Match Report: St Johnstone 2-3 Hearts

29 December 2022

Lawrence Shankland’s 16th goal of the season set the Jambos on their way, with Alan Forrest doubling the lead. St Johnstone scored a penalty of their own early in the second half though Stevie May before Barrie McKay’s stunning strike sealed all three points, though Jamie Murphy pulled another one back late on to ensure a nervy finish.

Robbie Neilson made five changes for the McDiarmid Park encounter, with Zander Clark making his full Hearts debut in the place of the injured Craig Gordon. Kye Rowles and Toby Sibbick came in for Craig Halkett and Steven Kingsley, who also missed out through injury, while Forrest and Jorge Grant slotted in for Michael Smith and McKay.

The drama unfolded from the off. Sibbick went on a mazy run into the box before being stopped in his tracks via a sliding tackle, which sent him flying, then the loose ball was swung back into the St Johnstone box and Josh Ginnelly looked to be barged over, but referee Willie Collum waved away both appeals.

The woodwork came to St Johnstone’s rescue on five minutes. Lawrence Shankland’s shot was deflected into the path of the unmarked Grant, but from six-yards out he could only stab the ball off Remi Matthews’ left-hand post.

Four minutes later the Jambos had a chance from a set piece after Graham Carey fouled Cammy Devlin 25-yards out, but Robert Snodgrass swung the free kick over the bar.

With 12 minutes on the clock Hearts were awarded a penalty. Grant’s flick inside the box was handled by Ryan McGowan, and after a lengthy VAR check, Shankland stepped up to tuck the ball into Matthews’ bottom right corner.

Some neat play saw Hearts create another chance on 20 minutes. Devlin sent Forrest down the right, his cross was headed clear but only as far as Andy Halliday, who took a deft touch away from his man before blasting narrowly over the bar from 18-yards.

Just after the half-hour mark it was 2-0 thanks to some sensational play. The boys in maroon passed their way up the park and to the edge of the St Johnstone box before Halliday slipped in Forrest and he struck low into the bottom corner of the net.

Moments later the hosts passed up an opportunity of their own, with Stevie May getting into the Hearts box before firing over the target.

The VAR drama wasn’t over, however, as Collum stopped play on 38 minutes to allow for a check on an apparent Devlin handball. After consulting the monitor, the referee pointed to the spot, only for Carey to balloon his spot kick over the bar.

A real heart in mouth moment followed, as Halliday blocked Ali Crawford’s long-range shot and with the ball high in the air, it knocked off Alex Cochrane, over Clark and back off the post.

St Johnstone were playing with their tails up by this point, and with two minutes of the half remaining May was sent into the box but his low effort was clawed away by Clark.

There was still time for Forrest to twist and turn in the Saints box before Matthews beat away his effort at the near post.

Half time: St Johnstone 0-2 Hearts

The Jam Tarts started the second half well, with Grant collecting a loose ball and curling a shot goalward from 20-yards but the ball flew narrowly wide of the target.

Ten minutes into the restart St Johnstone were awarded their second penalty of the evening when Snodgrass was judged to have hauled down May. The Saints striker stepped up and slammed his spot kick straight down the middle to half the deficit.

The home side kept up the pressure, with Nicky Clark keeping the ball inside the Hearts box before turning and shooting wide.

Smith and McKay were introduced just after the hour mark and the latter made an instant impact. He collected the ball 30-yards out and after stepping forward, curled a powerful low drive beyond Matthews and into the bottom corner to make it 3-1.

A well-worked corner in 72nd minute saw St Johnstone go close, with substitute Cammy MacPherson cutting the ball back to Drey Wright at the edge of the box but his effort brushed the side netting.

The game took another twist with 11 minutes remaining. Substitute Murphy strode forward with the ball, getting into the box before placing a shot past Clark and into the back of the net.

With four minutes of added time both teams went in search of another goal and it nearly came in stoppage time when Alex Mitchell met a cross but could only head narrowly over the bar.

Despite some nervy moments, the Jambos held on to record three points and move up into third place in the cinch Premiership.

St Johnstone: Matthews, Wright, McGowan (Wotherspoon, 69'), Gordon, Considine, Montgomery, Hallberg (Mitchell, 25'), Carey (MacPherson, 69'), Crawford (McLennan, 65'), Clark (Murphy, 65'), May. Subs: Parish, Brown, Phillips, O'Halloran.

Hearts: Clark, Grant (McKay, 62'), Shankland, Devlin, Rowles, Halliday, Forrest (M. Smith, 62'), Cochrane, Sibbick, Ginnelly (Kiomourtzoglou, 77'), Snodgrass. Subs: Stewart, Atkinson, Neilson, Pollock, McLuckie.

Referee: Willie Collum