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Jim Jefferies 2nd <-auth Graeme Macpherson auth-> Crawford Allan
----- John Paul Potter
6 of 007 David Templeton 63 ;Kevin Kyle pen 82 L SPL A

Jim Jefferies grind out another victory to whet fans’ appetite for derby

Graeme Macpherson at St Mirren Park

30 Dec 2010

If the sign of a title-winning team is one who can somehow dig out a victory despite playing poorly, then Hearts may yet have a say in the destination of this season’s Clydesdale Bank Premier League title.

Jim Jefferies’ side were unconvincing for the majority of the 90 minutes but showed sufficient resolve in the second half to find two goals and see off a St Mirren side who had threatened to derail their bandwagon. Instead it rolls on to Tynecastle on Saturday when Hibernian will be the visitors for the traditional Ne’erday Edinburgh derby. Given the disparate form of the respective sides, it is little wonder that the visiting support last night boisterously roared in anticipation at the prospect of Colin Calderwood’s beleaguered side pitching up on their doorstep.

Hearts have now won seven of their last eight matches and sit just six points off the top of the table. Celtic and Rangers fans may sneer at talk of a third force in this season’s title race but for now the Tynecastle side remain a side to be reckoned with and respected.

David Templeton was key to the victory on a night when he, like many of his team-mates, was not at his best. The winger scored his side’s first goal just after the hour mark following a trademark dribble, and then won his side a penalty nine minutes from time that Kevin Kyle converted to make the victory secure.

To add to St Mirren’s misery, Jefferies later confirmed that Templeton was about to be substituted just before he scored. “I was going to give him another five minutes and I’m glad I did now,” said the Hearts manager with a grin. “He wasn’t having one of his best nights and didn’t start the second half well but in those extra five minutes he produced a match-winning performance.

“He knows he can do better but we can’t expect him to play well every week. I’m sure he’ll be even more determined to put it right on Saturday.”

Jefferies was almost as elusive as his jinking winger on the rumours that Hibs’ Liam Miller could be moving to Tynecastle. “It’s just daft websites,” he said unconvincingly.

For St Mirren, there were few positives to be taken from a defeat that does little to ease their relegation worries. They remain six points ahead of Hamilton Academical at the foot of the table, but have played two games more, and have a resurgent Aberdeen alongside them in joint 10th.

Kilmarnock will first foot St Mirren Park on Monday, a game John Potter, the St Mirren captain will miss through suspension after fouling Templeton for the penalty kick, although there were suggestions the defender had got a nick on the ball as he made his tackle.

St Mirren, in fact, had two decent early chances to open the scoring. Paul McGowan ought to have at least hit the target with a lob after being released by Michael Hidgon – the shot drifted tamely wide – before Higdon followed up his own free kick into the Hearts defensive wall with a volleyed bash that drifted similarly wide of Jamie McDonald’s goal.

In contrast, Hearts saw plenty of the ball but created little in the way of early opportunities, a speculative Ian Black shot just after the half-hour mark the first real incident to trouble Paul Gallacher in the St Mirren goal. The visitors came closer a minute before half-time when Templeton created a shooting chance for Calum Elliot but his drive struck the outside of a post and trickled behind. It was about as exciting as it got in a turgid opening 45.

The early stages of the second half were just as grim. Black again shot wide after Elliot had done well to hold up play and funnel the ball into his path, while Sean Lynch clattered a half-volley high into the stand as the home support held their breath in anticipation.

Dargo then headed wide after Darren McGregor had nodded Steven Thomson’s corner into his path, before Hearts went in front after 63 minutes. St Mirren failed to clear a corner kick – Patrick Cregg sliced his clearance straight into the air – and Templeton made them pay, collecting the ball, benefiting from a fortunate bounce of the ball, before finishing well past Gallacher.

Suddenly, Hearts seemed imbued with fresh impetus and came close to grabbing a second two minutes later. Ryan Stevenson was denied by a fine Gallacher save and, when the rebound came back to the former Ayr United midfielder, his second attempt was also well blocked by the sprawling goalkeeper. “We asked the players to up the tempo in the second half and they did that,” added Jefferies. “If it wasn’t for their goalkeeper it could have been four.”

Hearts, though, would make sure of the points with nine minutes remaining. Potter dallied on the halfway line and was robbed by Templeton, who bore down on goal. The St Mirren defender hared back but made insufficient contact with the ball as he lunged in and was duly sent off.

“It was a poor performance and now we’re missing John Potter for a very important game on Monday,” said Danny Lennon, St Mirren’s manager, with a sigh. “I’ve not got any qualms about the result.”

Kyle sent Gallacher the wrong way from the spot and Hearts’ win was assured. The bandwagon rolls on.

Taken from the Herald

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