Alan Burrows at McDiarmid Park
A poor Motherwell crashed to a disappointed 3-0 defeat at McDiarmid Park this evening.
Steven MacLean, who was returning from knee surgery, grabbed his first of the evening when goalkeeper Gunnar Nielsen parried a ball into his path after saving a Stevie May free-kick.
He then scored his and the Saints’ second when Brian Easton’s cross from deep on the left found him nipping in between Stevie Hammell and Stephen McManus at the back post in a first half dominated by the home side.
The points were secured for the Perth side late on when Gary Miller ran down the left unchallenged before cutting inside and lashing an unstoppable shot into the net.
MacLean’s inclusion was one of four changes following Saints’ home defeat against Inverness Caledonian Thistle on Saturday, with Lee Croft, James Dunne and Miller all coming in, while Craig Reid made his first start for Motherwell and manager Stuart McCall also gave a start to Henri Anier.
Motherwell created the first real chance of the game when Anier spun away from Steven Anderson on the edge of the area and hit a first-time shot that bounced just wide.
It was St Johnstone however that took the lead after six minutes.
May took aim 30 yards from goal and his free-kick bounced a yard in front of Nielsen, who could only palm the ball out and into the danger area. ‘Well failed to react but it was the former Rangers who would tuck home from close range.
Impressive play by May on the right then saw him cut a ball back for the onrushing Nigel Hasselbaink but his sliding attempt to connect was cut out well by Shaun Hutchinson.
Motherwell were contributing very little to the game but Iain Vigurs brought out a fingertip save from Alan Mannus in the St Johnstone goal to deny the former Ross County man.
St Johnstone extended their lead after 34 minutes with MacLean again on target.
Easton’s delivery ran through to MacLean who somehow got in front of got between two ‘Well defenders to head home his second.
The visitors should have pulled a goal back on the stroke of half-time when a free-kick from Vigurs found its way to the unmarked Stephen McManus at the back post. He skewed the ball wide from four yards with a sliding John Sutton unable to connect at the back post.
Clearly upset with his side’s first-half showing, Motherwell manager Stuart McCall threw on James McFadden and Lionel Ainsworth for Stevie Hammell and Vigurs in an attempt to salvage something from the game.
Again, though, it was St Johnstone who started the brighter and Nielsen had to look smart to beat away a fierce 25-yard drive from Lee Croft.
Nielsen looked to be trying to atone for his first-half error, and he got down well to fingertip away a May drive from the edge of the area, and then made another flying save to deny David Wotherspoon.
Two-goal MacLean was replaced by former Scotland striker Chris Iwelumo with 19 minutes left, and within seconds of coming on he missed a glorious chance to put Motherwell out of sight.
Terrific wing play from fellow substitute Wotherspoon found the striker unmarked inside the six-yard area and somehow he managed to shoot straight at the goalkeeper rather than burst the net with his shot.
Four minutes from time, Miller secured the points for St Johnstone after bursting 50 yards down the right before cutting in and under no pressure firing the ball home.
It was a very poor showing from the Steelmen who now need to bounce back when Hearts visit Fir Park on Saturday.
[tab:As it happened]
Ally Reilly at McDiarmid Park
FT: St Johnstone 3 – 0 Motherwell #SJFCvMFC
3 minutes added on #SJFCvMFC
86mins:GOAL! Millar makes it 3-0. A miserable night #SJFCvMFC
82mins: Hutchinson hits it on the turn from just inside the box. Good effort, just over #SJFCvMFC
81mins: St Johnstone sub, Croft off for Millar #SJFCvMFC
79mins: Motherwell sub, Shirkie on for Anier #SJFCvMFC
73mins: From 8 yards out, Iwelumo drives it straight at Nielsen #SJFCvMFC
72mins: St Johnstone sub, McLean off for Iwelumo #SJFCvMFC
70mins: Wotherspoon curls it just wide from a central position 20 yards out. #SJFCvMFC
67mins: Croft is booked for a tackle on Francis-Angol. Ainsworth’s Free-kick in a wide position goes wide #SJFCvMFC
64mins: St Johnstone sub, Hasselbaink off for Wotherspoon #SJFCvMFC
63mins: ‘Well have came back into a little. Nothing much in the way of chances though apart from some McFadden long-throws #SJFCvMFC
59mins: Corner to ‘Well…..Saints break and with Croft in acres of space, Hasselbaink slides it straight to Nielsen #SJFCvMFC
58mins: Good save from Nielsen to deny May from 18 yards. #SJFCvMFC
56mins: Great chance as McFadden heads the ball back across goal. No-one’s there to knock it in though! #SJFCvMFC
53mins: Free-kick to Motherwell in a good position out left….McManus inches away from connecting at the backpost #SJFCvMFC
51mins: Corner to St Johnstone…..Nielsen has to be sharp to deny Anderson! #SJFCvMFC
Motherwell subs, Ainsworth on for Vigurs, McFadden on for Hammell. Second half underway #SJFCvMFC
HT: St Johnstone 2 – 0 Motherwell #SJFCvMFC
45mins: Free-kick from wide on the left now. McManus pokes it just wide! #SJFCvMFC
44mins: Free-kick to ‘Well out wide on the right but Lasley’s delivery is headed clear #SJFCvMFC
41mins: May booked for dissent. #SJFCvMFC
40mins: 5 minutes left of the first half. Need a big performance in the second 45 if we’re to take anything here #SJFCvMFC
34mins: GOAL! It’s 2-0, MacLean with a header from Easton’s cross #SJFCvMFC
25mina: MacLean gets in at the front post and his flicked-on header goes just wide #SJFCvMFC
24mins: Ambitious effort from Vigurs as his 25 yard effort is palmed past the post by Mannus. A little more promising #SJFCvMFC
18mins: Another corner to Saints after Dunne’s shot is deflected wide #SJFCvMFC
16mins: Very poor start here from ‘Well. Second to everything so far #SJFCvMFC
6mins: GOAL! MacLean opens the scoring, poking home from Nielsen’s save from May’s free-kick #SJFCvMFC
5mins: Good break-away from Anier. He shrugs off his man and gets a left-footed shot away which flies just wide #SJFCvMFC
2mins: Second corner in succession for Saints….Francis-Angol heads clear #SJFCvMFC
1min: Early penalty claim for Saints after MacLean looked to have been hauled down in the box. Ref waves it away #SJFCvMFC
Carswell and Lasley get the game underway #SJFCvMFC
Motherwell manager Stuart McCall:
“Yet again we’ve come in at half time 2-0 down from two really poor goals.
“As much as St Johnstone were far better than us tonight in every department we can’t give goals away.
“We lost too many individual battles. The pitch wasn’t perfect to play football on but they (St Johnstone) moved it far better than we did.
“With a thin squad there’s not a lot we can do at the moment – we probably could be doing with pulling a few people out at the minute and we’ll have a look to try and do that.”
St Johnstone manager Tommy Wright:
“They (Motherwell) are one of the best teams in the country and I thought we dominated from start to finish.”