamie MacDonald to make his debut between the sticks, while fellow newcomer David Obua took up his position in front of Lee Wallace on the left hand side of midfield. Andrew Driver moved over to the right, with Larry Kingston moving inside to support lone front man Jamie Mole. Audrius Ksanavicius dropped to the bench.
There was a buzz of expectation among the home support ass the game got under way and they were nearly rewarded with a very early strike as Hearts began in enterprising fashion. Within three minutes Wallace had exploited some space down the left to combine well with Obua before bursting into the box, but the left back was just unable to get enough purchase on the shot.
That was followed by a neat combination between Obua and Michael Stewart, whose long ball found Mole galloping through the inside left channel. The striker managed to lift the ball overt the advancing Mark Howard, but Will Haining had been watching carefully and was able to do just enough to scramble the ball behind for corner,
Driver then showed his ability on the right, twice found by raking passes from Stewart only to first scuff an attempted cross to the unmarked Mole, and then sclaff a left foot effort wide after he cut in from the left. Obua then flicked to Stewart who found Kingston just ahead of him. From fully forty yards the Ghanaian took aim and drove in a magnificent effort, which Howard tipped acrobatically over his crossbar.
St Mirren were anonymous as an attacking force at this stage, the only problems for the Hearts back line coming from the occasional slackness of their midfielders. Stewart, for example, put Marius Zaliukas in trouble with a wayward header at the edge of the box, and the Lithuanian had to look lively to hustle Billy Mehmet away from the danger area.
Mr Murray had had little to do thus far, but this is Scotland and he was soon in the thick of the action with a quick fire double booking for Saints midfielder Tonet Gueraro. Jason Thomson was the first to take a tumble after a late challenge from the Spaniard in the 23rd minute, and when he executed a similar foul on Stewart just two minutes later, the official had no hesitation in despatching him straight to the dressing room.
Anyone expecting the home side to blow away their undermanned opponents was to be disappointed however. As so often happens, the dismissal of a midfielder actually led the visitors to sacrifice one of their attackers and drop even deeper into their defensive shell. And given that Hearts had struggled to get behind Will Haining and co when the game was open, it was obvious they would find it even harder now.
It was always going to take something special to break the deadlock, and fortunately for Hearts that something special arrived just after Scott Wilson had announced a minute of injury time at the end of the first half. Jamie Mole, who had run hard but fruitlessly since the start of the match picked up possession around thirty yards from goal and immediately thudded a meaty effort towards the top left hand effort corner of Howard's net. The keeper saw it coming but the power in the shot meant that he could only punch it into the roof of his own net.
The second half began with the replacement of Lee Wallace by Deividas Cesnauskis and the reshuffling of Driver of Obua to left back and Driver to left wing. That change should have been followed almost immediately by a second goal as Thomson, Stewart and Mole combined down the right to feed Cesnauskis moving at pace into the box. The angle was tight, too tight as was proved when Cesnauskis slid his effort across goal and narrowly wide of the target.
That was the last incident of note for a while as Gus McPherson spent the next fifteen minutes reorganising his side with some judicious substitutions. Hugh Murray, Stephen McGinn, and Jim Hamilton all appeared to give the visitors a more offensive shape to them and gradually they began to exert some control of their own.
It was never enough to cause Kello any problems, but it was disappointing nonetheless to see how easily the ten-man visitors could dominate the match, with smart running from Murray and Mason causing problems especially for Obua, who looked far less assured at left back than he had further up the pitch.
The home side were reduced to hitting on the counter attack, which admittedly they did quite well, with Driver in particular pacy and direct whenever he picked up possession wide on the left. There was little shape about what happened thereafter though, and when things did open up for a Hearts player, he invariably found Howard in top form to keep his side in the match.
The solidity of the Englishman's performance was lent increased significance with twenty minutes remaining when his team finally fashioned the equaliser their second half efforts maybe just deserved. Mr Murray awarded the latest in a long line of softish fouls just outside the Hearts box from which Miranda picked out Hamilton at the far post. Hammy's header across goal should have been cleared by Obua, but the Ugandan hesitated, which allowed Murray to cut the ball back for Mehmet to tap home from barely more than a yard.
Christian Nade appeared immediately afterwards, the Frenchman replacing the tiring Mole, and his trickery at least enlivened a home attack which had been fairly predictable throughout the second period. A good exchange with Kingston soon allowed him to set up Driver for a rising shot, which Howard did well to tip over the crossbar.
The reprieve for McPherson's men was short-lived, though. From the corner, the ball was worked low to Driver at the edge of the box and the Englishman's quick feet tempted his marker into a rash challenge. A clear penalty which Stewart dispatched with the minimum of fuss to put Hearts back in the driving seat.
Nade then had a chance to increase that lead shortly afterwards with an ambitious volley after Kingston's flick, but the Frenchman booted the ball high into the Gorgie Stand. St Mirren for their part tried to push on for a second equaliser without ever really looking as if they thought they could achieve it. The closest they came was in the very final minute when McGinn rose unmarked to power a header just wide of Kello's right-hand post.
Heart in mouth at that, although it would not have mattered at all had Stewart converted his second penalty of the afternoon just a minute before. Ksanavicius was the one brought down this time - another clear award - but although Stewart did everything almost exactly the same as before, Howard this time knew what was coming and dived low to his left to pull off a fine stop.
Hearts: Kello; Thomson, Zaliukas, Berra, Wallace (Cesnauskis 48); Driver, Karipidis, Stewart, Obua; Kingston (Ksanavicius 83), Mole (Nade 70). Booked: Wallace, Nade. Subs not used: MacDonald, Rapnik, Palazuelos, Glen.
St Mirren: Howard; Ross, Potter, Haining, Miranda; Tonet, Brady (Hamilton 64), Mason, Dorman (McGinn 59), O'Donnell (Murray 52); Mehmet. Booked: Tonet, Hamiton. Sent Off: Tonet Subs not used: Smith, Wyness, McAusland, Cuthbert.
Referee: Calum Murray
Top man: Larry Kingston
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