Hearts had much of the possession on a chilly night at Ochilview but were undone by a compact and organised performance from St. Johnstone. The Perth side absorbed plenty of pressure before breaking and scoring what would be the winner in clinical fashion through Craig Thomson’s 22nd minute effort.
Despite having the lion’s share of possession with Arnaud Djoum and Sea McKirdy impressing in the middle of the pitch, Hearts were stifled by St. Johnstone. The Edinburgh side’s best chance of the early stages fell to Ian Smith in the 8th minute. Dario Zanatta burst to the byline and teed up Ian Smith but the winger’s placed effort was blocked and cleared.
Hearts continued to assert pressure but St. Johnstone held firm and exploited the opportunity to break the deadlock. Greg Hurst displayed excellent physical strength and intelligence to kill the ball and bring his teammates into play before bursting down the left to receive it once more and cut a low cross back towards the edge of the area. The ball found its way to Thomson who curled a looping effort beyond the outstretched arm of Kelby Mason.
Hearts almost responded instantly when Gavin Reilly raced on to a long ball in the 26th minute. The striker flicked the ball over his marker’s head but could not direct a left-footed half volley on target. A minute later it was Ian Smith’s turn to try and level the game, meeting a byline cross from Reilly in the air. Smith’s headed effort was denied by the St Johnstone defence and cleared.
Robbie Neilson and Craig Levein were watching on from the stand and will have been encouraged by the combination play on show between the midfield and overlapping fullbacks but Hearts could not get the decisive touch in front of goal. Limiting the Edinburgh side to efforts from set pieces, St. Johnstone were containing the opposition well.
St. Johnstone almost had a second with the last clear cut chance of the half. In the 39th minute Greg Hurst was released on the left by Greg Page. Hurst displayed a great piece of skill to jink and pirouette beyond two defenders but the wide player could not connect cleanly with his strike and Mason gathered to ensure the score remained at 1-0 going into the break.