McKay & Ginnelly dazzle as Hearts stroll past Saints

A Josh Ginnelly brace saw Hearts convincingly beat St Johnstone as crowds returned to Tynecastle after the winter break. Jamie McIntosh reports. 

Fans flocked back to Tyencastle to take in Hearts first game of 2022. (Photo Credit – Jamie McIntosh)

Hearts opened up an eight-point gap in third spot with a 2-0 victory over bottom of the table St Johnstone.

Much of the talk in the lead up to this match wasn’t to do with fans returning to Tynecastle for the first time since 12th December, but whether Hearts boss Robbie Neilson would choose to start his Rangers bound defender John Souttar, in a game that would see him jeered by supporters.

After explaining at Tuesday’s press conference that Souttar would continue to be involved with the first team squad, Neilson stuck to his word as the 25-year-old lined up in a now familiar defence alongside Craig Halkett and Stephen Kingsley. 

As for St Johnstone, new signings Nadir Çiftçi and Daniel Cleary made their debuts, while stopper Zander Clark returned after missing the previous two games. 

It didn’t take long for the stick in Souttar’s direction to commence. A loud boo followed the number four’s name being read out over the tannoy and the Scotland international didn’t feel much more love from the home crowd after his first couple of touches. 

As for the football, Hearts appeared to have a good claim for a penalty after just ten minutes when Liam Gordon tangled with Josh Ginnelly, but referee Nick Walsh waved away the claims. 

Hearts they were enjoying the majority of possession but didn’t manage to test Clark until the 23rd minute when Barrie McKay would’ve found the bottom corner had it not been for the ‘keeper’s fingertips. 

From a Saints perspective, they were struggling to get a foothold in the game. Suddenly, Çiftçi was gifted an opportunity, yet was denied down low by Scotland’s number one. 

After weathering an early storm, Saints were growing in confidence and enjoying more of the ball. Çiftçi tried his luck from distance but was denied by the chest of Craig Gordon. 

Following a goalless first half, the deadlock was broken just moments into the second period. A ball over the top from McKay found Ginnelly, who had the composure to slot the ball past Clark as Tynecastle erupted. 

The first half boos in the direction of Souttar eventually were drowned out by clapping, though they re-emerged after the defender appeared to half-heartedly join in the celebrations for the goal with his teammates. 

The game had now reached a stage where another Hearts goal was likely to seal all three points and Gary Mackay-Steven probably should’ve provided it after being slipped in by McKay – again at the heart of most things the home side were creating.  

Eventually, that second goal did arrive and again, McKay was the provider, Ginnelly the finisher. Çiftçi gave the ball awa, and when trying to make amends, collided with a teammate in comical fashion. That left McKay with all the time in the world to unselfishly slip in the unmarked Ginnelly, who once again slotted past Clark to wrap up all three points for the home side. 

A lovely breakaway from Hearts saw Aaron McEneff and McKay link up before the latter found Cammy Devlin. Clark was again alert to prevent a Hearts third, as the Aussie’s search for a first Hearts goal goes on.

McKay was substituted late on as the game petered out to a 2-0 final scoreline and he was fully deserving of the standing ovation he received. The Scotsman really does look a level above the other wingers Hearts have at their disposal, and he will be a major asset in their quest for third spot. 

As for St Johnstone, it was another game without a goal. They’ve now notched just 11 goals in their 21 league matches, but they certainly looked a more dangerous outfit with Çiftçi leading the line. 

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