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St. Johnstone vs Hearts. Scottish Premiership.

McDiarmid ParkAttendance4,518.

St. Johnstone 0

    Hearts 1

    • L Shankland (55th minute)

    St Johnstone 0-1 Hearts: Lawrence Shankland strikes again to secure Jambos win

    Match report as Hearts win 1-0 at St Johnstone; Lawrence Shankland scored his 50th goal for the Jambos

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    Highlights of the SPFL match between St Johnstone and Hearts

    Lawrence Shankland scored his 50th goal for Hearts as the rampant Edinburgh side tightened their grip on third spot in the Scottish Premiership with a 1-0 win away to St Johnstone.

    The Jambos captain struck for the 22nd time this season early in the second half to settle a tightly-contested affair at McDiarmid Park and secure a sixth consecutive victory in all competitions.

    Hearts have now won 12 of their last 15 league matches since the start of November and remain 12 points clear of nearest challengers Kilmarnock.

    Saints boss Craig Levein - a two-time former Jambos manager - made one alteration to the side that won 1-0 at Ross County on Saturday as Oludare Olufunwa replaced David Keltjens.

    There were three changes to the Hearts team that started the 3-2 victory at Dundee, with Toby Sibbick, Jorge Grant and Yutaro Oda making way for Stephen Kingsley, Kenneth Vargas and on-loan Charlton midfielder Scott Fraser, who made his debut as a substitute at the weekend.

    Hearts controlled possession in the early exchanges but struggled to get a clear sight of goal. Stephen Kingsley had their first notable attempt in the 25th minute after Frankie Kent headed Fraser's cross down to the edge of the six-yard box but his firm, angled strike was blocked by Dimitar Mitov.

    Hearts are third in the Scottish Premiership
    Image: Hearts are third in the Scottish Premiership

    Saints started to grow into the game as the half wore on and they had an opportunity in the 39th minute when Alex Cochrane's headed clearance dropped to Benjamin Kimpioka just inside the box, but the Swedish striker was unable to get the ball fully under control and sliced his effort wide.

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    Hearts threatened in the last minute of the half but Vargas headed wide after getting on the end of Dexter Lembikisa's cross from the right at the back post.

    Saints made a change for the start of the second half as Sven Sprangler replaced fellow midfielder Fran Franczak.

    Connor Smith, who left Hearts in January to join the Perth side, tried his luck with a shot from distance in the 47th minute but it was easily held by Zander Clark.

    A minute later Jambos winger Alan Forrest went agonisingly close to breaking the deadlock when he curled a low 12-yard shot just past the far post from the left side of the box.

    PERTH, SCOTLAND - FEBRUARY 07: St Johnstone manager Craig Levein during a cinch Premiership match between St Johnstone and Heart of Midlothian at McDiarmid Park, on February 07, 2024, in Perth, Scotland. (Photo by Mark Scates / SNS Group)
    Image: St Johnstone remain 10th in the Scottish Premiership

    The breakthrough came for the visitors in the 55th minute when Saints defender Andrew Considine misjudged Kent's long ball up the centre of the pitch and Shankland - alert to the opportunity - flicked the ball beyond Ryan McGowan to get himself free in the box before calmly slotting past Mitov from around 12 yards.

    It was the Scotland striker's 50th goal since joining Hearts from Belgian club Beerschot in the summer of 2022.

    Saints - who remain 10th in the table - had two good chances to equalise in the closing stages through Nicky Clark and Adama Sidibeh, but Steven Naismith's on-form side held firm.

    What the managers said:

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    Steven Naismith was full of praise for captain Lawrence Shankland, who netted his 50th Hearts goal in their 1-0 win over St Johnstone, saying everyone at the club is 'desperate' for him to stay beyond this season

    Hearts manager Steven Naismith on Shankland: "He is at the peak of his career, his numbers are the best of his career.

    "That's partly down to him and the team, he's a lethal finisher. He's got the finesse and the touch to take his chances when they come along.

    "He's showed why he's the best striker in the league. He's driven, he's got drive - he's got the Euros [in the summer with Scotland], he's hunting down top goalscorers. He's in a good moment and as a group we're in a good moment.

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    Lawrence Shankland reacts to reaching 50 Hearts goals as they beat St Johnstone 1-0 to make it five Premiership wins in a row

    "I think it [the win] was deserved. I think there was a level of respect shown the way they set up with the low block.

    "It was up to us to break that down and stay solid, but we created some good chances. We needed to move the ball quickly in the second half and once we got the goal we controlled the game.

    "We have been good at working it out, understanding what's working and what's not. What we need to add now is more goals, but it's a good place to be winning these games."

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    Craig Levein is positive about St Johnstone's performance and credits Hearts, who he says are by far the third best team in the country

    St Johnstone manager Craig Levein: "I was really pleased with our performance, we matched Hearts in every department.

    "They are by far the third-best team in the country but I was pleased to see us play some good football. I thought we had possession for long periods and that pleased me.

    "The fact we lost 1-0 to a good Hearts side, with Lawrence Shankland scoring a goal that I don't think anyone else on the field would have a chance of scoring, the way we played pleases me.

    "I thought we were in it for long periods and our goalkeeper had very little to do."

    What's next?

    Hearts' attention turns to the Scottish Cup with a fifth-round tie away to Championship side Airdrie on Sunday. Kick-off 5pm.

    St Johnstone are in Scottish Premiership action on Sunday at home to Dundee. Kick-off 3pm.

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