If the striker struggled to articulate a sense of frustration that bordered on something stronger, his body language helped him along the way. Shankland looked like he might have wanted to be anywhere else as he toiled to find an explanation for Hearts’ insipid form. Answers were clipped and curt and, at one point, were dismissed halfway through when it was pointed out that St Mirren had three rather than two goals disallowed in the game.
It is unfair on the Scotland internationalist to offer reasons for the pedestrian form of Hearts this season. Equally unfair that there were questions asked when he might have pulled a point out of the bag when he found himself through on goal with virtually the last kick of the ball. “I tried to go under him,” he said. “You expect yourself to score there but it didn’t [go in].”
Hearts had had 96 minutes by that stage to impose themselves on a St Mirren side whose resources would be significantly dwarfed by those at Tynecastle. What Stephen Robinson’s side do have that Hearts don’t, however, are the qualities that cannot be easily picked up in the transfer market. There is a confidence and belief that comes on the back of an unbeaten start to the season but equally there is a cohesion, identity and organisation about St Mirren. The same cannot be said of Hearts.
Shankland was at pains not to sound dismissive at how St Mirren set up but his irritation at Hearts’ inability to impose themselves was palpable. “I’m not being disrespectful but, the way they play the game, if they get a goal then they are hard to break down. They didn’t have to do anything brilliant to break us down. It’s just one ball across the goal, we all leave it and it ends up in the net. When the ball drops that’s where they get their joy, it’s all second balls, dropping in to hook it, making you defend ... it’s what they are good at. They got their goal and defended well enough to stop us getting one.”
Kye Rowes had a header cleared off the line and Cammy Devlin brought out a decent save from Zach Hemming but an overall assessment would struggle to give Hearts pass-marks. They are becoming notoriously slow starters in games and on Saturday when they did try to get going they were already a goal down. Ryan Strain was offered a gift of a goal after Scott Tanser’s ball into the box was left by Zander Clark and Frankie Kent, indicative of the sleepy start and lack of concentration.
Hearts are seven points off of St Mirren now in the table. There is an argument that the Paisley side are punching above their weight and will inevitably struggle to sustain the start they have made but it is a galling statistic nonetheless. The Tynecastle side are back on the road on Tuesday night as they head to Rugby Park for their Viaplay League Cup quarter-final. Steven Naismith was bullish in the aftermath of this game about getting into the saddle and going again immediately but there is an increasing sense of pressure around him.