Alan Temple at Fir Park
A clinical display of finishing allied with a superb defensive performance secured St. Johnstone a 3-0 victory against an under-par Motherwell this afternoon.
The shut-out continues the visitors’ remarkable record of having not conceded a single goal away from McDiarmid Park this campaign.
Derek McInnes’ side claimed the lead after twenty minutes, with the unfortunate Tim Clancy slicing into his own net while trying to clear a Jamie Adams header.
Motherwell tried in vain to find a way past an organized St. Johnstone backline, with Peter Enckelman saving efforts from Nicky Law and Michael Higdon. Even the second half introduction of Omar Daley, who flashed a decent drive just wide, couldn’t lift the Steelmen.
And the Saints secured all three points with fifteen minutes left to play, as Francisco Sandaza rounded Darren Randolph following a slack Stevie Hammell pass across the face of goal; the former Valencia Mestalla striker calmly slotting past Craigan on the line.
Sandaza then facilitated a third goal, darting past Craigan into the box and firing in a low shot. Darren Randolph could only parry the ball as far as second half substitute Sean Higgins, who set up Liam Craig to fire into the roof of the net from ten yards.
New signing Daley had to be content with a place on the bench for the ‘Well after confirming his two-year deal during the week. Indeed, the only change to the side defeated 4-0 at Celtic Park last week was Chris Humphrey coming in for Shaun Hutchinson, who is expected to be out for at least a month with ankle damage.
Derek McInnes made two changes from the draw at St. Mirren seven days earlier, with Steven Anderson and Kevin Moon replacing David Robertson and David McCracken.
The previous time Motherwell tasted defeat against St. Johnstone at Fir Park it cost Jim Gannon his job, losing 3-1 to the Saints back in 2009, and the men in blue looked like they fancied a repeat performance as they set out with an adventurous 4-4-2, with two out and out strikers and advanced wide players.
The attacking outlook threatened the home side almost immediately when Cillian Sheridan picked up a loose ball on the edge of the area and drove in a ferocious strike. Darren Randolph had to be on his toes to tip the ball over the bar.
Moments later Nicky Law fired in an almost identical reposte, surging forward and launching an effort on goal with his right-foot. Once again the keeper came out on top, this time with Peter Enckelman clutching the effort.
Law’s effort sparked the Steelmen into life, and only a super Frazer Wright block denied an on-target Michael Higdon shot after some terrific build-up from Chris Humphrey on the right flank.
Enckelman was tested again after a quarter of an hour as Tom Hateley curled in a dangerous free-kick which the Finnish keeper had to be alive to, and the former Villa man held the delivery well.
Yet, somewhat against the run of play, St. Johnstone opened the scoring after twenty minutes. Liam Craig swung in a deep free-kick which Dave MacKay won at the back-post. The Saints captain powered his header across the face of goal for Jamie Adams to nod towards goal, crossing the line via the left boot of Tim Clancy.
The visitors were proving typically stoic in defence, and could have actually doubled their lead fifteen minutes before the break. The excellent Dave MacKay advanced down the right and curled in a lovely cross from the byline, allowing Sandaza a fairly free header from eight yards, but the towering Spaniard headed over.
Chris Humphrey was a first-half bright spot for the men in claret and amber, who consistently gave Alan Maybury something to think about with some direct running.
And Humphrey created a decent chance for Steve Jennings as half-time approached. The Jamaican turned Maybury inside-out before cutting the ball back to Jennings, but his shot from 18 yards cleared the cross-bar.
Hateley also came close on the stroke of half-time, curling a free-kick inches over Enckleman’s cross-bar from the edge of the area.
The ‘Well seemed to emerge with a little more vitality in the second half, but it was the Perth side who created the first half-chance. Francisco Sandaza managed to shrug off a series of challenges in the Motherwell half before dragging his shot just wide from 25 yards.
McCall’s men finally managed to breach the excellent Saints defence minutes later, but Peter Enckelman was once again up to the challenge. The big stopper could only punch a Stevie Hammell cross as far as Chris Humphrey who, in turn, found Michael Higdon, but Enckelmen stooped to parry the subsequent shot wide.
It was Darren Randolph’s turn to be heroic as the action swung from end-to-end. Diminutive winger Chris Millar cut inside from the right before curling a beautifully arced effort towards Randolph’s top-right-hand corner. The big Irishman did wonderfully well to palm the effort away, before Jamie Adams headed the rebound over the bar.
It proved a temporary reprieve for Motherwell, as a slack goal effectively secured the points for St. Johnstone. Stevie Hammell attempted to find Stephen Craigan with a square-ball across the face of goal, allowing Sandaza to steal in and intercept. Darren Randolph attempted to rush out and win the ball, but the striker won the battle against the keeper, before bearing down on goal and rolling the ball past the retreating Craigan.
‘Well tried to force their way into the game, but it was to be the delirious Saints fans who would be celebrating another goal. Sandaza, a constant threat, skillfully beat Stephen Craigan as he burst into the box. His low drive was well saved by Randolph but Sean Higgins picked up the rebound and set up Liam Craig, who fired home to make it 3-0.
[tab:As it happened]
Kris Jack at Fir Park
Full Time – Motherwell 0 St Johnstone 3. Midweek Cup game against Hibs will hopefully bring the bouncebackability.
84 mins – GOAL!0-3 St Johnstone. Sandaza jinks in box, forces save from Randolph, ball worked to Craig who fires high in to net.
83 mins – Daley plays a 1-2 with Hammell on the left and hits a rasper from 20 yards that fizzes just wide.
81 mins – Higdon hits a first time shot from distance right down Enckelman’s throat.
75 mins – GOAL! 0-2 St Johnstone. Hammell’s backpass to Randolph is far too short and Sandaza capitalises. Bad day at the office for Motherwell.
58 mins – Millar travels with the ball before curling an effort to Randolph’s top corner. Palmed away by the keeper, rebound by Adams headed over.
53 mins – Hammell’s deep cross finds Enckelman flapping and Humphrey’s lay off to Higdon sees the big striker force a save and corner.
49 mins – Sandaza gets a shot in after a series of failed tackles. Fortunately he drags it wide.
44 mins – Millar brings down Hammell on edge of box. Hateley’s free-kick effort goes close but lands on the roof of the net.
36 mins – A typical Humphrey dance in to the box tees up Jennings, who blasts over from the edge of the box. Better from the home team.
27 mins – A great sliding block from MacKay prevents Higdon from bursting the net from 18 yards.
18 mins – GOAL! Craig’s free kick from left is headed back across goal by MacKay, Adams flicks it in off Clancy. Well 0 – Saints 1.
2 mins – Former Well loanee Cillian Sheridan forces Randolph to palm over from 20 yards. Early test for the Well No.1.
Motherwell manager Stuart McCall:
“I’m angry, more than anything. We warned the lads that football isn’t all about turning up and playing pretty patterns and we know what St. Johnstone would bring with their away record.”
“We lost every single battle on the pitch today. Take nothing away from St. Johnstone but we were very poor. We didn’t really create that much. We huffed and puffed with a couple of set pieces.”
“I’m really disappointed in every one of my players today. That’s the worst we’ve been. St. Johnstone don’t have the same international players that Rangers and Celtic have, but they just wanted it more – and I think the last time I said that was against St. Mirren nine or ten months ago.
St. Johnstone manager Derek McInnes:
“Motherwell have some very good players and we knew we would have to nullify them, and we’ve done that. We defended very diligently and kept some very good players quiet.”
“Our first goal gave us an element of control and that can put pressure on the home side, but I didn’t feel confident until the second goal went in.”
“Motherwell have caused us problems in the past and I have high regard for what Stuart is doing at the club, so I’m delighted to get a result here.”