Phil McGhee at Fir Park
Motherwell slumped to a fourth consecutive defeat when a solitary strike from Brian Graham handing Saints all three points.
It was tough on the home side, who merited at least a point. And in a spirited second half performance the Fir park side could easily have pinched the winner, particularly when John Sutton’s downward header was somehow blocked on the line by Alan Mannus’ legs from point-blank range.
With Fraser Kerr suspended, Mark O’Brien joined Stephen McManus at the heart of the ‘Well defence. The Derby County player had a solid debut in a defence that was rarely threatened or breached until the late winner.
‘Well’s route to goal was blocked by some heroic Saints defending, who seemed to charge down shot after shot.
‘Well made four changes from the side which started at Kilmarnock, Paul Lawson made an impressive return in his first start for eight months. Lionel Ainsworth and Zaine Francis-Angol were also fit enough to make the starting eleven, although the latter had to come off before the end and significantly before the Saints goal which came from his side of the pitch.
Saints probably had the better of the first half and after only seven minutes, Chris Millar whipped in a cross which Scott Brown met on the volley just outside the six yard box, but his shot was bravely blocked by Craig Reid.
A minute later Dan Twardzik made the first save of the game when Millar tried his luck from 20 yards, but his drive was straight at the home ‘keeper who again comfortably saved.
The ‘Well keeper was again in the right place when Lee Croft’s cross evaded the home defence, only for Gary McDonald to head the ball into Twardzik’s hands.
Motherwell then had a series of shots on the visitor’s goal but a long range efforts from Henrik Ojamma and Paul Lawson trundled harmlessly through to Alan Mannus.
Lawson, then broke into the visitors box only to watch his low drive blocked by Tam Scobbie, who made a couple of goal saving challenges.
While there was plenty of play towards both goals there was little to worry either ‘keeper. On the half hour mark Twardzik was tested, but this time Scott Brown’s drive was easily saved.
Just before half-time Ainsworth curled in an inviting cross which found Sutton but his header drifted away from goal.
By comparison Motherwell probably edged the second half and within minutes of the break, Sutton had a chance but from an angle he shot tamely at Mannus.
The home side then exerted some sustained pressure and ten minutes into the half the Saints goal had a double escape. Firstly Ainsworth’s cut back was cleared only as far as Reid whose drive cannoned off Scobbie, with the full back screaming for handball. From Ainsworth’s corner Sutton’s downward header was net bound until the grounded Mannus cleared the ball with his feet.
Chasing a breakthrough Stuart McCall sent on Lee Erwin for Josh Law before Bob McHugh replaced the tiring Henrik Ojamma
But just when Motherwell were having to settle for a point they deserved, Saints’ substitute Graham claimed the only goal when he got in front of the home defence to powerfully head Gary McDonald’s cross from the right down and past the helpless Twardzik.
[tab:As it happened]
Alastair Reilly at Fir Park
FT: Motherwell 0 – 1 St Johnstone #MFCvSJFC
3 minutes left to salvage a point..
86mins: GOAL! Graham makes it 1-0 to Saints with a close range header #MFCvSJFC
80mins: Final ‘Well change, Ramsden returns from injury to replace Francis-Angol #MFCvSJFC
76mins: Ainsworth does well to force a corner down the right…but again the delivery is easily dealt with by Saints #MFCvSJFC
And a ‘Well sub, Ojamaa off for McHugh #MFCvSJFC
75mins: St Johnstone sub, Graham on for MacLean #MFCvSJFC
71mins: Corner to St J…..Lappin’s delivery is well overhit. #MFCvSJFC
68mins: O’Hallaron hits the post! Looked like a cross that caught Twardzik out. Strangely never really looked like going in. #MFCvSJFC
68mins: St Johnstone sub, Brown off for Lappin #MFCvSJFC
66mins: Motherwell sub, Erwin on for Law #MFCvSJFC
61mins: St Johnstone sub, Croft off for O’Halloran #MFCvSJFC
58mins: Half a chance for Law there! Broke though on the edge of the box but had little to aim at from the angle. Curls it over #MFCvSJFC
55mins: Croft concedes a corner…Sutton’s header from 6 yards is beaten away by Mannus! Great chance #MFCvSJFC
51mins: Scobbie booked for kicking the ball away. Looked like ref only acted after Lasley pointed out he booked Reid for similar #MFCvSJFC
48mins:Great chance for Sutton! Falls kindly to him inside the box but he opts to shoot on his left foot when maybe Law was a better option
Second half underway!! #COYW #MFCvSJFC
HT: Motherwell 0 – 0 St Johnstone #MFCvSJFC
43mins: Free-kick to ‘Well from the right hand side. Good area, and a decent delivery. Millar has to slide in to block Law’s shot.#MFCvSJFC
41mins: Another shot from distance, this time Lawson tries his luck from 30 yards but it is well over #MFCvSJFC
30mins: Decent effort from range by Brown but Twardzik deals with it comfortabley #MFCvSJFC
23mins: Ojamaa creates some space for himself on the edge of the box but his left-footed shot lacks the power to trouble Mannus #MFCvSJFC
22mins: Saints break and the cross finds McDonald at the back post. His header isn’t powerful enough to test Twardzik #MFCvSJFC
20mins: Reid booked, presumably for throwing the ball away as St Johnstone had won a throw-in #MFCvSJFC
17mins: Good cross in from Ainsworth but it just eludes Sutton at the back post. Good spell for ‘Well. #MFCvSJFC
16mins: Nice bit of passing football created some space for Law inside the box but he couldn’t get a shot away and Anderson sweeps clear
11mins: Ainsworth wins ‘Well a corner…but his delivery is headed clear by Anderson #MFCvSJFC
9mins: First save of the game for Twardzik who has to beat away MacLean’s low curler from distance. #MFCvSJFC
8mins: Wotherspoon gets on the end of a deep cross but Reid is there and gets his body in the way of his shot #MFCvSJFC
3mins: Early in the game and Brown has already been caled over by the ref. Looked a clumsy challenge on Lasley deep in ‘Well half. #MFCvSJFC
Millar and McDonald get the game underway. COYW!! #MFCvSJFC
Motherwell manager Stuart McCall:
“It was a struggle for us towards the end.
“We had three guys missing from last week through injury and illness, and the ones that came in for them were not fully fit. And although we couldn’t take much out of the game I thought at 0-0 we deserved a draw.
“Both keepers have not had much to do, although Alan Mannus has made a good stop from John Sutton. They put on fresh legs and some pace and we know Brian Graham can score goals at this level.”
St Johnstone assistant manager Tommy Wright:
“It was a good team performance especially in the first half. In the second half it was much closer, but one bit of quality was enough.
“It was a great cross from Gary McDonald and a good header from Brian Graham. He is a confident lad and just needs to get games and goals, and I’m sure that goal will help his confidence.”