Kenyan forward Jonah Ayunga's grit in vain as Hearts triumph over St. Mirren

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STARS ABROAD Kenyan forward Jonah Ayunga's grit in vain as Hearts triumph over St. Mirren

Festus Chuma 09:30 - 24.12.2023

Kenyan striker Jonah Ayunga's spirited performance for St. Mirren could not prevent a dramatic outcome in their Scottish Premiership duel against Hearts.

Kenyan forward Jonah Ayunga took to the pitch for 63 minutes but his efforts were not enough to secure victory for St. Mirren as Hearts emerged triumphant in the cinch Scottish Premiership clash on Saturday night.

Lawrence Shankland's brace on either side of halftime proved decisive, leaving St. Mirren's hopes dashed in Gorgie.

The match kicked off with both sides eager to assert their dominance, and Hearts seized an early opportunity just moments after kickoff when Aidan Denholm was fouled by St. Mirren's Alex Gogic.

The Cypriot international was swiftly booked, and Hearts were granted a free-kick in a favorable position, 20 yards from goal. However, Alex Cochrane's attempt from the set-piece veered wide of the left-hand post, leaving the crowd anticipating more action.

As the game progressed, there was little to separate the two sides in the opening exchanges. St. Mirren sought to capitalize on defensive lapses within the Hearts' ranks, and on the 12th minute, Jonah Ayunga managed to get a shot off, only to see his deflected effort collected comfortably by Hearts' goalkeeper, Zander Clark.

Ayunga's impact on the game continued as he won a free-kick approximately 25 yards from the Hearts' goal, 15 minutes later. Scott Tanser stepped up to take the set-piece but failed to trouble the opposition, sending his attempt wide.

It was Hearts who eventually broke the deadlock in the 33rd minute, with Lawrence Shankland nodding home from close range at the far post.

St. Mirren struggled to clear their lines during a corner, allowing Alex Cochrane to deliver the ball to the back post, where Shankland, unmarked and with plenty of space, found the back of the net despite Zach Hemming managing to get two hands on the ball.

Shankland wasted no time adding to his tally, scoring his second and Hearts' second goal early in the second half.

Just four minutes after the restart, the forward displayed his brilliance by picking up the ball just outside the penalty area, executing a swift turn, and sending a magnificent finish into the top corner, doubling the home side's advantage.\

Shankland came close to securing his hat-trick on the 57th minute, thanks to Beni Baningime's interception that saw him dispossess Richard Taylor near the penalty area.

Baningime then threaded the ball through to the Hearts' number nine, but Shankland's attempt was denied by Hemming.

St. Mirren made a spirited attempt to pull a goal back, coming agonizingly close on two occasions within a minute, shortly after the hour mark.

Gogic's header was expertly saved by Clark, who stretched to tip the ball behind. A scramble ensued from the ensuing corner, nearly resulting in Thierry Small forcing the ball home, but Kye Rowles cleared the effort off the line.

With St. Mirren striving for a comeback, manager Stephen Robinson made several changes, introducing Stav Nahmani, Toyosi Olusanya, and Lewis Jamieson in place of Greg Kiltie, Ayunga, and Alex Greive.

Mikael Mandron and Caolan Boyd-Munce were also brought on 10 minutes later, with Thierry Small and Mark O'Hara making way.

Despite the substitutions, St. Mirren struggled to find their footing in the match, and it was Hearts who came close to securing a third goal.

A rare mistake by Hemming saw the goalkeeper inadvertently pass the ball directly to Hearts' substitute Macaulay Tait inside the box. However, Hemming redeemed himself with a crucial save to deny the young Hearts player.

In the end, the day belonged to Hearts as they emerged victorious with a convincing performance, while Jonah Ayunga and St. Mirren found themselves unable to overcome the formidable challenge presented by their opponents. 

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