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St Johnstone 2 Hearts 2: Tynecastle side appear unable to escape January sales

THE calendar fills up quickly at this time of year.

John Sutton headed Hearts in to the lead
John Sutton headed Hearts in to the lead

Alongside Hearts' festive fixtures, there are several other significant dates marked down. One was December 16, and there was good news. Late wages have been a regular issue at Tynecastle for more than a year but there was no such problem yesterday. The money, in fact, went in the bank two days early, meaning the players can perhaps turn their attention to Christmas shopping.

That punctual salary payment should elicit more good news this Sunday, December 23, when a transfer embargo, imposed for previous late transfers of wages, will expire and Hearts, in theory, will next month be able to sign players.

Whether they are in a position or not to do so will depend on what happens between now and Wednesday. That is the deadline for the share issue scheme that Hearts hoped would raise £1.79m to ease the club's cashflow problem and reduce their £2m funding shortfall. Some £800,000 has been raised to date, prompting Sergejus Fedotovas, one of the club's directors, to warn that, without a substantial last-minute take-up, there could be serious consequences for the club.

It therefore seems more likely that players will be sold by Hearts next month, rather than signed.

The Tynecastle club have promising talent throughout their team but it is the central defensive partnership of Marius Zaliukas and Andy Webster that they would miss most if either or both were moved on. Among the highest earners at the club, to ease them off the wage bill would seem an astute business move, although the ramifications for the football side of things could well be costly.

"I'd think you can say, hands down, we've got the best defence in the league with Marius and Andy," said Andy Driver, scorer of Hearts' second goal against St Johnstone, and the creator of their first for John Sutton. "Webby is a leader, the kind of player that keeps a team together. In the second half he played through illness. He wasn't well but he was out there fighting. He's probably the most important player in our team."

If Hearts decide the time is right to move on the costlier, more senior figures in the squad then they can at least take some consolation from having a raft of promising young players pushing to fill the void. Five of their starting line-up on Saturday were 25 or younger, while all six of the outfield substitutes were no older than 21.

"The good thing is that all these boys are coming through and they've got an opportunity to learn from the more senior players," added Driver who, at 25, includes himself in the latter bracket. "They've got a good attitude. You've just got to be patient with them. When I was coming through it was one good game in four. It's a learning experience for the younger players, but a great chance too."

St Johnstone, who twice pegged back Hearts, with goals from Rowan Vine and Steven MacLean, were not all gnarled veterans either. Starting a game for the first time in three months was Peter Pawlett, the 21-year-old winger on loan from Aberdeen. It is still to be decided whether Pawlett's stay will be extended beyond next month but he made it quite clear he has little desire to return to Pittodrie to be a fringe player.

"I want to play week in and week out," he said. "If I go back to Aberdeen and I'm sitting on the bench then that's not ideal for me. I'd probably like to stay here until the end of the season and I think there will be some discussion this week as the two clubs have to sort it out."

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