Motherwell were left to rue a controversial penalty decision as Stuart McCall’s side fell to a 1-0 defeat at McDiarmid Park.
One goal always looked likely to decide an uninspiring affair, and it arrived just after the hour as Liam Craig converted from the spot following the soft award of a penalty against Stephen Craigan.
Despite shots from Chris Humphrey and Esteban Casagolda ‘Well couldn’t find a way to breach the Saints defence and McInnes’ men held firm for the win.
Motherwell lined up with the same team which earned Stuart McCall his inaugural win in claret-and-amber against Hibs on Saturday, including a second start for new loan star Steve Jones.
The St. Johnstone boss gave a start to promising young striker Stevie May, with the 19-year old having impressed in several cameos this season for the Perth side.
Both sides traded half-chances in the early stages, with Jamie Murphy firing a right-footed shot over the bar from the edge of the box in the opening minutes, followed by a sharp Murray Davidson drive from a whipped Danny Grainger corner.
Motherwell had the first major opening of the contest when Saunders released Chris Humphrey down the right flank. The Jamaican fizzed in a low cross towards John Sutton, but the Saints defence managed to scramble the ball clear as far as Jamie Murphy, only for the under-21 star to scuff his effort, allowing Anderson to clear of the line.
Murphy’s shot proved to be the closest effort for some time in what evolved into a lacklustre first period. Indeed, it took until eight minutes before the break for another decent attempt on goal. It came, once more, from the evasive Murphy, who surged towards the box and fired a powerful drive inches wide.
The second half didn’t improve by much. A fairly insipid beginning to the period was livened up by the busy young Stevie May, who jinked past a couple of challenges and fired a low shot from just inside the box. Darren Randolph stooped low to hold the shot, but it was a promising bit of invention in a match desperately requiring a spark.
The opening goal came in suitably scrappy – as well as contentious – fashion, as referee Calum Murray pointed to the spot after a tussle between Michael Duberry and Stephen Craigan just after the hour mark.
The award looked exceedingly soft but Liam Craig made no mistake in dispatching his kick past Randolph, sending the big Irishman the wrong way with a calm spot-kick.
McCall’s men were struggling to create any notable openings, but Chris Humphrey did try his utmost to grab an equaliser. The former Shrewsbury flyer surged down the right before cutting inside and driving a low shot wide of Enckelman’s post.
Motherwell threw on Esteban Casagolda and Jamie Pollock in the latter stages as they chased a point from their trip to Perth. The big Spaniard, who is yet to score for the Steelmen, had a decent chance with five minutes left on the clock, but he fired over the bar from the angle of the box after some good build-up play.
Two consecutive blocked efforts from Pollock and Saunders proved to be as close as the Steelmen would come, and even Darren Randolph’s presence in the opposition box for a last-ditch corner wasn’t enough to force a dramatic late goal and ‘Well succumbed to a disappointing defeat.
[tab:As it happened]
Graham Barnstaple at McDiarmid Park
FT. Saints 1 – 0 Well
90mins – 3 minutes added! Painful stuff! I’m losing the will to tweet!
82mins – Motherwell push forward but too many half things in and around the area!
78mins – Dribbling run from Humphrey and shot drops just wide of the post. That was close…
72mins – Casagolda on for Murphy who has struggled tonight I am afraid.
71mins – Jennings booked! Another questionable card for the midfielder. *sigh*
63mins – Well Video Analyst says he has no idea why it was given after watching it back. Strange!
61mins – GOAL Liam Craig tucks it away for 1-0 to Saints. Stuart McCall is furious!
60mins – Well, I think it was a handball. No idea – might have been a shove!
60mins – Penalty for St Johnstone. Craigan handball!
58mins – Even my laptop chucked it.. Just turned itself off there. It’s a bad day when the computers are falling asleep!
54mins – Stevie May goes on a great solo run and shot but Darren Randolph made a decent save to keep it 0-0.
51mins – Quick counter attack from ‘Well. Humph burst forward but his shot blated wide into the stand.
46mins – No changes. Stevie May has an early shot that almost goes towards the back of the empty stand behind the goal.
Half Time – Team are out for the 2nd half!
Half Time – Stranraer scouts are sitting just infront of the Press Box. Looking resplendid in his SFC jacket.
Half Time – The PA guys sounds like Terry Butcher. That’s quite a coup for Saints. Some interesting half-time results too!
Half Time – That was pretty awful stuff! Apparently Saints’ game vs St Mirren on Saturday was worse. Glad I missed that one then!
45mins – Late shot by Liam Craig blasts over the bar. It’s been a pretty dire first half to be honest. First ten was decent enough too!
38mins – Offt, ‘Well go close there. Mistake in the Saints backline allows Murphy to pick up. Quick turn and shot goes just wide.
32mins – Saunders has a shot from the edge of the area but it bounces harmlessly wide. A lot of long balls so far – from both teams.
26mins – Well manage to get it clear. First 15 in this game was decent… The proceeding ten have been pretty poor to be honest.
26mins – Free kick for Saints outside the box…
15mins – Saints hit back quickly but a shot from the booked May, from 30 yards, zips over the bar.
15mins – Motherwell almost take the lead. Great ball from Saunders plays Humph in. His square ball lands at Murphy but Saitns get it away.
14mins – Stevie May is booked for diving! Interesting… To be fair to the referee, he was well placed!
13mins – Humphrey shot blazes way over the bar as both teams trade early chances.
9mins – Turn and shot from Samuel takes a deflection off Craigan and bobbles comfortably back to Randolph.
5mins – Down the other end, Grainger’s corner fell kindly for Davidson inside the area but his half volley was easily held by Randolph.
2mins – Wee half chance for ‘Well. Sutton’s knock down fell for Murphy but his shot fizzed over the bar.
1mins – Just some of the wee things you notice. Only three players (Craigan, Jennings and Sutton) are not wearing white boots. Oh dear…
1mins – Motherwell kick-off!
Motherwell manager Stuart McCall:
“There was nothing in the game, it was tight. We said at half-time it might take a set piece or a decision. Unfortunately a decision has gone against us.
Craigan got turned round, he’s facing the wrong way, he’s jumped up and it’s hit him on the back of the head. If you look at their players, there’s no-one claiming for a penalty. It’s the turning point of the game.
“It was a game that we expected, St Johnstone at home, very hard to break down. In the last 20 minutes the pressure we had and the balls we put into the box, we just needed someone to put himself in there.
“We just couldn’t find that equaliser and I think we deserved to come away with a point. It’s such a soft decision which has ultimately cost us the game.”
St Johnstone manager Derek McInnes:
“I thought we worked so hard for that. Before the game, I thought it was a game we would win and I certainly did not think we would lose it.
“I looked at the players and they were desperate to make amends for Saturday’s performance and they worked and worked and worked and got the break from the penalty kick and I thought the win was merited.”