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Point might mean little in the grand scheme of things but Hearts can take succour in break from punishment

HEARTS need victories rather than draws if they are to have any chance of avoiding relegation this season, but this must have felt like a form of respite.

Jamie Hamill's goal earned Hearts a point
Jamie Hamill's goal earned Hearts a point

After five successive defeats, this was a well-earned point, Gary Locke's side rebounding from the loss of an early goal to post an impressive second-half performance that offers some hope and optimism ahead of Thursday night's Edinburgh derby. "Bring on the Hibees," chanted the visiting supporters at the end of a tumultuous 90 minutes, their bravado a reward for their dedicated backing that for once was not in vain.

Hearts, in fact, could have won the match with virtually the final kick of the ball. David Smith's cross from the right was perfectly weighted for Callum Paterson, the forward redirecting the ball goalwards, where Marian Kello, the former Hearts goalkeeper, made a stunning reaction stop from close range.

The point will likely mean little in the larger scheme of things with Hearts still 13 points short of Ross County, who sit in the play-off place, but after the buffetings they have taken in recent weeks few would deny them the right to savour a rare moment of relative joy. The second-half equalising goal was a thing of beauty. St Mirren failed three times to deal with a fairly routine ball forward and Jamie Hamill capitalised eventually, thundering in a shot from around 25 yards that threatened to detach the net from its frame.

Hearts were visibly lifted by the strike and went on to create a number of chances, even if poor finishing and stellar goalkeeping from Kello meant they eventually had to settle for a draw. "The Boxing Day game with Kilmarnock [a 4-0 loss at Tynecastle] was one of only two games I've been really disappointed with this season and there were a few choice words afterwards," revealed Locke. "I asked for a response here and, especially in the second half, I felt I got it."

The result extends St Mirren's undefeated sequence at home to eight matches, but it must have felt like a defeat given their supremacy in the first half, when they created and squandered a number of chances.

The poverty of their second-half play must also be a source of cause for alarm for manager Danny Lennon as players who had been strutting around confidently began to play as if their boots were on the wrong feet. A half-time change was the source of the befuddlement, Lennon taking off Marc McAusland, who had come down with a migraine, moving Danny Grainger from left midfeld to central defence, switching John McGinn from central midfield to wide left, bringing on David van Zanten to sit next to Jim Goodwin in the middle of the park, all the while leaving experienced central defender Lee Mair - the most obvious replacement for McAusland - on the bench.

The changes seem to unsettle St Mirren, although they still created a number of late chances through Thompson and Gary Harkins, and also had a second-half appeal for a penalty waved away by referee Kevin Clancy. "Marc suffers from migraines and one came on very quickly there, so we had to make a change," explained Lennon. "You're hoping your players are ready for that, but at times we lost focus. It's a game where we feel we've dropped two very valuable points."

Kello was not the only former Hearts player to inflict damage on his old club. Grainger, a goalscoring hero from the side that famously defeated Hibernian 5-1 in the Scottish Cup final in 2012, was a regular threat from set plays and one such move brought about St Mirren's second-minute opener. The Hearts defence failed to adequately deal with his corner from the right and Thompson was more than happy to take full advantage to poke in his 11th goal of the season.

That set the tone for the remainder of the half, the only surprise that St Mirren had not added to their lead by the break as a brittle-looking Hearts defence struggled to contain Thompson and his marauding menace. Only the lack of a clinical touch in front of goal would have troubled manager Lennon as he assessed play at half-time.

Hearts, though, would draw level early in the second half and Hamill's goal would prove to be the catalyst for a second-half display that was full of purpose, with only Kello's stop denying Hearts what would have been a rare victory. "Marian's contract is up in January but we are under way with negotiations there so hopefully we will have a bit of closure on that in the next day or two," said Lennon. "I'm quietly confident."

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