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Hearts 5 St Mirren 2: Skacel leads the charge

IT has all been going rather well at Hearts lately.

That tiresome episode with wages going unpaid, resulting in a complaint from the players to the Scottish Premier League has finally been addressed and the Edinburgh side have been enjoying auspicious league form.

Their victory over St Mirren, achieved with the help of a Rudi Skacel hat-trick and despite the hindrance of having Marius Zaliukas sent off after only 13 minutes, stretched their unbeaten run to six games, five of which they have won.

It remains to be seen if relative serenity can be maintained off the field – the latest round of salaries are due to be paid tomorrow – but there appears to be little that can puncture their momentum on it. When their fans called for manager Paulo Sergio to give them a wave in the second half yesterday it was an indication of a support that has become contented again after weeks of uncertainty.

Their good humour on this occasion owed much to Skacel. The Czech's contract is up at the end of the month and his treble indicated why a number of clubs have shown an interest, and why Hearts are eager to agree a new deal.

The manner in which he saluted the crowd after each goal – bobbing his hands up and down – hinted at a genuine affection for the Tynecastle club although there will be a few sides in the SPL who would rather he didn't stick around. St Mirren are one.

Zaliukas gave Hearts the lead after just 51 seconds, rising unmarked to power Ian Black's corner into the net, only to then collect a straight red card and give away a penalty after he clipped Paul McGowan from behind as the latter latched on to a masterful pass from Kenny McLean.

McGowan converted the spot-kick and a Steven Thompson header six minutes later put Danny Lennon's men in front.

But Skacel proved irrepressible. His first goal came after 23 minutes. Graham Carey felt the Hearts midfielder had fouled him on the edge of the penalty area and St Mirren paused.

Skacel didn't, clipping a shot into the top corner. His second, after 64 minutes, was similarly artful as he lifted a shot past Craig Samson following John Sutton's knock-down, and he got his third with a low drive five minutes later. Sutton added a fifth for Hearts in the dying minutes.

Sergio said: "We have to talk about Rudi Skacel and three fantastic goals, but I want to talk about the team. I am so proud of the whole group that is getting fantastic results."

Someone should really be talking about the Portuguese, too. Sergio is protective of his squad and appears to have shielded them from the issues surrounding the club.

He has also shown himself to be a passionate manager, while his sense of humour after he was warned for protesting a Black booking was endearing. "The officials did a good job even when they came and talked with me because I was screaming 'Blacky? Why? Why?'," he said.

Lennon's verdict on the game? "We went from being in total control to looking very, very ordinary."

The St Mirren manager had made a number of interesting remarks about McGowan this week; describing the 24-year-old as a garden, a dog in need of rescuing and a Scotland international. The latter seems a little far-fetched but he was certainly a conspic- uous presence at Tynecastle.

Still, after Sutton fired in Hearts' fifth from an indirect free-kick after Samson had picked up Marc McAusland's touch, not even McGowan could salvage the situation, the forward kicking at fresh air when fed possession in the penalty area. The Hearts fans cheered. They've been doing an awful lot of that recently.

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