Two late goals for St. Mirren at home to Motherwell sealed a 3-2 win for the Buddies and moved them 18 points clear of Hearts, who were docked 15 points at the beginning of the season for entering administration, with just five games remaining. Hearts' sensational second half display had looked to have given the Jambos another stay of execution before news filtered through of Steven Thompson's 87th-minute winner for St. Mirren that sealed their fate.
It ends a 31-year stay in Scotland's top flight for the Tynecastle club and heaps further misery on Hearts, who could be liquidated unless Monday's meeting of their Lithuanian creditors agrees to transfer the majority shareholding of their parent company UBIG to a fans rescue group bankrolled by Edinburgh businesswoman Ann Budge.
Hearts manager Gary Locke said he couldn't have asked for anything more from his players.
"I thought we were outstanding apart from the first 15 minutes when we lost a sloppy goal," Locke said. "After that it was probably our best performance of the season. We are really disappointed but with the backing we have at this football club from our supporters we will certainly bounce back. We faced a big battle today but our biggest battle is Monday and everyone connected with the football club is just desperately praying that everything goes well."
The cash-strapped Jambos knew that even a victory at Firhill might not be enough to delay their demotion to the Championship if St. Mirren managed to get a point away to Motherwell. And their hopes of delaying their inevitable drop down to the Scottish Championship were boosted when some poor defending allowed Kris Doolan to fire home a fifth minute opener.
Dale Carrick, the star of last week's derby victory over Hibernian, gave the Jambos a lifeline when he pulled one back in the 44th minute before a sensational second half comeback.
King's incredible strike
Billy King rifled home an incredible strike past Paul Gallacher to hand Hearts the lead before Ryan Stevenson made it 3-1 in the 61st minute. Stevenson got his second of the match in the 68th minute when he flashed a drive into the net to seal an emphatic win for the Jambos before Jordan McMillan pulled a late goal back for Thistle.
However, it was all to no avail after St. Mirren pulled off a dramatic comeback of their own. Henri Anier and John Sutton fired Motherwell into a two-goal lead at New St. Mirren Park before Steven Thompson pulled one back for the Buddies. Motherwell looked to be holding on to victory until Kenny McLean hauled St. Mirren level from the penalty spot in the 86th minute.
Thompson then grabbed his second of the match just a minute later to condemn Locke's youthful Hearts side, who are 17 points behind Partick Thistle at the bottom, to life in the Championship.
Celtic dealt Dundee United's European ambitions a blow as the Scottish champions eased to a 2-0 victory at Tannadice. The Hoops took a fifth-minute lead when Georgios Samaras applied a fine finish to a Kris Commons free-kick for only his fifth league goal of the season.
Anthony Stokes then fired past the helpless Radoslaw Cierzniak in the 24th minute to give Celtic a two-goal cushion at the break. Ryan Dow's second-half effort for United was ruled out for offside before substitute Leigh Griffiths twice came close to adding to Celtic's advantage.
The defeat was only United's third in all competitions since the turn of the year and leaves Jackie McNamara's side six points behind Motherwell in the chase for third place and a European spot.