Club officials spent much of yesterday making denials and issuing legal threats over a story suggesting staff had been informed that administration could be a possibility but, regardless of how that saga unfolds in the upcoming days, weeks and months, this was an eloquent riposte.
Every penny, and every point, is a prisoner for the Gorgie side just now and this thoroughly merited victory against a pallid St Johnstone side allowed them to leapfrog St Mirren into 10th place in the Clydesdale Bank Premier League and stretch their advantage over Dundee to 18 points. This could yet prove important, as the club would be subject to a 17-point penalty should they suffer an insolvency event before the end of the season.
"I have heard the rumours," said caretaker manager Gary Locke. "But I just think that is scaremongering. I don't know a lot about it, it is the board of directors who deal with that side. The players have been used to rumours and stuff; our sole focus was to get a victory and I'm delighted we've done that. It is business as usual."
That said, uncertainty was everywhere at kick-off. For all the vehemence of the denials, you would be foolish indeed to discount administration as a possibility. There was no sign of Vladimir Romanov in the stands, but then, why should there be if he is now out of the picture, having left the board of Ubig investment group following the collapse of his banking empire? Still, sources at Tynecastle insist that the Lithuanian businessman is still involved day-to-day and involved picking a permanent new manager. And while this was a fine second interview for Locke and Darren Murray', a shortlist including the likes of Peter Houston and John Robertson is currently being compiled and the process could yet be completed before the Scottish Communities League Cup final against St Mirren on March 17.
The anxiety in the stands seemed to transmit itself onto the pitch in the early stages, and Rowan Vine could even have scored twice before the opening minute was out. But while the Perth side bossed possession, there was a conviction about the home side which St Johnstone just couldn't live with.
John Sutton and Mehdi Taouil, two peripheral figures under John McGlynn, played with vigour and were very much to the fore. A Sutton header flew over the top of the goal, then he was adjudged to be narrowly offside from Darren Barr's low centre. Next a cute flick from Taouil played him clean through only for goalkeeper Alan Mannus to block courageously.
Murray Davidson was making a nuisance of himself for the visitors, forcing a save from Jamie MacDonald, but the goal arrived at the other end. St Johnstone felt Taouil had restarted play with a quick free kick from the wrong position but, seconds later, the ball was in their net. Arvydas Novikovas' fine cross found Michael Ngoo and, although Mannus made a brave save, Ryan Stevenson kept calm to knock in the finish.
Steven MacLean also had a goal chalked off for offside following an enterprising first effort from St Johnstone substitute Gregory Tade, but mostly the traffic continued in the other direction. Ngoo has been an excellent addition for Hearts and the striker, on-loan from Liverpool, dovetailed with strike partner Sutton to bully the Perth rearguard to the extent that Frazer Wright was kept inside at half-time. Whether pirouetting beyond his man to fire a daisycutter inches wide, or manoeuvring beyond Mannus on a one-on-one only to slip on the goalline, it was a miracle that Ngoo didn't manage to score a fourth goal in Hearts colours.
Aside from a couple of near things, a Murray Davidson header which bounced wide, and Tade effort hacked off the line by Andy Webster, the pattern continued into the second period. Consequently, an unhappy Steve Lomas made all three changes by just after the hour but his mood darkened still late on when Ngoo overwhelmed substitute Steven Anderson down the right, and rolled across goal for Sutton to knock into an empty net.
There was just time for third offside goal of the night when Tade hooked in an overhead kick only to be halted by the assistant referees' flag, but Lomas didn't spare his side afterwards, saying it was one of the worst performances in his 15 months in charge. "It is certainly up there," he said. "We were second best all over the park."
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