Danny Lennon's St Mirren leapfrog SPL Hearts and lay down marker for trophy battle

THIS was by far the least important match-up between St Mirren and Hearts this season but that didn't render the victory any less important for Danny Lennon's side.

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Graham Carey celebrates St Mirren's second goal in the 2-0 win over Hearts
Graham Carey celebrates St Mirren's second goal in the 2-0 win over Hearts

With the Scottish Communities League Cup final between them just weeks away, a league fixture between the SPL's 10th and 11th-placed teams was a pretty low-key build up to the Hampden showpiece on March 17.

However, the 2-0 win which took them above their fellow strugglers in the standings was welcome, with goals from Paul McGowan and Graham Carey enough to give Saints the points and the bragging rights ahead of their duel next month.

There was no place for midfield protege Kenny McLean and the strike duo of Steven Thompson and Esmael Goncalves also had to settle for a place on the bench.

Boss Lennon opted for a front two of Sam Parkin and Lewis Guy as they attempted to convince their gaffer they should lead the line at home to Celtic in the Scottish Cup on Saturday.

It was one of the Saints' tried-and-trusted stars who would give them the perfect start, however, with the hosts taking a fourth-minute lead from 12 yards.

Lee Mair was bundled over inside the area by Jambos defender Darren Barr and after referee Kevin Clancy pointed to the spot, McGowan stepped up to coolly slot the ball beyond Jamie MacDonald, sending the keeper the wrong way to get St Mirren up and running.

It was an advantage they failed to capitalise on immediately, though, with Hearts seeing plenty of the ball yet causing Buddies No.1 Craig Samson few problems.

Jamie Walker and Michael Ngoo tried their luck, but their efforts dis not caused serious concern for Samson or the home crowd.

On a freezing night in Paisley, the Saints faithful in the 3,369 crowd had to be patient with their side as they often found themselves on the back foot.

They did have the odd forward foray but were too often profligate in the final third as they struggled to assert their presence as an attacking force.

When they did get a better sight of goal, they couldn't trouble MacDonald.

Guy could only head a Carey cross into the ground and over the bar from just yards out, his blushes somewhat spared by an offside flag, before Parkin saw his glancing header narrowly miss the target, again from Carey's centre.

The ex-Celtic youngster soon took matters into his own hands as he doubled Saints' advantage in superb fashion on the stroke of half-time.

Carey has been the scorer of some exceptional goals in his time in Paisley and this was another to add to his personal highlights reel as he unleashed a dipping shot from 35 yards that flew over MacDonald's head and into the top corner.

The second goal was a welcome cushion for the Saints, with Hearts picking up where they left off after the break, the arrival of John Sutton and a switch to a 4-4-2 formation giving John McGlynn's side a source of encouragement.

Fellow half-time sub Dylan McGowan headed just wide from a corner before Sutton appealed for a penalty after a tussle with Mair, but it was Walker who once again tested Samson, the Buddies keeper saving a low drive.

Hearts' pressure never paid off, however, with St Mirren emerging unscathed as they saw the game out to add three points to their SPL tally. They will battle Hearts again next month and this time there will be a whole lot more to play for.

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