St Johnstone 1-0 Heart of Midlothian
Hearts suffered an opening day defeat at the hands of St Johnstone today at McDiarmid Park.
Stevie May's 25th minute strike, amid strong claims for offside, was enough to see off Gary Locke's young Hearts side.
The manager elected to stick with a 4-3-1-2 formation that had been trialled during pre-season in Belfast. Dylan McGowan occupied the right back slot with Brad McKay partnering Danny Wilson in the heart of defence. Jamie Hamill made up a midfield three with Callum Tapping and Scott Robinson while Jamie Walker found himself in an advanced role, supporting Callum Paterson and Ryan Stevenson from the left hand side.
Backed by a 3,500 strong maroon contingent it was the Jambos who had the first effort on goal, with barley 60 seconds on the clock. Walker found Stevenson and he unleashed a right foot drive from 30 yards, but his ambitious effort was collected by Mannus at his near post.
Despite a few wayward shots on Jamie Macdonald's goal it was Gary Locke's men who again went closest, this time after 20 minutes. Paterson received the ball 30 yards out and struck a sweet left shot that flew just past Mannus' right hand post.
A moment of controversy saw the deadlock broken five minuets later. A wonderful May run saw him outpace two Hearts defenders and, from the edge of the box, curl a wicked shot round Macdonald and into the back of the net. Confusion reigned as the referee delayed awarding the goal as he discussed with his assistant whether or not Saints had players in an offside position when the ball was struck. Much to the home support's delight, Steven McLean awarded the goal and the Perth Saints found themselves a goal up.
The lively May looked St Johnstone's main goal threat. On 39 minutes he paced past Wilson in the box and hammered an inviting cut-back across the face of goal, but there was no blue shirt there to meet it.
Saints almost doubled their lead a minute later. Steven Anderson's back post header from a corner produced a wonderful point-blank block by Macdonald in front of his left hand post.
The same man had a chance to make amends a minute before half time. Another long ball to the back post saw Anderson peel of his marker, but the Saints centre half could only header wide with the goal at his mercy.
The second half continued the theme of strong challenges that had been prevalent in the first period. Hearts won a free kick on 52 minutes, and despite Hamill's dangerous in-swinging delivery there was no maroon shirt at the back post to get on the end of it.
Four minutes later the home side had a dangerous set piece of their own. David Wotherspoon's curler from 25 yards bounced awkwardly in front of Macdonald, who had to block the ball with his chest before it spun behind.
Just before the hour mark St Johnstone should've made it two. Great running by May saw space created and the ponytailed striker pulled off a shot that deflected into the path of Steven MacLean, but his diving header went wide under some heavy pressure from Macdonald.
Gary Locke freshened things up in an effort to grab the equaliser. Jason Holt and Billy King both came on with Robinson and Tapping making way. Fifteen minutes before the end Walker made way for David Smith.
The final quarter of an hour saw Hearts claim more of the ball, however a lack of action in the final third meant that Saints 'keeper Mannus remained relatively untested.
On balance, a deserved win for St Johnstone on opening day, next up for the Jambos is the derby clash at Tynecastle on August 11th.
St Johnstone: Mannus, Mckay, Scobbie, Cregg (Davidson, 63'), Anderson, Millar, McDonald, MacLean (Fallon, 81'), Wotherspoon, May (Hasselbaink, 73'), Miller. Subs not used: Banks, Edwards, Caddies, Easton.
Hearts: Macdonald; McGowan, McKay, Wilson, McHattie; Tapping (B. King, 68'), Hamill, Robinson (Holt, 58'); Walker (Smith, 75'); Paterson, Stevenson. Subs not used: Ridgers, McGhee, A. King, Oliver.
Referee: Steven McLean
Top man: Jamie Macdonald