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Hearts 2-0 St Johnstone: Perth side show familiar flaws after promising start to lose ninth game in a row

Josh Ginnelly scores to make it 1-0 for Hearts.
Josh Ginnelly scores to make it 1-0 for Hearts.

They staggered into the new year like a punch-weary boxer fumbling for his stool at the corner of the ring, gum-shield hanging out of the mouth and footballing senses dulled.

The cut man has worked on the battered eye, the face has been sponged down and the trainer’s words of wisdom have been dispensed.

The bell has rung and St Johnstone are back on their feet to attempt to turn their Premiership survival fight around.

Before there is any prospect of landing some heavy blows of their own there was more punishment to absorb at Tynecastle.

Eight defeats in a row has become nine.

The good news is that for one half Saints looked like a decent team in the making.

The bad news is in the other half they lost their way and conceded the sort of self-inflicted goals that have dragged them to the bottom of the table.

Three signings have been made but more are needed.

Souttar boos

The big transfer window talking point in Gorgie has been John Souttar’s decision to sign a pre-contract agreement with Rangers.

When his name was announced before kick-off it was met with more than just a few boos.

And it was the same with every touch of the ball the former Dundee United centre-back made.

That wouldn’t have helped his confidence and neither would an early clearance he hit straight at Nadir Ciftci.

It presented a chance for Callum Booth to get a cross into the box, which was met by Stevie May.

Unfortunately the Saints striker didn’t make a clean enough connection to test Craig Gordon.

The majority of the play was at the other end of the pitch in the opening stages.

Hearts’ Josh Ginnelly is tackled in the box by Liam Gordon.

On 10 minutes Michael Smith sliced a volley wide of the target and then referee Nick Walsh turned down a Hearts penalty appeal when Liam Gordon made a sliding tackle to deny Josh Ginnelly after a ball was played over the top.

Midway through the first half Zander Clark was called upon to make his first real save when the Scotland squad man tipped a low Barrie McKay 20-yarder round the post.

This wasn’t one-way traffic, however. Far from it.

And Ciftci had the best chance of the match midway through the half when, with the Hearts defenders appealing for offside, he was through one v one on Gordon.

If the Turk has been following Scottish football over the last couple of years he’ll have known that it takes a very good shot to beat the country’s number one keeper.

His wasn’t that shot and a golden opportunity had gone.

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND – JANAURY 18: St Johnstone’s Nadir Ciftci during a Cinch Premiership between Hearts and St. Johnstone at Tynecastle, on January 18, 2022, in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo by Rob Casey / SNS Group)

Mind you, it shouldn’t take away from the fact that Ciftci was making an impressive debut.

Ten minutes or so later he was forcing another save out of Gordon, this time from distance.

There was also a Murray Davidson shot blocked – possibly by a Hearts arm – shortly before the break.

All in all, it was a job well done for 45 minutes.

Self-inflicted wound

But the platform Saints had built came crashing down within 20 seconds of the re-start.

All it took was one McKay pass to open-up the left side of the Saints defence and Ginnelly stroked the ball past Clark to put the hosts in the lead.

It would have been an infuriating goal to concede at any time, in any game, let alone when you were reasonably comfortable at a tough venue and just out of the changing room.

Hearts had been far from brilliant but being clinical was enough.

And on 75 minutes it was game over.

Ciftci lost possession in midfield and within the blink of an eye the ball had been switched from left to right for Ginnelly to score his second of the night.

Clark produced a fine save to keep a Cammy Devlin shot out on 82 minutes but 2-0 it finished.

There’s a Scottish Cup tie to be played first but already Saints’ clash with second bottom Dundee is shaping up to be season-defining.

They simply can’t afford to let their losing run reach double digits.

Aberdeen have not made an approach for Zander Clark, says St Johnstone boss Callum Davidson

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