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3 St Johnstone talking points as Luke Robinson produces yet another man of the match performance against Hearts

The Perth side are more robust but sorely missed Nicky Clark.

Luke Robinson has returned to Wigan.
Luke Robinson has returned to Wigan. Image: Shutterstock.

St Johnstone have lost for the first time under Craig Levein.

Whether the Hearts legend would receive a good or bad reception from the home fans turned out to be a non-story.

The game itself played out in fairly predictable fashion, with Saints continuing to look an improved side but Hearts finding a way to win in the end.

Courier Sport picks out three talking points from the Tynecastle contest.


Robust Saints

Levein wasn’t impressed with Saints’ start to the match.

Quite right too.

They stood off their opponents, didn’t get their foot on the ball with any purpose and were fortunate not to pay for it by conceding an early opener.

But, as he pointed out, the improvement thereafter was marked.

And it highlighted that a fortnight of training ground time has been put to good use.

Hearts teams have found it too easy to work the ball from side to side and find holes between centre-back and wide defender in recent trips to Tynecastle.

That didn’t happen on Saturday.

Liam Gordon makes a tackle.
Liam Gordon makes a tackle. Image: SNS.

It was a well-structured defensive display from the McDiarmid Park side and there were encouraging patterns of play to get the team up the pitch.

Ross County didn’t provide much of a test in the previous match beyond a late aerial bombardment.

But when you compare the Motherwell and Kilmarnock second halves to the weekend one, Levein will feel with justification that the word ‘robust’ could soon be applied to his team.

That, following a start to the season littered with individual errors at the back, represents significant progress.


Robinson shines again

If Andy Considine is out for a few weeks, that new-found defensive solidity will be put under more intense scrutiny.

The former Scotland international has, in his typical under the radar way, been one of Saints’ best players this season.

Considine’s knack of putting himself in the right place at the right time isn’t as common as it should be in the Premiership.

The fact that Luke Robinson is the man likely to deputise on the left of the back-three in the veteran’s absence should give some comfort to Saints fans, though.

Week after week, the on-loan Wigan defender is in the man of the match mix.

To my mind, that’s five games in a row he’s been in the conversation.

Robinson was excellent at Tynecastle.

That his direct opponent in the first half, Alan Forrest, was the first Hearts player to be substituted (before the hour) speaks to the dominance Robinson enjoyed in their head to head duel.

One highlight was the former Scotland under-21 international out-muscling Forrest in an aerial battle in midfield before surging forward, nearly creating a chance for Matt Smith with his cut-back, hanging around in the penalty box for the ball to be recycled and forcing a superb reflex save out of Zander Clark when it was.

Luke Robinson got the better of Alan Forrest all afternoon.
Luke Robinson got the better of Alan Forrest all afternoon. Image: Shutterstock.

He’s a tempo-setter for Saints these days.

Hopefully that quality won’t be diminished if he has to spend a sustained period of time in the middle of defence rather than the flank.


Clark missed as expected

That’s six league games and Saints still haven’t scored a goal away from home.

If there has been a clear-cut chance squandered in those six, I can’t recall it.

Dara Costelloe nearly catching Joe Hart out back in August and Taylor Steven in Dingwall when the match was lost were the nearest Saints have come to scoring in this year’s white, yellow and blue change kit.

As noted above, in some ways this was arguably the most pleasing of the displays under Levein – to achieve control and cut out the chaos against an opponent like Hearts on their own turf was impressive stuff.

And at the point Saints conceded the winning goal, the visitors were becoming the dominant attacking force, the shot count was rising and so was home support frustration.

But it’s no coincidence that without Nicky Clark, the prospect of someone turning a promising move into a goal was seriously diminished.

We have been reminded of what a St Johnstone team looks like with his near post runs and penalty box instincts looks like of late.

It’s an exercise in stating the obvious to point out scoring away from home has become a much more difficult prospect again without him.

With news on Clark’s return now sounding more promising, Saints’ next match on the road at Motherwell is the perfect opportunity to end the winless and goalless run.

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