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6 of 006 Michael Stewart pen 22L SPL H

Hearts 1 - 0 St Mirren: Michael Stewart's penalty winner all too familiar

Published Date: 18 January 2010
By Stuart Bathgate
WHO says bookmakers are omniscient? A 1-0 home victory, with Michael Stewart the scorer, was on offer at 45-1 with at least one firm on Saturday afternoon, and there was little surprise within Tynecastle when that scenario duly materialised.
Indeed, the fact that the goal came from the penalty spot was no shock either. Against Celtic just before Christmas, then Falkirk on Boxing Day, the midfielder also scored from the spot. Granted, the goal against Celtic came in a 2-1 victory, but to counterbalance that, he scored from open play in the 1-0 win against Motherwell on the penultimate day of last year. Stewart's tally for the season now stands at eight, six having come from the spot. No-one else in the Hearts squad has managed more than two.

Those statistics back up Csaba Laszlo's assertion that he needs new strikers, but they also show how valuable Stewart's efficiency has been to his team. They have him to thank for their presence in the last four of the Co-operative Insurance Cup too, as he scored a penalty in their 1-0 quarter-final win against Celtic. When that semi-final against St Mirren comes around early next month, expect to be offered somewhat shorter odds on the same player again making the difference.

This hard-fought but deserved win over the Paisley side stretched Hearts' unbeaten league run to six matches. Fifth at present, they may well not get any higher, in which case – unless they win that cup – this would go down as a humdrum season. But that would still be preferable by far to the position they were in just a couple of months back, when defeat at Hamilton meant a sparse handful of points were all that separated them from the bottom of the table.

"We were devastated in the dressing-room," midfielder David Obua reflected. "We thought we were going down. We were so worried We were really down there. And if you saw the gap, points were so tight, so we thought if we kept on losing games we were going to drop down."

Now, rather than gazing fearfully at their feet and wondering if the ground was going to open up beneath them, Hearts can cast their eyes upwards. They are now only six points behind fourth-placed Hibs, which seems hardly credible given the Easter Road side put together a 12-game unbeaten run not so long ago.

But the ever-confident Obua, for one, did think his team would begin to haul in their Edinburgh rivals. "I was talking to one of my mates and I was like: 'This gap is going to be closed and nobody is going to believe it'," the Ugandan continued. "'Something funny is going to happen. Those guys who have been continuously winning games are going to drop points'."

A close pursuit of Hibs would certainly spice up the rest of the campaign for Hearts, but this could be as close as they get. John Hughes' team have a game in hand, and are at home to Hamilton this weekend while Hearts visit Ibrox. Besides, Hibs are currently on their worst run of the season: just as Obua predicted their winning ways would not go on indefinitely, so it is reasonable to expect them to shrug off their present poor form.

There again, while Hibs have become more consistent competitors under Hughes, Hearts are now arguably the toughest team in the league, barring Rangers, to break down. They let their standards slip a week earlier, when they were abject against Aberdeen in the Scottish Cup, but on Saturday resumed the resilience of their recent league displays, and should really have seen off St Mirren by a more convincing margin.

David Templeton and Christian Nade had early opportunities to open the scoring, but once again it was Stewart who made the difference after Hugh Murray handled. Murray claimed the contact had been accidental, and said his arms might have gone up as the result of a nudge from Nade, but it looked more like a simple misjudgement by the St Mirren defender. Referee Stevie O'Reilly did not need long to think about giving the spot-kick, and Stewart scored with a right-footed shot into the right corner of the net.

Later on in the half Obua should have done better with a pass from Scott Robinson than to shoot well over the bar, and if Hearts had scored a second then they would have enjoyed a more comfortable second-half. They continued to hold the upper hand after the break, with Stewart dragging a shot wide and Marius Zaliukas having a shot saved by Paul Gallacher.

The more St Mirren pressed upfield in search of an equaliser, the more trouble they were given by the industrious Robinson. With around an hour played, the little striker would surely have scored but for a well-timed tackle deep in the box from Chris Innes.

St Mirren applied some pressure late in the game, and were allowed a generous five minutes of additional time in which to try to salvage a point, but Hearts goalkeeper Marian Kello was rarely called into action for anything other than crosses as his back four held firm.


David Templeton (Hearts)

The diminutive winger had scoring chances in both halves and was a significant factor in most of his team's attacking moves, stretching the St Mirren defence and linking well with striker Scott Robinson.

Taken from the Scotsman

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