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Hearts 0-1 St Mirren: Jim Jefferies positive despite loss

Published Date: 03 February 2010
Moment of magic dumps his side out of League Cup, but new boss appreciates improved performance
BILLY MEHMET'S exquisite finish propelled St Mirren into their first League Cup final for 55 years, leaving Hearts manager Jim Jefferies wishing this semi-final had been scheduled for next week.

Jefferies, having only returned to Tynecastle on Friday night, longed for an extra few days to knead his squad before their biggest match of the season. But notable improvement from Saturday's defeat to St Johnstone could not prevent elimination at the hands of Gus MacPherson's side.

Mehmet's goal was fit to win any prestige occasion as he struck Jack Ross's pass first time and watched the ball arc over Marian Kello from 22 yards.

It was a defining moment in the match. A touch of inspiration hitherto missing. For all the endeavour on the threadbare Fir Park surface, the match lacked genuine class until Mehmet struck. Thereafter, Hearts seized control without posing grave danger in the shape of clear chances and, as their League Cup campaign petered out, Jefferies attempted to accentuate the positives.

His players matched MacPherson's charges stride for stride. They showed passion and commitment to the cause, attributes not always in evidence this season. The pitch was conducive only to route one football, which both teams instantly recognised. In Perth, Hearts lacked desire but last night they fought till some were ready to drop. The difference was that one clinical strike from Mehmet.

"If you were there on Saturday, last night was a million times better," opined Jefferies. "There was a willingness to get forward more than what the players have been used to. It will take time to get them into our way of thinking. In some ways I wish the semi-final had been next week. We haven't had a great deal of time with the players but a couple of days has made a difference. We asked for a bit of togetherness, some will and some high standards and we got that. They are all disappointed.

"Both teams deserve credit for making game of it on that shocking pitch. St Mirren got a great strike and we didn't have someone capable of doing that. We responded well and worked hard but the problem has been scoring goals all season. If we keep showing that intensity, work rate and commitment we'll be okay.

"Lee Wallace and Andy Driver got in behind their defence and tried to pick out a pass rather than hammer it across the face of goal. You can work on things like that. But as far as showing a will I'm heartened by our efforts. We gave it our all but we're lacking a bit of quality. There's nothing we can do about that till the summer."

After a minute's silence in honour of the late former Hearts full-back Bobby Kirk, St Mirren went on the offensive. Early headers from Michael Higdon and Lee Mair were tame, although Higdon might have troubled Marian Kello had he connected better with a loping through ball on 14 minutes. Under pressure from Marius Zaliukas, his weak shot rolled into the Slovakian's arms. Hearts applied pressure without fashioning any clear openings, and St Mirren came close on 24 minutes when Ross forced himself beyond Driver for a left-footed strike which careered off Zaliukas and wide. After Ismael Bouzid departed through injury to be replaced by Dawid Kucharski, Mehmet drove a shot into the side netting.

The pace of the match remained frenetic, with Driver the principal attacking outlet for Hearts. From his corner, Christian Nade's header fell to teenager Gordon Smith but he failed to convert from an awkward angle with his back to goal. Hearts finished the opening period in forceful fashion and certainly displayed more urgency than was in evidence at McDiarmid Park.

Zaliukas, the outstanding performer in maroon, rescued his side shortly after the restart. Kello mishit a goal kick which landed at Higdon's feet. He sprinted off towards goal but the Lithuanian displayed impressive pace to catch the striker and eliminate the danger. His efforts merely delayed the inevitable, however, as St Mirren moved ahead within 60 seconds.

Ross collected possession in the inside right channel and rolled the ball into Mehmet's path for a first-time strike which nestled high in Kello's net. The cushion of a goal was always going to be vital to whoever scored first in such a tightly contested affair. Had Andy Dorman converted when one on one with Kello five minutes later, a place at Hampden would have been secure for St Mirren. As it was, the goalkeeper spread himself impressively to block the ball at close range.

Hearts took the game to their opponents in search of an equaliser but consequently were susceptible to the counter-attack. Driver's driven attempt was cleared off the goal line by John Potter, and moments later Nade clipped the ball wide from Wallace's cutback. Gary Glen replaced Smith with eight minutes remaining and Zaliukas transformed himself into an emergency centre-forward for the final minutes. However, St Mirren prevailed to reach a cup final for the first time since their Scottish Cup success in 1987.

"It means everything but it's for the players," said MacPherson. "Every single one of them was a credit. They stood up to the plate although there have been questions asked of them in recent weeks. They answered every one of them. When you can achieve relative success it means you are progressing and that's what we want.

"I thought we thoroughly deserved to win and Billy Mehmet's goal was worthy of winning the game. The surface wasn't great but we picked a team to win the game and that's what we did. Billy always tries to show composure and it was a fantastic finish."

Of his winner, Mehmet said: "I don't know what it is this season but I'm scoring more goals than I normally do. If they help get us to a final I don't really care. Everybody in the team put a shift in and I think we got the reward for it."

Taken from the Scotsman

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