Match ends, St. Johnstone 2, Heart of Midlothian 3.
Hearts moved up to third in the Scottish Premiership after earning their first away win against St Johnstone in 12 years.
Stand-in captain Lawrence Shankland slotted a well-taken penalty after Ryan McGowan hand-balled, before Alan Forrest rounded off a fantastic passing move to double the visitors’ lead.
St Johnstone missed a penalty, then scored one through Stevie May, but Barrie McKay restored Hearts’ two-goal lead before Jamie Murphy’s late consolation effort.
Robbie Neilson’s side go three points ahead of Aberdeen, while St Johnstone drop to sixth place.
Hearts were still counting the cost of their visit to Tannadice on Christmas Eve, but they did not seem unduly hampered by the loss of Craig Gordon, Craig Halkett or Stephen Kingsley.
Instead, they flew out of the traps on a miserable night in Perth, with Jorge Grant hitting a post when it looked easier to score.
He soon made amends though, flicking a shot onto the arm of McGowan. Penalty given, and duly dispatched by Shankland.
It was almost two when Andy Halliday’s shot flew inches over the bar.
Hearts had come to play. With Robert Snodgrass conducting, they played numerous passes all over the pitch before Halliday slipped Forrest into the box and he curled into the bottom corner.
St Johnstone were handed a lifeline when a penalty came from nothing. It was a clever spot from VAR Grant Irvine after limited appeal from the home side, but Cammy Devlin had handled. Carey lined it up and launched it over the bar.
The hosts had been lifted though, and Zander Clark had to look sharp on his return to Perth, denying a lively May before tipping a deflected Ali Crawford effort on to a post.
The second half started at the same pace as the first, and St Johnstone got another chance to half the deficit when Snodgrass hauled May to the floor. The striker nailed it down the middle, getting the better of old team-mate Clark.
Within 10 minutes, Hearts had restored the advantage. Barrie McKay, fresh off the bench, skipped by McGowan and lashed it into the bottom corner from 25 yards.
The game wasn’t done. Shankland had his pocket picked in his own half and sub Murphy fired into the bottom corner before he was closed down.
It would be no more than consolation as the end, as Hearts picked up their first league win in Perth since 2010.
As vital as this win was for Hearts, Robbie Neilson’s mood would have been lifted further by the results around them. Three points clear in third by Hogmanay is as successful a half-campaign as he could have hoped for.
They started with an urgency and potency that hasn’t been since the first half of the Zurich play-off at Tynecastle. Forrest added a threat at wing-back, with Josh Ginnelly proving a real nuisance.
However, they did look a little shaky at the back with the loss of two first-choice defenders in Halkett and Kingsley.
St Johnstone didn’t play badly by any stretch, but they were punished for defensive lapses. However, they look far stronger than last season.
St Johnstone manager Callum Davidson: “The reason we got beat was we didn’t start for 25 minutes against a good-quality team. It was baffling, as the players had the same instructions.
“There’s a big difference between us now and this time last year. There’s a confidence running through the players and we need to make sure that application and attitude stays.”
Hearts manager Robbie Neilson: “I enjoyed the first half. I thought we played well, we controlled the game, played through the lines, got into good areas and we did exactly what we wanted to do.
“Second half, St Johnstone had more control and made the game more erratic. We couldn’t get the control of the midfield area and let them back into it. It was an entertaining game.”
St Johnstone host Dundee United on 2 January, with Hearts hosting Edinburgh rivals Hibs on the same day (both 15:00 GMT).
Player of the match
with an average of 8.87
Squad number5Player nameMitchell
Squad number7Player nameMay
Squad number29Player nameMurphy
Squad number6Player nameGordon
Squad number14Player nameWright
Squad number22Player nameHallberg
Squad number19Player nameMontgomery
Squad number4Player nameConsidine
Squad number37Player nameClark
Squad number1Player nameMatthews
Squad number13Player nameMcGowan
Squad number23Player nameCarey
Squad number21Player nameCrawford
Squad number18Player nameMacPherson
Squad number26Player nameMcLennan
Squad number10Player nameWotherspoon
Squad number18Player nameMcKay
Squad number9Player nameShankland
Squad number77Player nameSnodgrass
Squad number16Player nameHalliday
Squad number14Player nameDevlin
Squad number19Player nameCochrane
Squad number17Player nameForrest
Squad number30Player nameGinnelly
Squad number21Player nameSibbick
Squad number15Player nameRowles
Squad number7Player nameGrant
Squad number2Player nameSmith
Squad number28Player nameClark
Squad number8Player nameKiomourtzoglou
Match ends, St. Johnstone 2, Heart of Midlothian 3.
Second Half ends, St. Johnstone 2, Heart of Midlothian 3.
Corner, Heart of Midlothian. Conceded by Adam Montgomery.
Liam Gordon (St. Johnstone) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Orestis Kiomourtzoglou (Heart of Midlothian) wins a free kick on the left wing.
Foul by Liam Gordon (St. Johnstone).
Alex Mitchell (St. Johnstone) hits the bar with a header from the centre of the box. Assisted by Jamie Murphy.
Corner, Heart of Midlothian. Conceded by Andrew Considine.
Attempt blocked. Lawrence Shankland (Heart of Midlothian) right footed shot from the centre of the box is blocked. Assisted by Barrie McKay.
Alex Mitchell (St. Johnstone) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Barrie McKay (Heart of Midlothian) wins a free kick on the left wing.
Foul by Alex Mitchell (St. Johnstone).
Attempt missed. David Wotherspoon (St. Johnstone) right footed shot from outside the box is high and wide to the right. Assisted by Stevie May.
Foul by Orestis Kiomourtzoglou (Heart of Midlothian).
Cameron MacPherson (St. Johnstone) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Attempt missed. Jamie Murphy (St. Johnstone) right footed shot from outside the box is high and wide to the right. Assisted by Andrew Considine.
Goal! St. Johnstone 2, Heart of Midlothian 3. Jamie Murphy (St. Johnstone) right footed shot from the right side of the box to the bottom left corner. Assisted by Liam Gordon.
Substitution, Heart of Midlothian. Orestis Kiomourtzoglou replaces Josh Ginnelly.
Corner, St. Johnstone. Conceded by Toby Sibbick.
Attempt missed. Lawrence Shankland (Heart of Midlothian) right footed shot from the right side of the six yard box is close, but misses to the right. Assisted by Josh Ginnelly with a cross.
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