HEARTY boos accompanied Hearts’ John Souttar every time he received the ball in their 2-0 win over St Johnstone in the cinch Premiership.

Josh Ginnelly scored the game’s two goals but all eyes were on the Scotland centre-half after he signed a pre-contract with league rivals Rangers in the days leading up to the game – a separate band of supporters responded each time with ripples of applause.

Souttar was at the centre of things as Hearts controlled the first half, linking with Michael Smith and Barrie McKay and finding Ginnelly – playing in an unusual striker role with Liam Boyce only making the bench – when he made peeling runs to the right.

“John is a strong, strong character,” said Hearts manager Robbie Neilson after the match. “HE’s come back from three ruptured Achilles – some players don’t come back from one.

“”He just got on with the game and did very well.”

The first real chance came in the 10th minute when McKay found Alex Cochrane but Smith skewed his shot wide when he should have tested Zander Clark in the St Johnstone goal.

After that there was an optimistic claim for a penalty when Ginnelly hit the deck and a stronger shout later when Souttar was felled in the box, but both were waved away by referee Nick Walsh.

The only real save Hearts forced Clark into in the first half was a daisy-cutter from McKay, which he did well to get his fingertips to.

St Johnstone manager Callum Davidson gave debuts to former Liverpool youth Dan Cleary and Nadir Ciftci, who combined for the visitors’ best chance. The defender aimed a long ball over the top of the Hearts defence and the Ciftci won the race with Craig Halkett before firing straight at goalkeeper Craig Gordon.

The away side were starting to counter effectively and expose the gaps opening up in the defence as Neilson’s men pushed forward. Ciftci had another crack, this time from the corner of the 18-yard box, but Gordon was again equal to it.

Within seconds of the restart Hearts were ahead. St Johnstone attempted to apply pressure from the kick-off but conceded possession before Cochrane found McKay in the centre circle. He spun and sent Ginnelly bearing through on goal. The forward was too quick for Jamie McCart and placed the ball low past the advancing Clark.

St Johnstone were struggling to get out of their own half under intense pressing. It led to the manager calling upon Charlie Gilmour – recently back after a loan spell with Alloa – and Chris Kane in the 64th minute. Just before they replaced Stevie May and Jacob Butterfield there was one final chance but the former made a poor connection from O’Halloran’s cutback.

After that, Kane especially helped ease his side up the pitch but the best he could muster at goal was a deflected effort, comfortably saved.

The match was put beyond doubt when Ginnelly added his second in 76 minutes. McKay, the best player on the day, grabbed his second assist after darting away from a pack of players, two of which tripped over each other, and picking out the 24-year-old who sent a high first-time effort past Clark.

Cammy Devlin should have added a third after another great ball from McKay but this time Clark pushed it round the post.

Davidson rued the goal his side conceded after a decent first-half showing: “Basically we’re thirty yards in their half, five seconds later it’s a goal.

“Same with the second goal: we’re attacking and five seconds later we get done on the counter.

“We put a lot of effort into the game. But conceding goals like that, especially where we are in the league … the two goals were far too easy.”

With Motherwell losing the result extends Hearts’ lead in third over the Fir Park side while St Johnstone have now gone eight matches without collecting a single point.

“The aim for us has got to be up the way now,” said Neilson.