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Hearts 1 St Mirren 0: Thanksgiving day

THE result will matter little in the grander scheme of things but, given what they have endured in recent times, the Hearts players and supporters will surely have enjoyed the moment.

Callum Paterson of Hearts and  St Mirren's David van Zanten keep their eyes on the ball Photograph: SNS
Callum Paterson of Hearts and St Mirren's David van Zanten keep their eyes on the ball Photograph: SNS

It has been a traumatic week for everyone connected with the Tynecastle club as they rallied round to stop the taxman shutting them down, and this hard-fought victory at least ensured it ended on a high. That first post-match pint will have gone down all the easier in the bars and pubs along Gorgie Road last night.

Only through the sheer goodwill of the fans, and the generosity of the players who agreed to defer their wages, did this match take place.

Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs have been kept at arm's length for the time being, meaning the majority of the 16,443 crowd crammed inside Tynecastle could focus on football matters, at least for a while.

Hearts were the dominant team throughout a towsy contest, but had to wait until 64 minutes to make their superiority count. There was a touch of good fortune about the goal as Danny Grainger's free kick spun off St Mirren's Kenny McLean and swerved past goalkeeper Craig Samson. Only the mean-spirited, or Paisley-minded, would argue the Edinburgh side don't deserve a bit of luck given their off-field problems.

"I've been getting a bit of stick off the boys who say I only score with deflections," Grainger said as he clutched the man-of-the-match champagne. "It's nice for a defender to get a clean sheet and chip in with a goal as well."

The Hearts support's response to the recent crisis has been deeply impressive. They have pledged more than £500,000 to the club's share issue, a sum that will cover the tax bill for unpaid PAYE and VAT with a bit to spare.

The players, management and staff took to the field to show their appreciation before kick-off, but knew that the simplest, and most satisfying, way to repay the fans' backing would be with a victory. It was something of a struggle – and Hearts had to withstand a late St Mirren rally – but they ultimately made good on that promise.

"I can't thank the fans enough for their support," said manager John McGlynn. "We wanted to give them a victory and we managed to achieve that. We can't do an awful lot off the pitch.

"We can go to some of the fundraising events and do bits and pieces, as we have done, but the main place we can do things is out on the pitch. That's where we have to do our part and I felt as if we did that today."

In contrast to Hearts, St Mirren's problems relate to matters on the pitch. This was a sixth successive league defeat, a result, combined with Dundee's victory over Hibernian, that leaves them perilously close to relegation trouble.

They welcome the Dens Park side to St Mirren Park next weekend knowing defeat will leave them floundering at the bottom of the table.

Manager Danny Lennon praised his players for their passion and character, but acknowledged next week's game had taken on extra significance.

"It sums up the way the last five or six weeks have gone for us that a deflected free,kick is the difference between the sides," he said. "I'm under no illusions, we are in a relegation battle. It's going to be a cracker next week now, like a cup final."

Hearts, the adrenaline no doubt coursing through them, started like a train, but soon ran out of ideas. They dominated possession and got into a lot of good areas but too often the final ball was wasted or they were crowded out by a backtracking defence.

Only twice did they really threaten the St Mirren goal in the first half, Grainger thudding in a free kick that Samson saved unconventionally with his knees before Ryan Stevenson drilled in a shot that cracked into the advertising boards to the right of Samson's goal.

St Mirren were chasing a first clean sheet for two months but that was ruled out just after the hour mark. Jim Goodwin was adjudged to have fouled Andy Webster on the edge of the penalty box and substitute Arvydas Novikovas laid the free kick short to Grainger who beat Samson with a little help.

That forced St Mirren to belatedly adopt a more attacking approach and McLean was first to threaten with a free-kick Jamie MacDonald parried, before Marc McAusland's header was scooped off the line by Jason Holt. The home side should have made sure of the victory three minutes before the end. David van Zanten gave away possession straight to Andy Driver, but the substitute pulled his shot wide. It mattered little. A difficult week for Hearts was assured of a happy ending.

Thanksgiving day

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