Steve Lomas on the other hand had possibly the most beneficial January of all SPL managers in acquiring to promising under 21’s in James Keatings (Celtic) and highly regarded Kudus Oyenuga (Tottenham Hotspur) on loan to enhance his options from the bench, while managing to hold onto top scorer Francisco Sandaza and club captain Jody Morris. One key change in the St Johnstone line up was David Robertson coming in for Marcus Haber.
With both teams starting with intent, the game simmered quite nicely with both teams flitting between good football and slack play neither could grab a foothold in the game. With the game end to end it was Hearts who managed to find that bit of play and composure in the final third. In the tenth minute McGowan had time to pick out Templeton unmarked on the edge of the box and with no need for a second invite he stung in a shot from the edge of the area beating Enckelman to easily at the near post.
With the home side keen to build on their lead they pushed forward at every opportunity, limiting St Johnstone to sporadic attacks and scrambling defending. As time passed and the second goal still not arriving, the Saints spirit which impresses Lomas seemingly every week, managed to claw their way back into the game, with captain Morris leading a midfield through heart and grit. With Davidson dived into tackles trying everything to create the break to bring them back into the game.
As they pressed forward, the Perth Saints had to constantly be on their guard as the impressive and dangerous Templeton constantly posed a threat backed up by the borderline tenacity of Black.
As the game marched towards half time with both teams not backing down from their intent to win, this was turning into a fair old cup tie.
Into the second half St Johnstone manager Lomas was the first to roll the dice in bringing on Sheridan for the ineffective Robertson hoping that the reformation of the SaS can spark the Saints come back.
Within two minutes of the restart Sheridan broke clear on the left and pitched in a perfect cross for Sandaza to connect from six yards out but with a free header he could only guide it onto the bar, this seemed to be the catalyst for sustained pressure from the visitors with wave upon wave of attack ultimately fruitless with some last stand defending and poor finishing.
After chances went begging through slick play, Liam Craig caught the ball on the half volley on the hour and with the ball moving through the air MacDonald did well to get his body behind it and beat it to safety.
After an hour of the game and after both teams had put so much into it, the game started to get bogged down in midfield with only flashes of the skill we had seen previously from both teams. With a succession of free kicks and referee Craig Thomson managing to take the attention from the players and focus it squarely onto himself the game was in danger of being ruined as a spectacle.
Just under twenty minutes left Thomson incurred the wrath of the away fans by brandishing a dubious second yellow to MacKay after he had caught the ever dangerous Templeton on the side whilst trying to hook away a clearance, sending him for an early bath.
Fortunately both sets of players continued to play to win and managed to regain the attacking threat they had both posed earlier and on 77 minutes it was the away fans who erupted after Sandaza played an inch perfect pass for Sheridan to break the offside trap and coolly drawing MacDonald before slotting it passed him and into the net.
As both teams pushed for the winner, the defences held firm and the game rightly and fairly ended with honours even setting up a reply at McDiarmid Park on 14th February.
Hearts: Enckelman, Mackay, C Davidson, Morris, Anderson, McCracken, M Davidson (Millar), Croft (Keatings), Robertson (Sheridan), Sandaza, Craig.
Subs not used: Mannus, Oyenuga,
St.Johnstone: MacDonald, Webster, McGowan, Zaliukas, Hamill, Black, Templeton (Driver), Skacel (Taouil), Mrowiec, Elliott, Robinson.
Subs not used: Ridgers, Barr, Glen