Shankland spot-kick gives Hearts victory over St Johnstone
Lawrence Shankland scored a late penalty as Hearts dug deep to defeat St Johnstone 3-2 at Tynecastle in the Scottish Premiership.
The victory came at a cost, however, as the Jambos – already without some key players as they try to balance the demands of domestic and European football – lost first-half goalscorers Kye Rowles and Liam Boyce to injury, along with Nathaniel Atkinson.
Hearts manager Robbie Neilson made six changes to the side that started Thursday’s valiant Europa League play-off defeat by FC Zurich as Alex Cochrane, Jorge Grant, Stephen Kingsley, Shankland, Barrie McKay and Alan Forrest dropped out to be replaced by Peter Haring, Andy Halliday, Lewis Neilson, Atkinson, Josh Ginnelly and Gary Mackay-Steven.
Saints boss Callum Davidson made one tweak to the side that lost to Aberdeen last weekend as Stevie May replaced Theo Bair in attack.
The visitors took the lead after just five minutes following a rare error from Craig Gordon. The Hearts and Scotland goalkeeper ran out to the right of his penalty area and his attempted clearance with his weaker right foot was straight at Graham Carey, who hit a well-executed half-volley with the outside of his left foot into the open goal from just outside the box.
Saints’ tails were up and Dan Phillips saw a firm shot from 20 yards out held by Gordon at the second attempt.
Hearts’ first opening came in the 10th minute when Boyce produced some excellent play to put Ginnelly through on the left but the Englishman shot over from inside the box.
Six minutes later, Haring’s powerful free-kick was blocked by the face of Melker Hallberg and Halliday blasted his half-volley just wide from the rebound. Hallberg required lengthy treatment and was unable to continue, going off to be replaced by Ali Crawford.
Boyce went close in the 25th minute but was denied by a great sliding tackle from Alex Mitchell after being fed in by Mackay-Steven.
Hearts took the lead from the resulting corner, as Rowles headed in his first goal for the club from Mackay-Steven’s delivery. The Australian injured himself in the process and had to go off soon afterwards.
The hosts went ahead in the 31st minute when Boyce headed in his first goal of the season from close range after Ginnelly picked him out with an excellent cross from the right.
Ginnelly then rasped a ferocious half-volley against the post as the hosts tried to pull clear of their visitors.
Late in the first half, Hearts suffered another injury blow when Boyce collapsed in agony while trying to pick up the scraps as Saints midfielder Phillips clattered into Cammy Devlin. Boyce was carried off on a stretcher and both he and fellow goalscorer Rowles were seen walking on crutches when they came out of the tunnel to sit behind the Hearts dugout early in the second half.
Shortly after they took their seats, Saints levelled when Andy Considine headed home at the back post in the 54th minute after May had flicked on a Crawford corner.
Hearts were further depleted when they lost Atkinson to injury but they dug deep and claimed the points with an 81st-minute penalty from Shankland, after McKay was tripped in the box by Liam Gordon.