Soufian El Hassnaoui made his long awaited return to action in tonight’s U20s defeat to St Johnstone.
The Moroccan, out since July with a cruciate ligament injury, made a second-half sub appearance as the Wee Jambos went down 1-0 thanks to Craig Thomson’s stunning strike.
Arnaud Djoum and Gavin Reilly were the familiar faces in the starting line up for Liam Fox’s side, while Liam Smith captained the side, fresh from his top team appearance at Tannadice only a day earlier.
Hearts attacked from the off, powering both down flanks. Dario Zanatta showed great strength to get to the byline and cut back for Ian Smith, whose first-time effort was blocked into the path of Sean McKirdy outside the box but he dragged his effort wide of the target.
The Wee Jambos passed confidently in the opening stages, leaving the Saints trailing in their shadows. Arnaud Djoum’s delightful 14th minute through-ball just evaded the outstretched leg of Gavin Reilly, and ‘keeper Ben MacKenzie was quick off his line to gather.
Despite Hearts’ superiority it was the visitors who took the lead after 23 minutes. Saints’ Thomson received the ball 20-yards out from goal and looped a stunning effort over Kelby Mason and into the back of the net.
Reilly had a half chance moments later, getting on the end of Mason’s long ball, but despite taking a great touch inside, he shanked his shot from just inside the box and the ball bounced harmlessly wide.
Ian Smith passed up a golden chance to even up the scores when Zanatta crossed to the back door, but he cannoned his header off of a defender when the goal was at his mercy.
Seconds into the restart Hearts went close. A deflected ball ran into the path of Reilly, who stretched to reach at the edge of the box and blast a yard or two over the bar.
63 minutes in and Zanatta saw red after picking up a second yellow card for an alleged dive inside the St Johnstone box.
Still Hearts pushed for eh equaliser, with Djoum going close after drilling low from 25-yards, only to see his effort whizz by MacKenzie’s right-hand post.
Substitute Lewis Moore produced a great mazy run into the heart of the St Johnstone box but could only stab wide, while McKenzie made a smart block to deny a Djoum thunderbolt.
Leon Jones went close right at the death, connecting with a corner, but his header was flicked behind by a blue shirt.
A harsh defeat for the Wee Jambos, whose play merited at the very least a share of the spoils.
Hearts: Mason, L. Smith, Reid, Jones, Howlett-Mundle, McKirdy, I. Smith (Moore, 59'), Djoum, Reilly (El Hassnaoui, 59'), Buchanan, Zanatta. Subs: Cargill, Baxter, Flanagan, C. Hamilton, McLean.
St Johnstone: MacKenzie, Comrie, Page, McCawl, Kerr (Esslemont, 61'), Martiniuk, McLaren (Lumsden, 80'), Simpson, Lander (Kerr, 77'), Hurst, Thomson. Subs: Millar, McKenzie.
Referee: Evan Cairns