As the clock approached the hour mark at McDiarmid Park on Saturday afternoon, Hearts required a change in impetus. It had been a stuffy, cagey affair in Perth up to that point, where neither team looked capable of breaking their opponents down, and clear-cut chances at either end were at a premium.

The visitors had started strong enough, finding some joy down the left but frustratingly never working the ball to the opposite flank where Yutaro Oda or Nathaniel Atkinson were often left unmarked. Lawrence Shankland, playing at the tip of the spear, was struggling to get on the ball and was cutting an increasingly forlorn figure up top. And to make matters worse, Saints had started the second half pretty well and had started to exert some pressure of their own. Something had to change or this game could slip away.

Enter Alex Lowry. The Scotland Under-21 internationalist’s season-long loan switch from Rangers had only been finalised the previous evening, yet here came the precocious playmaker clambering off the bench to replace Calum Nieuwenhof at the tip of the midfield for the final 30 minutes in an attempt to add a little guile to proceedings. Boy, would he do that.

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It was a brief cameo from the playmaker but Hearts supporters will have seen enough to justify the hype over Lowry’s arrival. Frank McAvoy’s side immediately began to dominate the ball and play with a greater assuredness in the Saints half, and it was Lowry who was at the heart of his team’s most promising moves.

The 20-year-old’s close control, nimble frame and agility on the ball proved to be a nightmare for the Saints defenders to deal with. Receiving the ball under heavy pressure, shifting his balance so that he could take on his man on either side – Lowry was sewing uncertainty in the opposition backline with every touch, drawing players towards him and opening up space elsewhere on the park for his team-mates.

Lowry’s direct play – the midfielder was constantly looking forward and teasing inviting passes in towards Shankland – added another dimension to Hearts’ attack, as did the introduction of another striker when Kyosuke Tagawa replaced Alan Forrest with 20 minutes to go. That resulted in Lowry being shifted out left, where he remained every bit as effective.

It soon became a matter of when, not if, Hearts would take the lead. They would do so with 15 minutes to go thanks to Oda’s well-taken finish before Shankland sealed the win with virtually the last kick of the ball, tapping the ball home into an empty net. Liam Boyce provided the assist, but it was Lowry’s looped pass through to Boyce that split the Saints defence wide open.

The Herald:

When Lowry entered the fray at McDiarmid Park, there was little more than a cigarette paper between the two sides in terms of expected goals (xG), but that wouldn’t last long. The opening hour had yielded an xG of 0.66 by Hearts; with Lowry on the park, the visitors racked up an additional xG of 2.02 in a little over half an hour.

The change in shape necessitated by Tagawa’s introduction certainly played its part in that upturn in fortunes but it is difficult to overlook Lowry’s influence. Of that 2.02 xG created in the final half-hour or so in Perth, 1.6 xG came from moves where the youngster was directly involved in the build-up (a metric known as xGBuild-up that measures a player’s contribution to their team’s attacks).

No other Premiership player, in any of the six games over the weekend, comes close to matching that level of output in such a short space of time. Nathaniel Atkinson, who played 98 minutes in Perth, was the only player in the league with a greater xGBuild-up than Lowry (who, it must be stressed, played only 38 minutes in total) this weekend.

It was a mightily impressive debut from a player who promises so much. Lowry’s composed, unflappable presence on the ball ultimately swung the match in Hearts’ favour on Saturday and the early evidence suggests that St Johnstone won’t be the last team to be undone by the midfielder, either. After waiting so long for an opportunity that would never present itself at Rangers, Lowry has finally been given one at Hearts – and it is one that he is already seizing.