LOSING the opening league match of the new season is not normally grounds for a manager’s dismissal.

But the cinch Premiership loss that St Johnstone suffered at the hands of Hearts at McDiarmid Park this afternoon was the very last thing that Steven MacLean needed and increased the pressure on him.

MacLean was feeling the heat going into the league encounter in Perth after reverses to Stenhousemuir, Ayr United and Stirling Albion – who his men were beaten 4-0 by at home last weekend – in the League Cup group stages.

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The final scoreline was a little harsh. His men competed throughout and Hearts keeper Zander Clark did very well to keep a clean sheet. But they ultimately paid the price for their profligacy up front.

They were unable to prevent Yutaro Oda from breaking the deadlock with 15 minutes remaining or Lawrence Shankland from adding another in injury-time.

MacLean can ill afford another loss against Ross County in Dingwall next Saturday. So can he turn things around? And did Frankie McAvoy’s men deserve to prevail? Here are three things we learned from events in Perth.


Kick-off today was delayed by just under 10 minutes when it emerged that VAR had gone on the blink and the action only got underway when both managers agreed to proceed without the new technology.

The glitch in the connection between referee Steven McLean and his colleagues back in Clydesdale House back in Glasgow – there was an electrical issue caused by heavy rain - got fixed early in the first-half.

But there were no contentious offside calls or potential penalty incidents for the match officials to re-examine during a rather flat opening 45 minutes.

St Johnstone should have taken the lead when Graham Carey found Liam Gordon with a dipping free-kick. The defender slipped his marker and got on the end of the delivery. But he side-footed past the right post when he only had Clark to beat.

The Herald: Rangers loanee Alex Lowry, right, in action for Hearts against St Johnstone at McDiarmid Park this

The visitors probably had the better of it thereafter; Peter Haring went close with a header, Nathan Atkinson got a shot away after being supplied by Oda in the opposition area and Shankland tested Dimitar Mitov with a volley.

Still, the Tynecastle club lacked ingenuity going forward and a cutting edge in the final third and their opponents were far more organised and robust at the back than they had been in their previous outings. 

But Hearts certainly turned things around after half-time and the margin of victory could have been greater; Shankland, Kyosuke Tagawa, Kye Rowles and Liam Boyce all forced fine saves from Mitov.

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They will need to pick up where they left off when they take to the field in Trondheim on Thursday night to play Norwegian rivals Rosenborg in the first leg of their Conference League third qualifying round double header. 

Kenneth Vargas, the Costa Rican striker to touched down in Edinburgh yesterday afternoon to complete his signing from Herediano in his homeland, should help.


Summer signings Frankie Kent and Calem Nieuwenhof were both included in the Hearts starting line-up in defence and midfield respectively today.

But the new arrival that most of those wearing maroon scarves were keen to see was Alex Lowry – the Rangers playmaker who had agreed a season-long loan to the capital outfit yesterday.

McAvoy pitched the attacking midfielder in to the fray before an hour had elapsed - just after Clark had palmed a Gordon header to safety and Cammy Devlin had cleared off the goal line.

It was asking a lot of the 20-year-old to come on and make a difference given that he had only met his new team mates this morning. However, great things are expected of the young lad who has impressed onlookers whenever he has been given a run-out by his parent club. He did not disappoint.

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Lowry injected energy and invention into Hearts play going forward and initiated the attack that led to Shankland opening his account for the next season. It was a hugely encouraging start for him. 

Tagawa, the Japanese international forward who also arrived from FC Tokyo this week, also made an impact. He forced a superb save from Mitov after being sent through by a deft touch from Shankland.


The return of Beni Baningime and Boyce gave the Hearts supporters who filled two-and-a-half stands inside the ground something else to cheer at the end of a satisfying afternoon.

The former has been out of action with a cruciate ligament injury for a year and a half while the latter has not featured for a year due to the same issue.

They will need time to get up their fitness and sharpness up after such lengthy lay-offs. But their presence on the pitch will have been pleasing for McAvoy all the same.