O'Neil steps off bench to save point for Hearts

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The Independent Football

Hearts' ambitions of breaking the Old Firm stranglehold and securing one of the two Champions' League places on offer this season received a kiss of life at McDiarmid Park last night.

Hearts' ambitions of breaking the Old Firm stranglehold and securing one of the two Champions' League places on offer this season received a kiss of life at McDiarmid Park last night.

Jim Jefferies' side appeared to be staring defeat firmly in the face until Kris O'Neil made two dramatic contributions after coming off the substitutes' bench after 66 minutes.

The teenager bundled in what appeared to be a mere consolation goal seven minutes from the end when Hearts were 2-0 adrift, but then he set up an unlikely equaliser for Robert Tomaschek in added time with a low cross which was hooked home by the Slovakian at the near post.

These two clubs both have pretensions of securing a Uefa Cup place at the end of this season, but the football in the early stages did not indicate much early-season passion to back that theory.

Colin Cameron, who was watched by the Coventry City manager, Gordon Strachan, in last week's Edinburgh derby with Hibernian, tried to set an example with a foray into the St Johnstone box in the 11th minute but his cut-back was swept away by Jim Weir.

Both players soon found their way into referee John Rowbotham's notebook for ugly tackles before Weir, a former Hearts player, helped St Johnstone to break the deadlock in the 32nd minute.

The central defender rose to meet a corner from John Paul McBride and powered in a downward header that flew past a ruck of players, which included the Hearts midfielder Fitzroy Simpson, who was guarding the goal-line.

Although Weir immediately indicated that the goal was his, the young striker Keigan Parker claimed he had got the last touch.

Hearts responded just before the interval when Scott Severin forced two saves from Saints' goalkeeper Alan Main. The Scotland squad member pushed Severin's first header over the crossbar and then managed to block the youngster's next goal-bound effort with his feet.

Antti Niemi, however, at the other end eclipsed those saves when he prevented Hearts from falling further behind on the hour. The Finnish goalkeeper showed wonderful alertness to beat out a diving header from Graeme Jones after the St Johnstone striker had met Mohammed Sylla's cross, and then he enjoyed some good fortune as Tommy Lovenkrands struck the rebound over the goal.

However, Jones showed no such mercy when he stepped up to double St Johnstone's lead in the 79th minute. Steven Pressley was guilty of ball-watching which allowed Lovenkrands to scamper away down the left, and this time the Dane showed great composure to provide a low cross which Jones volleyed into the St Johnstone net.

St Johnstone (4-4-2): Main; Sylla, Weir, Kernaghan (Dods, 65), Bollan; Kane, Dasovic, McBride, Lovenkrands; Jones, Parker (Connolly, 85). Substitutes not used: Cuthbert, Russell, McCulloch.

Heart of Midlothian (4-3-3): Niemi; Flögel, Pressley, Petric (Makel, 53), Fulton; Tomaschek, Cameron, Simpson (McSwegan, 53); Juanjo, Jackson (O'Neil, 66), Severin. Substitutes not used: McKenzie, Murray.

Referee: J Rowbotham.

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