Hearts got back to winning ways in the cinch Premiership against St. Mirren this afternoon, winning 2-0 in Paisley. A goal from Ellis Simms, alongside Cammy Devlin’s long awaited first goal in maroon, sent a bumper travelling support home happy.
A largely unremarkable first half, albeit one that Hearts dominated and saw Connor Ronan sent off for the home side, paved the way for an fluid and exciting attacking display from the JTs as Hearts hammered home their dominance on a crisp day in Renfrewshire.
Robbie Neilson made six changes to the team, most notably the return to action of Craig Gordon, Liam Boyce and Craig Halkett – all recovered from various injury and illness problems to bolster the men in maroon.
Hearts made their intentions clear from the off: McKay displayed some intelligent movement within the first fledgling moments of the game. A beautiful reverse pass sent Alan Power stumbling the wrong way near the touchline, before our attacker fed a ball across the face of goal to Liam Boyce who dragged his first-time effort wide.
The first clear cut chance fell the way of the Jambos: a high press from the midfield pairing of Beni and Devlin liberated the ball in St. Mirren’s half. McKay gathered from his defensive colleagues and sparked a charge forward – Charles Dunne moved to shut him down, but our eighteen was too quick and offloaded to Mackay-Steven on the left who promptly cut back to Kingsley – his cross into the box met a waiting Boyce at the back post, the Northern Irishman heading into the gloves of Jak Alnwick.
Overcoming a midfield with Alan Power in it is no mean feat, but McKay once again laid down an early marker: almost to say as if Hearts were up for a bit of it as well. St. Mirren’s Irish enforcer tried to shoulder barge McKay as he set off. Barrie was unfazed and responded with a hearty shove of his own before unleashing another pinpoint pass. GMS was the recipient once more, wasting no time in dashing for the byline and teeing up another chance – Ben Woodburn stepping up, but seeing his overhit effort whiz over.
St. Mirren’s physicality can be a huge asset, but it came back to win when they were reduced to ten men after 23 minutes. Connor Ronan was served his marching orders after snapping Beni Baningime with a poor challenge in the centre of the park – going over the top of our man with excessive force.
In truth, the rest of the half was a somewhat drab affair in need of a spark. Attacks were cooked up but next to no finished products was being brought to the dinner table. Just minutes from the break, Liam Boyce saw another GMS cross into the box bounce inches wide from his header.
The second half started and Hearts immediately were on the front foot: Alnwick tipped a looping Kingsley ball over the bar, whilst it took a scrambling mass of St. Mirren shirts at the other end of the park to deny Liam Boyce – all inside fifteen minutes of the restart.
Robbie sensed that a change in approach was needed, and opted to introduce the trio of Josh Ginnelly, Ellis Simms and Alex Cochrane to the fray. Hearts kept knocking on the door, but tempers were flaring between the two sides with both Alan Power and Cammy Devlin booked after a coming together in the area, a surprising shout given that the Irishman appeared to be the aggressor.
It proved to be an inspired call from Robbie and his backroom team: super sub Ellis Simms breaking the deadlock just after the hour mark! The big man connected sweetly with yet another McKay cross – forcing a scrambling stop from Alnwick. Nobody was going to stop Big Ell and he dispatched it flawlessly at the second time of asking to send the travelling Hearts fans into raptures.
Things were about to get a lot better, and fast. Simms, the danger man once more, rampaged through the Buddies line. Alnwick came out sliding to make an excellent stop, but the ball broke favourably to Devlin who fired home to finally secure his first goal for the club.
Simms was relentless: a hurricane wearing a maroon shirt – he went close again on 75 minutes, this time rifling a bruising effort into the palms of Alnwick who produced another stop on a busy afternoon between the sticks.
St. Mirren were running on fumes by this point, and Hearts stayed strong to cruise over the finish line to three points.
The Hearts XI: Gordon, Atkinson (Cochrane 55’), Souttar, Halkett, Kingsley (Halliday 68’), Baningime, Devlin (Haring, 68’), Mackay-Steven (Ginnelly 55’), McKay, Woodburn (Simms 55’), Boyce
Subs not used: Stewart, Moore, Sibbick, McEneff