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Csaba Laszlo <-auth auth-> Steve O'Reilly
4 of 006 Michael Stewart pen 22L SPL H

Hearts 1 - 0 St Mirren: Winning Hearts lie dogged in defence but lack bite up front

Published Date: 17 January 2010
By Paul Forsyth at Tynecastle
Stewart pen 24
IT WAS never going to be pretty, but Hearts fans have long since given up worrying about that. The formula that has been so effective for them recently was applied once again at Tynecastle yesterday when Michael Stewart scored a penalty, his team-mates shut up shop and the outcome was three points for Csaba Laszlo's men.
As spirited and disciplined in defence as they are toothless in attack, Laszlo's side are a dogged lot, unbeaten in six league matches, four of which they won.

If only they didn't make such hard work of it. After Stewart's penalty midway through the first half, they should have put their opponents out of sight, but failed to do so, resorting instead to a rearguard action that became increasingly necessary in a fraught final quarter. "They are a very, very good defensive unit," said the St Mirren manager, Gus MacPherson. "If they get their goal, they make it extremely difficult. It's frustrating."

Hearts, though, had more possession, more chances, and deserved their win. Christian Nade had a decent game for the home side, but the most important job was done behind him, where a resolute back four allowed St Mirren not a single shot on target. Among the contributors to that was Ruben Palazuelos, filling in at left-back for Lee Wallace, missing thanks to what Laszlo described as a "shoe problem". Apparently, he has blisters.

Hearts' well-documented dearth of goals is underlined by the emergence of Stewart as their most prolific scorer. If his eight this season, six more than anyone else at the club, sounds like the work of a box-to-box athlete with an acute sense of timing, it should be pointed out that half a dozen of them have been penalties. This latest effort from the spot, dispatched into the bottom right-hand corner, came after a curious infringement. When Palazuelos lifted a pass into the corner of the 18-yard area, Hugh Murray was so distracted by the challenge of Nade that his raised arm made contact with the ball.

Nade put himself about, showing the strength for which he is best known, and a touch of subtlety too. While he is hardly twinkletoes in attack, he was delicate enough on one occasion to elude the full-back on the bye-line, and swing in a cross that David Templeton headed wide.
Then, when Stewart invited him to meet a cross at the near post, he stood firm enough to resist his marker's challenge, but directed the header wide. Templeton provided the best effort of a first half in which Hearts were always comfortable, grittily winning the ball back from two opponents in midfield before lashing it low across Paul Gallacher's box. The goalkeeper's outstretched arm protected his bottom right-hand corner.

These teams have perfected the art of grinding in recent weeks. While it has brought them success, their meeting hadn't exactly set the pulses racing, and the number of misplaced passes, particularly from a St Mirren side that made little headway, was no great surprise. MacPherson spent much of his time demanding that his forwards give up their battle through the middle. Billy Mehmet is a big lad, a useful target for the long ball, but he was likely to come off better in a battle with the full-back than he was with Hearts' formidable central defensive pairing.

Neither side could be described as adventurous. Less than an hour had been played when the Hearts goalkeeper, Marian Kello, took so long with a goal kick that even his own manager was complaining. David Obua, recovered from an illness, had the home support tearing its collective hair out. Whenever the ball came his way in a promising position, he would take two, maybe three touches, and try to turn his man, when just hitting the blasted thing would have been altogether more effective.

St Mirren upped their game towards the end, even managing an effort on goal when Chris Innes turned Andy Dorman's corner over the bar, but their bouts of pressure left them vulnerable to counter-attack. The best of those was a lung-bursting run from one box to the other by Scott Robinson, at the end of which his pass to Templeton was inch perfect. Hearts' midfielder took the ball on the run, homed in on goal and scuffed a shot that was fumbled away by the keeper.

The closing stages were unnecessarily tense. MacPherson seemed to have a problem with the Hearts backroom staff, substitute Michael Higdon made an immediate impression – forcing Marius Zaliukas off the pitch with a tackle from behind – and Kello had to punch the ball clear in a late scramble. The frustration, though, was all St Mirren's.


Another accomplished penalty by Michael Stewart was complemented by his tidy, string-pulling display.


Gus MacPherson is now the longest-serving SPL manager, having been with St Mirren for six years and one month.


Hearts' penalty wasn't of the stonewall variety, Christian Nade having challenged Hugh Murray as he handled the ball.

Taken from the Scotsman

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