A late, late penalty denied Motherwell anything from the match as St Johnstone ran out 3-2 winners in an entertaining encounter at Bathgate this afternoon.
Saints roared into a 2-0 first-half lead courtesy of goals from Chris Kane and a Ricky McIntosh penalty. However, Motherwell fought their way back into proceedings when Keiran McGachie headed home from close range then Nicky Devlin equalised midway through the second half with a cross-cum-shot.
Despite late pressure from the home side, Saints would win it after a trip by Willie Muir on sub Andrew Steeves allowed Ricky McIntosh to tuck home from the spot for the second time, taking all three points home to Perth.
Young made just one change from the side that overcame Kilmarnock six days previous. Josh Watt was feeling the ill-effects of an early season knock and was rested. In his place came new signing Hermann Mboa Mekongo, the Frenchman having received clearance to play earlier in the week.
Expectations were high for an eye-catching encounter but the game actually took a while to get going. Both teams traded possession for the opening quarter with very little in the way of real chances at goal.
Things burst to life though when St Johnstone took the lead after fifteen minutes. Right midfielder Ricky McIntosh picked up on a loose midfield ball and he sent Chris Kane through with a looping ball over the top. After taking a great first-touch touch and with Willie Muir rushing out to narrow the angle, the Edinburgh born 16-year old finished with aplomb, slotting under the goalkeeper to make it 1-0.
Motherwell tried to respond instantly but a long-range effort from Lee Erwin went way over the bar with keeper Alistair Worby able to watch it soar out the ground.
Things quickly went from bad to worse for Motherwell as Saints doubled their advantage from the penalty spot. The Steelmen were far from happy with the decision and replays would show they were right to be upset; it was an incredibly harsh call from referee Stephen Mitchell.
A free-kick from the right by Liam Caddis, after Mboa Mekongo had held back Kane, was whipped in with pace towards the front post. Keiran McGachie challenged with Ryan Hutchinson, brother of ‘Well defender Shaun, and when the ball flicked up, it inadvertently hit the hand of the striker. No one claimed, certainly not Hutchinson, but the whistle went and a penalty kick was the decision.
Ricky McIntosh was in no mood to show mercy and tucked the ball home into the left hand corner of the net, sending Muir the wrong way.
Both teams traded possession, play was sloppy and neither side really took a grip of the match. That said, as the first half neared its conclusion, it was the hosts who applied the most pressure in the hunt for a goal. Zane Francis-Angol made Worby work with a low shot from the edge of the box after neat build-up involving four players.
And, right on half-time, that man Francis-Angol was at the centre of things as Motherwell brought themselves back into the game. Picking up a return pass twenty-yards from goal, the former Tottenham youngster took on and beat Greg Mitchell before hanging a lovely cross towards the back post that found Keiran McGachie. The big striker out-jumped Gareth Rodger to bullet home a header from close range – his third of the season. Game on!
The second half started with the Steelmen on the front foot and they were denied what looked like a stonewall penalty kick when centre-back Rodger blocked Adam Ashgar’s net-bound looking shot with an arm. Referee Mitchell was up with play however, in his defence, his view was obscured by Steve Hetherington which would go some way to explain why a spot kick wasn’t forthcoming.
Be it a sense of injustice at a couple of calls that didn’t go their way or not, ‘Well had the bit between their teeth and eventually got the goal they deserved midway through the half. Keiran McGachie collected inside the area and did well to shield before knocking it wide to the waiting Nicky Devlin. The former Dumbarton full-back skinned McIntosh on the flank before firing a cross-cum-shot over Worby and into the net.
At that stage, there looked to be only one winner and Motherwell kept up the pressure with two efforts from Lee Erwin. Both went over the bar but served notice the Steelmen were seeking all three points.
Fancis-Angol went close again too, this time from a nearly worked free-kick, but again it spun wide the Saints keeper not having to work too hard for his side. Similarly, a long range effort from Mboa Mekongo bounced wide as Motherwell pushed and pushed.
With five minutes left on the clock, Lee Erwin did bring out an excellent save from Worby – his spinning low shot from the edge of the area parried by the young goalkeeper before eventually been hooked away. Three minutes later the same player had another strike, almost from an identical distance, but it treacled past the left hand upright with the Saints keeper at full stretch.
With all Motherwell’s chances, possession and crosses into the box, there was almost an air of inevitability that there would be a sting in the tail and it came in the form of a stoppage time penalty kick for the away side.
Darren Brownlie left a pass back to Willie Muir half a yard short allowing sub Andrew Steeves to nip in. He got there just before the goalkeeper who clipped the striker; referee Mitchell having no other option but to point to the spot.
Ricky McIntosh stepped up once again and slotted it into the same left corner as his first earlier in the match. It was to prove the last kick of the ball as Saints ran out 3-2 winners; a harsh result on Gordon Young’s side without doubt.
Motherwell: Muir, Francis-Angol, Murray, Brownlie, Devlin, Hetherington, Mboa Mekongo, Ashgar (Moore – 69mins), MacDonald, Erwin, McGachie
Subs Not Used: Stewart, Lynch, Leitch, Green