Phil McGhee at Fir Park
A Michael Higdon hat-trick helped keep Motherwell in joint second place in the Scottish Premier League with a narrow 3-2 win over St Johnstone.
But having been slightly fortunate to take a 3-0 lead, ‘Well almost tossed away the three points in the final 15 minutes as St Johnstone threw caution to the wind.
The forced substitution of Darren Randolph in the 74th minute didn’t help and after conceding two goals to Nigel Hasselbaink and Liam Craig, it took a fabulous save from Lee Hollis two minutes from time to secure the win.
Bob McHugh was asked to fill the void created with Jamie Murphy’s departure but it was Higdon who reminded ‘Well fans of his scoring prowess taking his tally of league goals to fifteen.
Two first half goals from two chances highlighted the striker’s eye for goal and the home side’s efficiency.
In truth it was a below-par first half showing from the home side with sloppy play allowing Saints to dictate most of the play.
However, Stuart McCall’s men showed the Perth side how to convert chances in their first attack after just seven minutes. McHugh won the ball just inside his own half laying the ball inside to Higdon. And after sending Chris Humphrey scurrying down the right, the ‘Well striker raced on to find himself perfectly placed for the winger’s cut back, side-footing home from 12 yards.
Saints then had the best of the chances with Liam Craig’s in-swinging corners posing problems for the Fir Park defence. Keith Lasley at the back post headed one off the line before another cross curled behind the bar before Gregory Tade nodded the ball off the post although the assistant did have his flag up for the ball going out of play.
A quick break down the left by Henrik Ojamaa after 19 minutes, though, set up the second. Higdon got a break after turning Frazer Wright and his first effort bounced back off the defender. From just inside the penalty box the former Crewe hitman made no mistake at the second time of asking, confidently drilling his shot low inside the left hand post.
Despite their two goal lead ‘Well looked uncharacteristically nervous in possession not helped by a bumpy winter pitch. And Randolph’s goal had another narrow escape at the start of the second half when Rowan Vine’s cross rebounded off the crossbar.
The action continued to focus around the home goal and only a brilliant Shaun Hutchison tackle at the edge of the box prevented Tade powering in on goal.
Motherwell then snatched a third after 68 minutes which should have made the points absolutely safe.
Tom Hateley whipped in a corner and although Hutchison’s header was rebounded back off the thigh of Ojamaa, Higdon toe-poked the rebound into the corner of the net from six yards to grab his hat-trick.
However, the game changed dramatically in the 74th minute when, amidst a number of substitutions, Randolph with a strained hamstring, limped off to be replaced by Lee Hollis.
Within three minutes Saints had pulled back a goal when their sub Hasselbaink slammed the ball high past ‘Well’s substitute ‘keeper.
A minute later a poor clearance landed in front of Craig at the edge of the box and he steered a left foot shot low past Hollis to reduce the lead to one goal and set up a nervous final twelve minutes.
Hollis proved to be the hero two minutes from the end when he bravely spread himself at the edge of his six yard box to block Hasselbaink and preserve ‘Well’s slender goal lead.
It’s a win that keeps the Steelmen in touch with Inverness in second place and McCall’s side will look forward to the visit of Dundee Utd in eight days time.
[tab:As it happened]
Alastair Reilly at Fir Park
FT: Motherwell 3 – 2 St Johnstone
90mins: MacKay’s shot is sliced towards Vine. At the back post he can only blaze over!
88mins: Fantastic save from Hollis! Made himself big and blocks at the feel of Hasselbaink!
87mins: St Johnstone win a corner…..Hollis gathers well!
85mins: Nervy last 5 minutes then…..
81mins: Motherwell sub: Ojamaa off for Carswell
78mins: GOAL – Craig makes it 3-2!
77mins: GOAL – Hasselbaink pulls one back with a good finish from 18 yards. 3-1
75mins: St Johnstone subs: Tade off for Miller and Millar also off for Cregg
74mins: Motherwell sub: Hollis on for Randolph. Looks like a muscle strain.
73mins: All MacLean needs to do is divert Vine’s cross into the net. The ball agonisingly skids inches past him.
71mins: Who in his first time on the ball is clattered by MacKay. Dangerous area, Hateley’s delivery is collected by Mannus
69mins: Motherwell sub, Francis-Angol on for McHugh
68mins: Hutchy’s header bounces off Ojamaa to Higgy who pounces on it to complete his hat-trick!
GOAAALLL Hat-trick for HIGGY!
65mins: Superb recovering challenge from Hutchinson to clear from Tade!
61mins: St Johnstone sub: Hasselbaink on for Pawlett
60mins: Some solid defending from Hutchinson there. Firstly standing firm against Vine’s shot then powering a header away from a cross.
55mins: MacLean finds himself with perhaps too much time in the box. Opts to cut inside on his left foot but fires straight at Randolph
52mins: Hammell concedes a free-kick in a dangerous area. Craig fires through a crowd of players and just past the post.
51mins: Up the other end crosses from Law and Humphrey can’t quite find their man.
50mins: Vine’s cross is deflected onto the top of the bar by Hateley. Bit of a let-off there!
48mins: Craig industrious but still can’t find his finishing touch as he blast another shot wide of the post from distance
46mins: Second half underway!
HT: Motherwell 2 – 0 St Johnstone
34mins: St Johnstone with all the pressure as we enter the final 10 minutes of the half.
31mins: Liam Craig tries his luck from 20 yard. Hooks it well wide on the left foot.
27mins: Vine’s delivery is judged to have left the field as Tade meets it with a header at the back post. Hit post, wrong decision too!
23mins: Good defending from Hutchinson as he knocks Vine’s cross wide for a corner. Danger averted.
19mins: It’s 2-0! Higdon gets a bit of luck as his shot deflects off Davidson straight back to him. Clinical finish on the rebound!
16mins: Pawlett squares to Craig at the edge of the box who sees his effort deflected wide by teammate, Steven MacLean
13mins: Tade tries to pick out the top corner from 20 yards. Good effort but too tame to trouble Randolph
11mins: Corner Motherwell. Humphrey getting the better of Davidson there. Cleared as far as Law who drives low straight at Mannus
8mins: Brilliant from Humphrey as he picks out Higdon 10 yards out, Wonderful finish low into the corner! 1-0!
6mins: Danger as Vine connects well with a volley on the edge of the area. Straight at Randolph.
4mins: Millar slices a left-footed effort just wide of the post from 18 yards
3mins: McHugh swings in a cross which is deflected awkwardly. Higdon can’t capitilise as he leaps with Mannus
1min: Game underway! #COYW
Motherwell manager Stuart McCall:
“A win’s a win. This season we’ve played a lot better and got nothing, so we’re happy with what we’ve done today.
“It’s been a cold winter’s day but three points will warm us up.
“We made hard work of it. At 3-0 we should see it out but fair play to them [St Johnstone] who kept at it.
“It’s three points and three goals again at home which is good.”
St Johnstone assistant manager Tommy Wright:
“I’m extremely disappointed with the result, not the performance. We will try to take positives out of that game. We have shown that we can come here and compete against a very good side.
“We did well, particularly in the first half. We didn’t deserve to be 2-0 down. Motherwell had two or three chances and they were clinical. We probably didn’t make enough of the opportunities we had in the first half. In the second half it was pretty even. We looked to be out of the game but fair play to the lads, they showed a desire to get back into it.
“In the end we looked the team that was going to get the next goal and that would have got us the point which I think that would have been deserved. Even in defeat we can take a lot out of the day’s game.”