Andy Ross at Fir Park
Estonian sharpshooter Henrik Ojamaa struck twice as Motherwell defeated St Johnstone 3-2 at Fir Park to move six points clear in third place in the SPL.
Ojamaa opened the scoring mid-way through the first-half before Jody Morris levelled on the stroke of half-time.
The Estonian restored the hosts’ lead on 65 minutes and Keith Lasley doubed their advantage ten minutes later with a fantastic drive from 25-yards.
Francisco Sandaza netted from the penalty spot with ten minutes remaining but Motherwell held out for an important three points.
Motherwell made a bright start to the match and in the opening minute Jamie Murphy’s long-range drive drifted inches past the post.
St Johnstone created their first opening after ten minutes when Jody Morris fired well wide of the target, following good work by Francisco Sandaza.
Marcus Haber missed a glorious opportunity to head the visitors ahead on 13 minutes when he leapt unmarked to meet Dave MacKay’s cross, but the Canadian’s attempt went harmlessly over the bar.
After a difficult opening to the match, St Johnstone were beginning to seize the initiative and Darren Randolph in the home goal had to be alert to handle a dangerous Sandaza free-kick.
Motherwell took the lead against the run of play on 22 minutes, Nicky Law who slipped the ball through to Henrik Ojamaa who hammered the ball across Peter Enckelman and into the bottom left-hand corner.
The hosts almost doubled their lead two minutes later when Steven Hammell’s rifled effort struck the top of the Saints bar with Enckelman beaten.
St Johnstone came agonisingly close to levelling the game on 36 minutes, Tim Clancy clumsily took down Sandaza and from the resulting free-kick Liam Craig struck the underside of Randolph’s crossbar.
The away side continued to search for a leveller and seven minutes before half-time Croft forced an excellent save from Randolph after neat build up play between Sandaza and Murray Davidson.
Sandaza attempted to seize on the rebound but instead lunged into a dangerous tackle on Clancy – earning himself a yellow card.
St Johnstone grabbed the equaliser their play merited a minute before the break.
Lee Croft did well to find Jody Morris who unleashed an unstoppable effort beyond Randolph.
Craig tested Randolph in the opening minutes of the second half when he raced on to Sandaza’s flick-on and fired a low shot which the former Charlton keeper did will to hold.
St Johnstone continued to look the more likely to take the lead and Randolph saved well from Murray Davidson before making an excellent stop from Sandaza’s close-range attempt on 57 minutes.
Motherwell took the lead on 65 minutes with their first effort of the second half, Ojamaa looked to have miss-controlled Tom Hateley’s pass but the Estonian recovered to fire beyond Enckelman.
After regaining the lead, Motherwell began to show more of an attacking threat and Hateley flashed a shot well wide after good build-up play between Omar Daley and Ojamaa.
The hosts doubled their advantage with 15 minutes remaining when Keith Lasley ended a lightening-fast breakaway with a 25-year effort that looped over Enckelman.
Murray Davidson blazed an effort over the bar from six-yards as St Johnstone attempted to find a way back into the game and they were handed the perfect opportunity when referee Calum Murray pointed to the spot when Davidson was felled by Lasley.
From the resulting penalty Sandaza rifled the ball into the roof of the net to setup an exciting conclusion to the match.
The visitors were unable to breach the Motherwell defence however and the hosts held out for the victory.
[tab:As it happened]
Alastair Reilly at Fir Park
FULL TIME: YES! Motherwell 3 – 2 St Johnstone
90mins: Fourth official indicates 2 minutes added on
86mins: 4 minutes left and a nervy finish ahead.
84mins: MOTHERWELL SUB- Humphrey on for Murphy.
80mins: GOAL:St Johnstone – Sandaza 3-2 now. Looked a soft one…
PENALTY: Penalty for St Johnstone
78mins: ST JOHNSTONE SUB – Sheridan on for Craig
Another wonder strike to add to his collection. He’s picked the ball up just inside his own half, wandered forward and his shot loops over Enckleman after a deflection. 3-1!
68mins: Chance for Hateley after he somehow finds himself in the opposition box, Blazes high over the bar from 9 yards.
68mins: ST JOHNSTONE SUB: Haber off, Compton on
Brilliant again!! Even after slipping in the box, he get up and bends it into the bottom left hand corner. 2-1!
64mins: Liam craig with the free kick 25 yards out….well over the bar.
58mins: Great save Randolph as Sandaza cuts inside and tests the Irishman with a powerful close range strike
55mins: If we can keep the ball on the deck, we have a chance. We’ve played some great stuff so far, just require some patience in the final 3rd.
53mins: 8 minutes in and not much happening in the way of chances but St J look dangerous when they break.
47mins: 3 minutes in and we’ve ben camped in their half. Some neat link up play form ‘Well, just lacking penetration.
45mins: Both teams back out. Big, big half, this,
HALF TIME: And the ref calls an end to an entertaining first half. 1-.1
GOAL: Jody Morris. Great strike, to be fair.
40mins: Wi-fi here is a bit shoogly. In the time it’s been down, Clancy has halved Sandaza, Sandaza has halved Clancy and Liam Craig has hit the bar.
28mins: Great stuff from Motherwell! Really piling on the pressure. Peppering the goal faster than i can type!
26mins: Daley tries similar…….it actually did find row z of the South.
25mins: Hammell cracks the bar with a strike on the edge of the box. ‘Well smell blood,,,
The pistols are out once again! Lovely ball from law sets him up on the angle and it’s a sweet finish from the Estonian.
19mins: Free-kick for St Johnstone which Sandaza takes…………..good save Randolph!
14mins: St Johnstone go close again. This time a free header for Haber which fortunately sails over from 10 yards out
10mins: Good play from Sandaza finds Haber who tee’s up Morris just outside the box., His shot blazes wide.
4mins: Quiet start. In saying that…Omar has been brought down on the edge of the box. Step forward Tom…
1min: We shape up with Ojamaa and Daley up top, Law and Murphy out wide and Las and Jenno sitting. Usual back 5.
1min: Jamie Murphy goes close with a 25 yard volley. Just past Enckelman’s post.
Motherwell manager Stuart McCall:
“I felt we were the better team in the first half but the second was much closer. Overall I felt we edged a very close-fought encounter.
“That was a big three points, I was a bit fearful with the suspensions of Michael (Higdon) and Stephen (Craigan) that we were left with only two players over six feet tall – but the players stuck to their task manfully.
“I am really pleased for the supporters as we have been poor at home and up until today were the lowest scorers at home.
“I am also delighted for the lads in the dressing room, they will enjoy themselves tonight and then turn their focus to the cup tie with Morton next Saturday.”
St Johnstone manager Steve Lomas:
“We made a change after 30 minutes as Motherwell were controlling the game. I thought we totally dominated the game after that, unfortunately Motherwell got their goal and then scored again shortly after.
“I have to give full credit to the players for coming to a good team like Motherwell and dominating the game.
“Sometimes you say that you want a performance and the result will take care of itself but I think today we can consider ourselves very unlucky not to have taken something from the game.”