St Johnstone took a huge stride towards securing fourth place in the Premiership and a possible Europa League place courtesy of this narrow but well deserved victory over nearest challengers Hearts.
The McDiarmid men hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons on Saturday after on-field fighting between team-mates Danny Swanson and Richard Foster that resulted in both being red carded.
However, against the Jambos, Saints again showed their battling qualities but this time in the correct way to secure a superb win thanks to a Joe Shaughnessy goal.
The result moved them five points clear of the Edinburgh outfit who finished the night with just 10 men after sub Sam Nicholson was sent off.
Saints boss Tommy Wright made three changes from the team that was defeated by Hamilton at the weekend with the shamed suspended duo of Swanson and Foster being replaced by Steven MacLean and 19-year-old on-loan Preston full-back Clive Smith who was making his first start for the club. David Wotherspoon also came in for Murray Davidson who was absent from the squad along with injured trio Steven Anderson, Keith Watson and Chris Kane.
Jambos manager Ian Cathro perhaps surprisingly kept faith with the same starting XI that was walloped 5-0 by champions Celtic on Sunday at Tynecastle.
There was a fairly cagey start to the game with Hearts slightly edging things in terms of possession but like the home side, they struggled to create a chance worthy of note.
Hearts were presented with an opportunity in the 14th minute when Liam Craig conceded a foul 22 yards from his goal but Jamie Walker could only slam his central free-kick against the Saints wall.
St Johnstone finally had a half chance shortly after when the ball broke to Graham Cummins on the edge of the Hearts penalty area but his volleyed effort flew high into the night sky.
Wright’s men had a much better opportunity in the 24th minute when Smith played a neat pass into Blair Alston on the right of the Hearts box but he could not keep his angled shot down and it settled on the top of Jambos’ keeper Jack Hamilton’s net.
Saints, though, finally looked like they had settled into the game and were now enjoying their fair share of possession and territory.
And the match really burst into life either side of the half-hour mark. Firstly, Paul Paton hit a superb controlled shot from the edge of the Hearts penalty area with Hamilton having to produce an incredible diving save to push the ball for a corner.
Then just seconds later, skipper Brian Easton struck a fierce drive from 12 yards on the left that beat Hamilton but cannoned back off the Jambos’ bar.
Saints were really turning the screw and Craig flighted a free-kick in from the right with Cummins rising highest to produce a looping header that Hamilton had to acrobatically tip over to safety.
However, neither side could make the vital breakthrough before half-time with the teams heading down the tunnel level.
Just seconds after the restart, Saints again came agonisingly close to taking the lead when MacLean laid the ball off to Craig on the edge of the Hearts box but his low shot whizzed just inches past Hamilton’s left-hand post.
Easton again had the fans off their seats on the 62nd minute when he embarked on a barnstorming run, nutmegging a defender before launching a long-range drive that flew just over Hamilton’s bar.
Hearts then had a great chance when Esmael Gonclaves teed up Bjorn Johnsen 20 yards out but the striker hit his shot – his side’s first on target – tamely into Saints goalie Alan Mannus’s arms.
However, St Johnstone finally received the reward their overall play deserved when they took the lead in the 73rd minute.
Craig hit an outswinging corner in from the left with centre-half Shaughnessy advancing to steer a header to Hamilton’s right and into the back of the net from 12 yards.
A bad night then became worse for Hearts in the 83rd minute when sub Nicholson was given a straight red card for allegedly spitting in the direction of an assistant referee.
In stoppage time Gonclaves came agonisingly close to equalising but his curling effort flew just over the bar with Saints holding on to secure a priceless victory.
Attendance – 4,197.
St Johnstone – Mannus, Scobbie, Alston, MacLean, Wotherspoon (Millar, 85), Shaughnessy, Smith, Paton, Easton, Craig, Cummins.
Subs not used – Clark, Coulson, Craig Thomson, Hunter, Cameron Thomson, Jardine.
Hearts – Hamilton, Tziolis, Kitchen, Walker, Avlonitis (Buaben, 60), Cowie, Nowak, Johnsen (Nicholson, 67), Struna, Sowah (Smith 69), Goncalves.
Subs not used – Noring, Chouley, Currie, Martin.
Referee – Nick Walsh.