Alan Burrows at McDiarmid Park
Motherwell turned in arguably their poorest performance of the season so far to go down 2-0 to St Johnstone.
The Steelmen were off the pace for the majority of the match at a wet and windy McDiarmid Park and the home side fully merited the three points.
In truth, with a bit more composure in front of goal, Tommy Wright’s men could have made the win even more convincing than it was.
In the end, goals from Stevie May and Nigel Hasselbaink was enough to secure the win as ‘Well failed in the efforts to go second in the SPFL Premiership table.
Stuart McCall made two changes to the side that beat Hearts eight days ago. Henri Anier and Zaine Francis-Angol dropped to the substitutes bench and were replaced by Paul Lawson and Bob McHugh.
The team lined up in a 4-4-2 formation with a diamond in midfield. Former Ross County duo Lawson and Vigurs sat at the top and bottom of the diamond.
The Fir Parkers made the better start and looked the team most likely in the first ten minutes, but it was the hosts who would create the first chance when Hasselbaink pulled it back for Paddy Cregg only for curled effort to fizz wide of the post.
David Wortherspoon headed a Brian Easton cross wide of the post before John Sutton passed up the best opportunity of the first half.
Simon Ramsden’s curling ball into the box was begging to be headed home, but the former Hearts man’s stooping header dropped a foot or so wide of Mannus’ left-hand post.
Saints replied through the busy May, but his shot flashed wide of the post with Neilsen at full stretch.
The driving ran and swirling wind was making it difficult for either side to produce anything like fluid football.
It looked as if a set piece might be the key to breaking the deadlock and Stephen McManus might have done better with a header from Keith Lasley’s free kick; unfortunately, the former Scotland defender could only head over.
Saints had enjoyed the best of the first-half and although ‘Well had created the more clear-cut opening, McCall wouldn’t have been too dissatisfied at going in level at the break.
That was to change just four minutes after the restart when Stevie May opened the scoring. Gunnar Nielsen made a super stop to deny the acrobatic Gary McDonald but the ball fell fortuitously for May who tucked the rebound home from four yards out.
Saints could have doubled their advantage shortly after when Hasselbaink’s deflected effort slid inches wide. From the resulting corner, Miller’s header was only just over the crossbar.
Motherwell’s reply came via a long-range Bob McHugh effort that flew over the bar and a Shaun Hutchinson header that was saved by Mannus at the second attempt.
Nielsen again had to look smart to deny Millar with a fearsome strike from the edge of the box, but the Faroese International will not remember Saints’ second, and decisive goal, with much fondness.
When retrieving a Ramsden back-pass, the former Man City stopper slipped on the sodden McDiarmid Park surface, knocking it into the path of the prowling Hasselbaink. The former Accies man remained composed and curled the ball into the unguarded net. 2-0 Saints!
The big keeper made some amends shortly after, denying Hasselbaink with a well-timed intervention before Ramsden had to divert a goal-bound looked shot from Wotherspoon over the bar after a wayward ball across the box had played the big keeper into trouble.
There was a claim for a Motherwell penalty when a Lawson’s effort struck Brian Easton’s hand on the way out for a corner, but there was nothing doing from referee Calum Murray.
Substitute Craig Moore brought out a decent save from Mannus before Sutton spurned a chance to reduce the arrears with virtually the last kick of the game but sent a shot wide of the post to complete a miserable afternoon for the Fir Parkers.
Attention will quickly switch to Wednesday’s big League Cup Quarter Final tie with Aberdeen with ‘Well looking to rebound as quickly as possible.
[tab:As it happened]
Ally Reilly at McDiarmid Park
FT: St Johnstone 2 – 0 Motherwell
91mins: Decen chance for a consolation goal but Sutton pokes wide from Moore’s flick on header
89mins: Hammell booked for hauling down Davidson
84mins: St Johnstone sub, Wotherspoon off for Edwards
80mins: Lawson finds his way into the book for a crunching tackle.
78mins: Let off there as Hutchinson leaves Nielsen in a footrace with May. He clears then Ramsden has to head off the line.
76mins: Claims for handball after Lawson shot goalwards. Looked soft
74mins: St Johnstone looking to kill the game off and should have through May then Hasselbaink. Good stop from Nielsen
70mins: St Johnstone sub, Cregg off for Davidson
66mins: Motherwell sub, Vigurs off for Moore
65mins: Motherwell sub: Francis-Angol on for Carswell
64mins: GOAL! Hasselbaink capitalises on a slip from Nielsen to make it 2-0
60mins: Miller booked for wrestling Sutton to the ground. From the resulting free-kick, Motherwell win a corner
59mins: Another good save from Nielsen who palms Millar’s shot over for a corner
55mins: McHugh wins a corner…..Hutchinson’s header is saved by Mannus
53mins: McHugh creates some space but his shot from 20 yards is over the bar
51mins: Miller heads just over from a corner. Should have made it 2!
49min: GOAL! St Johnstone open the scoring through May after a stunning stop from Nielsen, #1-0
47mins: Another corner to St Johnstone, flashes just past the front post
46mins: Second half underway
HT: St Johnstone 0 – 0 Motherwell
43mins: Dangerous free-kick from wide for St Johnstone….May’s shot is deflected wide for a corner
41mins: And yet another corner to St Johnstone….Carswell finally scoops clear from the feet of Easton
39mins: Another corner to St Johnstone. McManus heads wide for another corner. McDonald clips his shot just wide
36mins: McManus has a free header from Lasley’s free-kick. He heads high and wide though.
32mins: Millar gets too much time out wide and gets a cross in to the front post. Nielsen gathers.
30mins: Half an hour gone and safe to say it’s not a classic.
24mins: Good effort from May on the break from Saints. His effort from 20 yards whizzes just past
22mins: McManus gets his foot on Millar’s cross to clear for a corner
20mins: Great ball in from Ramsden to Sutton who heads inches wide! Good chance.
12mins: Wotherspoon heads past the post from Easton’s cross.
10mins: First corner of the game goes St Johnstone’s way…..clawed out for another corner by Nielsen.
9mins: A good chance for Cregg! Hasselbaink but the ball back and 18 yards out, he curls just past the left post.
2mins: Speculative effort from Hammell there. Was never going to trouble Mannus with that one from 25 yards
1mins: Stop in play as Carswell takes one right in the face. Ouch.
1min: Lasley and Carswell kick-off. #COYW
Motherwell manager Stuart McCall:
“I’m naturally disappointed. It was an uncharacteristic performance from us.
“We were off it today and we got beat. I didn’t see it coming.
“The conditions don’t make it great for great football but, when the conditions are like that, you have to look to win it in different ways.
“But St Johnstone deserved their victory.”
St Johnstone manager Tommy Wright:
“It was excellent from start to finish.
“We emphasised to the players that if they kept on doing what they were doing, the goals would come. I’m really pleased after last week.”