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Hearts soar as back-to-back wins breed confidence

THIS could not have gone much better for Hearts.

Callum Paterson equalises for Hearts just minutes after St Mirren's swift opener. Picture: SNS
Callum Paterson equalises for Hearts just minutes after St Mirren's swift opener. Picture: SNS

If there was a gamble involved in rescheduling a league match for just four days before their League Cup semi-final then it paid off in spades.

Hearts did it, of course, mainly to ensure Ryan Stevenson would be free from suspension to face Inverness Caledonian Thistle but there were plenty of other benefits too, most notably a first home win since August. On the back of last weekend's victory away to Ross County, confidence among Gary Locke and his players must be sky high ahead of their meeting with John Hughes' side on Sunday.

Relegation still looks more likely than not - the Tynecastle club trail Partick Thistle by 16 points with just 13 games to play - but Hearts are not going down without a fight. Having finally broken through the zero-points barrier, they now have five for the season and are clearly intent on accruing more. They are doing so with increasingly depleted resources following the transfer of Adam King to Swansea City.

Under fairly convoluted embargo rules for going into administration, Locke can bring in one under-21 player to replace the departed King ahead of the window closing tomorrow, and will also look to sign Rudi Skacel next week after the goalkeeping coach Alan Combe cancelled his playing registration. "We'd like to bring two in," confirmed Locke. "We've done a bit of work in the last couple of days regarding an under-21 player and, hopefully, we'll have some news [on Thursday]."

Hearts were well worth their win as St Mirren, trying desperately to get themselves away from the relegation play-off spot, endured a night to forget. They scored in the first minute but it would prove to be a false dawn as little else went their way for the rest of the encounter; the defeat made worse by the red card shown to defender Marc McAusland early in the second half that will keep him out of Sunday's match at Celtic Park.

Danny Lennon was adamant the incident took place outside the box. "I'm angry as it's a game that was there for the taking, certainly in the second half," he said. "But a big, big decision has gone against us within the first five minutes of that. Was it inside the box? No, it's not. That's cost us dearly."

A suggestion pre-match that St Mirren are in the process of trying to sign Nacho Novo, the former Rangers forward latterly at Morton, was confirmed by Lennon, who also hopes to add a further couple of players before the window closes. "I would hope in the next couple of days we've got one or two in to show for our efforts," he added. "I had a chat with Nacho today and we've invited him in for a couple of days' training but that's not one that has to be done within the window."

In an unrelentingly frantic match, both sides had a goal apiece within five minutes. St Mirren moved in front after just 29 seconds, Steven Thompson rising unmarked to nod a cross beyond Jamie MacDonald for his 13th goal of the season.

Hearts' despondency would soon dissipate when they moved level. Again it was a header, Callum Paterson the scorer after David Smith's cross from the right had taken a nick off defender Sean Kelly.

That was the catalyst for a period of extended Hearts pressure and they came close to moving in front via another Paterson header only for Marian Kello, the former Hearts player, to pull off a spectacular save. At the other end, Paul McGowan then completely fluffed a headed chance from a deep Adam Campbell cross.

St Mirren had a further chance to reclaim the lead when McAusland's header from a John McGinn corner banged against the crossbar.

The second half was just as frenzied, most notably six minutes in when McAusland put his hands on Dale Carrick's back and the Hearts player tumbled to the turf. Referee Steven McLean first showed McAusland a red card then pointed to the spot and Jamie Hamill rolled in the penalty.

St Mirren belatedly bared their teeth. Jim Goodwin's free kick drew a smart stop out of MacDonald, before Gregg Wylde steered an effort over the crossbar. The focus on all-out attack left St Mirren vulnerable to the counter, and Carrick was unfortunate that his stab at goal struck a post after he escaped his marker.

It was Hearts who came closest to scoring again, Kello making a terrific save to keep out Scott Robinson's ferocious shot. Tynecastle was rocking come the end.

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