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Jim Jefferies 2nd <-auth Rob Fairburn auth-> Crawford Allan
7 of 009 Rudi Skacel 2L SPL H

SPL: Hearts 1 St Johnstone 0

Jan 30 2011 Rob Fairburn, Sunday Mail

REPORTS of the death of Hearts' title challenge have been greatly exaggerated as talisman Rudi Skacel kept them on the coat-tails of the Old Firm.

Jim Jefferies' side avenged their recent Scottish Cup defeat at the hands of St Johnstone by recording their first victory against them at Tynecastle in 10 years.

More importantly, the three points helped keep the Jambos in touch with the top two and if Hearts can win at Ibrox on Wednesday they will leapfrog Rangers into second.

So who says their title challenge is over? Despite the midweek thrashing from Celtic, the Edinburgh side can't be written off just yet especially with the team boosted by the return of long-term injury casualty Andrew Driver.

Ruben Palazuelos, who was a standout in the centre of midfield yesterday, insists the Celtic Park defeat is history now and that his side remain upbeat.

He said: "I was very happy with my display and that of the team but the most important thing is we got the three points.

"The Celtic game is forgotten now and it was important we bounced back.

"If we beat Rangers anything is possible."

Despite making five changes from the team that lost 4-0 at Celtic Park, Hearts showed no signs of any disruption to their rhythm as they got off to a flying start.

The only goal of the game came in just three minutes after a lightning breakaway.

Marian Kello clutched a corner from Jody Morris and launched the ball upfield.

Suso Santana beat former Jambo Alan Maybury in the air to send Craig Thomson flying down the wing.

The right-back's inch-perfect cross on the run was met by the onrushing Skacel who steered the ball past the helpless Peter Enckelman.

It could easily have been two soon after when Lee Wallace's cross picked out Santana all alone but the Spanish winger produced a poor finishing touch and Enckelman was able to grab the loose ball.

Skacel drilled a 20-yard shot just wide of the mark in 17 minutes as the home side continued to dominate proceedings.

Indeed it took 26 minutes before Saints conjured up a chance with Murray Davidson volleying Liam Craig's cross well wide of target.

But Hearts continued to look the more dangerous and almost extended their lead on the half-hour mark when David Obua's low cross was spilled by Enckelman one yard out but Dave MacKay raced back to boot the ball to safety with Gary Glen ready to pounce.

Fed-up Saints boss Derek McInnes changed the shape of his line-up with a double switch in 38 minutes.

Striker Sam Parkin and left-back Maybury were hooked with Cleveland Taylor and Steven May coming on.

While Saints looked more solid after that they rarely threatened the home goal.

May fired a shot wide of the mark minutes after the restart but again it was Hearts who continually looked more dangerous in attack.

And Skacel missed a glorious chance for his double in 53 minutes when he shot straight at Enckelman from close range after great work down the left flank by Wallace.

The Finnish keeper then had his fingers warmed by a fierce Santana volley that was too hot to handle but Glen was in an offside position and unable to convert any rebound.

The biggest cheer of the afternoon came in 67 minutes with the first appearance of the season of Driver, who replaced Santana while Stephen Elliott came on for Glen.

Saints pushed more players forward in the closing stages leaving gaps at the back and Elliott was presented with two glorious chances in the dying minutes.

He fired one shot over the bar and then after a piece of Driver magic, with the striker jinking past three players in the box before squaring the ball, Elliott was put off by a last-ditch Steven Anderson tackle and fired wildly wide.

In a grandstand finish Saints pumped high balls into the box but the Hearts defence stood firm to secure another three vital points.

Jubilant Jambos boss Jefferies said: "I thought we were excellent for the first 75 minutes.

"Everyone had written us off after Wednesday but we never said we were going to do this or do that.

"However this was a massive game for us because we want to go on another run of results. We are on track to compete for third place but it also keeps us closer to the top two."

Jefferies was also delighted his side managed to put on a show for watching owner Vladimir Romanov who was attending his first game of the season.

He said: "I think there was some mischief making going on with the reports saying he was only here to grill us about Wednesday.

"He spoke to the players and spoke to me too. I think we all wanted to know what happened on Wednesday so there is nothing untoward there.

"It was important while he was here to show we had the character to bounce back and get the three points."

Taken from the Daily Record

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