Dec 6 2011 by Gordon Bannerman, Perthshire Advertiser Tuesday
PERTH fans braving the winter chill to seek autographs at the Tynecastle door were warming themselves with thoughts of European football.
While manager Steve Lomas and his players are basking in the limelight of digging out impressive results at Celtic Park, Ibrox, Fir Park and now Tynecastle, they aren’t looking beyond the visit of Motherwell this weekend.
But given SPL form on the road unprecedented for a team hailing from the Fair City, in private moments of reflection they must surely be tempted to assess the potential rewards which lie ahead.
This latest road win, posted without the injured SAS strikeforce of Fran Sandaza and Cillian Sheridan, skipper Jody Morris and, for the most part, defender Frazer Wright, edged Saints four points ahead of the Jambos with a game up their sleeve against rock bottom Aberdeen.
Midfielder Liam Craig silenced home fans with a deliciously delicate third minute lob from the edge of the box hard on the heels of a minute’s applause in memory of Wales manager Gary Speed, and skipper Dave Mackay blasted an unstoppable penalty high into the net with a dozen minutes left on the clock to mark his 100th game in style.
Murray Davidson looked to the referee claiming a push but Mehdi Taouil didn’t dither as he slammed home a 22-yarder with minutes remaining and Finnish international Peter Enckelman, already the Perth hero for a truly superb spot-kick save, defied lively half-time sub Elliott in stoppage time with an alert flock over the crossbar.
It was a valuable victory, with manager Steve Lomas, trademark scarf knotted and huddled against the winter chill in the Gorgie stand, bagging seven points from nine. A dawdle this management lark.
Until the weekend, he might have diverted little from his predecessor’s game plan but Lomas had to earn his corn with selection calls prompted by injuries.
It was cruel to ask footballers to perform in such hostile conditions but an industrious Craig quickly warmed the hearts of vociferous visiting fans by pouncing on a loose Webster headed clearance. Sensing the keeper was stranded, the lob was measured to perfection as it dropped into the vacant net.
David McCracken replaced Wright in the 11th minute and in the 28th minute a relentlessly mobile Marcus Haber lashed a testing shot goalwards after Carl Finnigan had swiped at a Chris Millar cross. Keeper Kello kept Saints at bay but the home side got it in the neck at half-time from disgruntled supporters.
Hearts manager Paulo Sergio pitched in Elliott and went 4-42, with the striker inching a header past the target with his first impression. He looked the man most likely to haul Hearts back into contention, but after the occasional anxious moment early on, Edinburgh-based Enckelman’s handling was impressive in testing conditions.
The Jambos defence was decidedly jittery and Zaliukas almost gifted Craig a second, but this time the midfielder’s rising 25-yard drive zipped inches over the crossbar.
Haber was patched-up indoors after taking a head wound but Hearts seemed certain to level things in the 63rd minute when McCracken and Sutton tumbled and referee O’Reilly instantly pointed to the spot. On the plus side the defender, with his particulars jotted down earlier, escaped further punishment.
Hamill hammered the ball to the left but Enckelman dived full-length, raising an arm to deflect it for a corner. It was even more impressive than his save at Celtic Park. His post-match drug test would have detected adrenaline by the bucket load.
Lomas went 4-5-1 with Maybury on to congest the midfield as Hearts dominated possession.
But it was Saints who inflicted the next blow, cashing in on a woeful clearance bid by McGowan. Murray Davidson, who typifies the work ethic of this team, got his head in the way and Mackay played the rebound back into his path, with a desperate Jonsson clipping the midfield dynamo as he surged deep into the box.
Mackay demonstrated how a penalty should be taken and the healthy Perth contingent cranked up the volume.
The finale proved more fraught than anticipated with Taouil’s shot billowing the onion bag but Enckelman held his nerve and Saints held out for a valuable three-point haul.
HEARTS: Kello, Hamill (Obua 81), Jonsson, Webster (Elliott 46), Templeton (Stevenson 81), Sutton, McGowan, Skacel, Taouil, Zaliukas and Mrowiec. Subs not used: MacDonald, Novikovas and Smith.
SAINTS: Enckelman, Mackay, C. Davidson, Wright (McCracken 11), Anderson, Millar, Craig, Moon, Finnigan (Maybury 75) and Haber. Subs not used: Mannus, Gibson, Durnan, May and Gray.
REF: Stevie O’Reilly.