Heart of Midlothian secured a 1-0 victory against St Johnstone at Tynecastle Park thanks to a second-half goal from Lawrence Shankland who deflected Liam Boyce's shot into the corner.

It was an edgy and tense game in Gorgie but importantly Steven Naismith's men took their league winning streak to three.

Joel Sked and James Cairney look back at a cold afternoon in EH11:

Instantly forgettable game but three points

That was an afternoon of football where it would have been easy to nudge your pal and say one word: "Pub?" It was cold and the entertainment on the field was far from entertaining. It was a game which had to be endured rather than enjoyed. Even when ahead the frustration of the home crowd could be heard loud and clear. In the 76th minute with Hearts leading 1-0 there were loud boos as Beni Baningime played the ball back before it was then played back to Zander Clark. It was clear that the home crowd were simply not enjoying their afternoon and one which will no doubt be consigned to the deepest, darkest reaches of the mind.

But it was a win and an important one at that ahead of a very difficult run of games on the horizon. It was also a victory which meant the team have now won three Premiership games in a row. The first time Hearts have done that since December 2021 and January 2022. It is that consistency which needs to be built on for the team to take third place and stay there.

Joel Sked

Grant gamble  

Naismith stuck with almost the same starting XI that defeated Motherwell 2-1 at Fir Park a fortnight ago, with one change in midfield as Jorge Grant came in for Calem Nieuwenhof. It was a statement of intent from the Hearts head coach, sacrificing Nieuwenhof – who provides more off the ball than Grant – in order to add some extra creativity in the middle. 

The logic was sound. Saints would surely spend most of the match camped deep inside their own territory, defending resolutely and forcing Hearts to find a way to break them down. Against Livingston earlier in the month, Hearts could have used another playmaker in the starting XI and so Naismith decided to roll the dice. 

The problem, though, was that Saints weren’t quite as defensive as one might have expected. After withstanding some early pressure and moving Max Kucheriavyi back from attack and into the midfield, the visitors started asking some questions of their own and subjecting Hearts to spells where they had to dig deep and defend.  

Part of the problem for Hearts was with the three-man midfield of Beni Baningime, Grant and Alex Lowry. In Baningime, the hosts had a player who is composed in possession and who excels at recycling the ball. In Grant and Lowry, Hearts had two playmakers who can hurt opposition defences. The one thing Hearts didn’t have was a ball-winner – and as a result, Saints were able to offer more of an attacking threat than they otherwise would have. 

James Cairney

Forrest loses the 1v1 battle 

Hearts started well at Tynecastle Park, moving the ball around quickly and with purpose for the opening 10 minutes or so before the tempo noticeably dropped for the remainder of the first half. Out on the left, Alex Cochrane skipped past Dara Costelloe a couple of times early on and looked to have the beating of the Saints right wing-back – but the same could not be said for his team-mate on the opposite flank. 

Alan Forrest has been one of the more reliable performers for Hearts this season, but his running battle with Luke Robinson was decidedly one-sided. Whether attacking the Saints defender or defending against him, Forrest lost almost all of his individual duels.  

When breaking forward he was too one-dimensional, despite getting into good positions. The former Ayr United and Livingston man kept trying to drive beyond Robinson on the outside before drilling a low ball across the face of goal, but the Saints wing-back won the ball every single time. At the other end, Robinson was regularly finding space down the left – space that really should have been occupied by Forrest. 

The dynamic changed at the break when Andy Considine was subbed off for Tony Gallacher, with Gallacher moving to left wing-back and Robinson moving infield to centre back where he performed excellently. Despite the change in personnel, though, Forrest once again struggled to get going – and it was little surprise when he was replaced by Yutaro Oda in the 58th minute. 

James Cairney

Hearts need pace

As stated above, there was plenty of logic in the way Hearts lined up against St Johnstone. They expected to have a lot of the ball, therefore put in more ball players, guys who can break the lines and create chances. That didn't transpire and a frustrated Hearts struggled to break down a tough St Johnstone rearguard. Too often the ball ended back at Frankie Kent's feet. He had 112 touches. The next highest was 76. He made 100 passes. The next highest was 65.

When Hearts did get into space or managed to counter they lacked pace to stretch a slow St Johnstone back line or players really keen to make runs beyond the ball. As well as that, they didn't have enough players who wanted the ball and then would run with it. Yutaro Oda and to a lesser extent Kenneth Vargas added a bit of that off the bench. Pace is such a valued commodity but currently Hearts don't have enough of it.

Joel Sked

The nearly goal

The game could have gone a lot differently if Hearts had netted early on when they played through St Johnstone with the joie de vivre of Brazil 1970. It started with Alex Lowry playing it wide to Alex Cochrane who produced a nutmeg to open up the space then Jorge Grant took over, combining with Lawrence Shankland, before setting up Cochrane. His shot was beaten away by Dimitar Mitov. It was brilliant one-touch creative football. Had it found the back of the net it would have shaped the game a lot differently while giving the team a goal which would have been hard to eclipse as the goal of the season.

Joel Sked