Gavin McCafferty at McDiarmid Park
Despite taking a first-half lead, Michael O’Halloran scored twice to earn St Johnstone a 2-1 victory over Motherwell this evening.
O’Halloran gifted Motherwell possession before Lionel Ainsworth powered home a 13th-minute equaliser but the Scottish Premiership contest turned with five minutes left of the first half.
Ainsworth came close to a second but his shot was saved by Alan Mannus and Saints went straight up the park for O’Halloran to score following a one-two with Lee Croft.
An improved Motherwell missed some decent chances but their season of woe continued in the 80th minute when O’Halloran netted a brilliant solo effort, although only after Motherwell defenders Stephen McManus and Fraser Kerr collided in the box.
Motherwell remain second bottom in the league and their misery was compounded by the fact former talisman James McFadden had a hand in both goals as they suffered a fifth consecutive league defeat in front of only 2,531 fans at McDiarmid Park.
William Hill Scottish Cup winners St Johnstone and Motherwell, runners-up two years running, came into the game as the two lowest scorers in the league with only 13 goals between them in the first 11 matches.
There were plenty of chances though and Saints created two before Motherwell took the lead, Dan Twardzik getting down to hold O’Halloran’s shot before Frazer Wright glanced a header just wide from McFadden’s free-kick.
Motherwell benefited from a break to open the scoring with Henrik Ojamaa helping the ball on to Ainsworth after O’Halloran was dispossessed on the edge of his box. The winger got a free shot after a ricochet and blasted the ball into the roof of the net from 10 yards.
Motherwell defender Simon Ramsden had a header saved and the visitors were looking comfortable apart from a few deep corners from McFadden.
Steven Hammell and Dave Mackay both came close from 30 yards at either end before the key moment of the game.
Ainsworth looked like he might double his tally when he turned a man on the edge of the box after Ojamaa had twisted and turned and fought for the ball before laying it back.
But the shot was too close to Saints goalkeeper Mannus, who blocked with his feet and inadvertently set up a counter-attack. McFadden fed O’Halloran who rode Ramsden’s challenge inside the centre circle and kept charging forward.
The former Bolton player played the ball out for Croft who cut it back for his team-mate to slot into the corner from 10 yards.
Ojamaa set up two chances for Motherwell to regain the lead before half-time but John Sutton took a poor touch six yards out and Ainsworth steered a shot wide of the far post.
Ainsworth set up a couple of chances himself after the break but Kerr wasted a shooting chance by chipping a cross over the bar and Ojamaa shot straight at Mannus from the right channel with the keeper’s fumble proving harmless.
O’Halloran had a long-range strike held and Saints came closer in the 72nd minute after Croft’s cross found Wright.
The defender got a good head on it but Twardzik got down well to parry and Gary McDonald sliced the rebound wide under pressure.
The hosts were lifted by the chance after a quiet start to the second half and O’Halloran grabbed the winner after McFadden shimmied on the left wing and cut the ball back to the edge of the box.
O’Halloran went past both McManus and Kerr as the Motherwell pair collided and then took it round another defender before dinking the ball over Twardzik from the edge of the six-yard box.
O’Halloran soon had a shot blocked when McFadden was screaming for a return pass following a counter-attack before the latter went off to a standing ovation from both sets of fans as Saints held out comfortably for their first win in six games.
[tab:As it happened]
Ally Reilly at McDiarmid Park
FT: St Johnstone 2 – 1 Motherwell #SJFCvMFC
3 minutes added on #SJFCvMFC
And a St Johnstone sub, Miller on for Croft #SJFCvMFC
87mins: Motherwel sub, Vigurs off for Law #SJFCvMFC
And a ‘Well sub, O’Brien on for Hammell #SJFCvMFC
83mins: St Johnstone sub, McFadden off for Caddis #SJFCvMFC
82mins: Corner to ‘Well, again Saints counter it and should have made it 3! #SJFCvMFC
81mins: Motherwell sub, Francis-Angol off for Erwin #SJFCvMFC
80mins: GOAL – O’Halloran makes it 2-1 to St Johnstone. Very unfortunate slip in defence #SJFCvMFC
73mins: St Johnstone counter attack quicly but Graham isn’t direct enough and that allows Francis-Angol time to get back and clear #SJFCvMFC
71mins: Great save by Twardzik to deny Fraser Wright’s close range header! #SJFCvMFC
69mins: Safe hands from Twardzik to gather in O’Halloran’s shot from distance #SJFCvMFC
Vigurs opts to shoot but curls wide and over #SJFCvMFC
67mins: Free-kick to ‘Well in a dangerous looking position…. #SJFCvMFC
64mins: Vigurs is booked. #SJFCvMFC
63mins: Good Motherwell counter sees Mannus deny Ojamaa with his foot. Good chance! #SJFCvMFC
57mins: Great, inviting ball in by Ainsworth but no takers. Curls not far wide at the back post. #SJFCvMFC
53mins: Kerr could show some more composure as he overlaps on the right but blazes his cross into the stand #SJFCvMFC
51mins: Ojamaa is booked for hauling down O’Halloran #SJFCvMFC
Second half is underway… #SJFCvMFC
Great first half from ‘Well. Plenty of chances and in complete control but picked off by a good counter attack. #SJFCvMFC
HT: St Johnstone 1 – 1 Motherwell #SJFCvMFC
45mins: Another great chance for ‘Well but this time Ainsworth can’t get enough bend on his shot from a narrow angle. #SJFCvMFC
43mins: Again, great work by Ojamaa but his cutback just doesn’t settle for Sutton who had the goal gaping #SJFCvMFC
39mins: GOAL! O’Halloran slots home Saints counter attack, seconds after Ainsworth had a shot well saved by Mannus. 1-1 now #SJFCvMFC
35mins: Great effort by MacKay whose long-range free-kick flies just inches wide of Twardzik’s left post. #SJFCvMFC
27mins: A rare one as Hammell ventures forward and tries his luck with a low shot from range. Not far wide! #SJFCvMFC
23mins: Corner to Saints, finally headed clear by Ramsden #SJFCvMFC
16mins: Kerr can’t get enough power in his header from 15 yards to test Mannus. Positive start by Motherwell #SJFCvMFC
Ainsworth blasts home from 10 yards after some sloppy St Johnstone defending. 1-0 to ‘Well! #SJFCvMFC
11mins: McFadden floats in a free-kick which is headed on by Anderson. Flashes just wide of the post #SJFCvMFC
9mins: Two corners in a row for Saints, both of which come to no harm #SJFCvMFC
8mins: First sign of intent from Saints. O’Halloran created some space just outside the box but his shot is dealt with by Twardizk #SJFCvMFC
6mins: Vigurs delivery is headed clear and eventually comes back to him but hus shot from the edge of the box is scuffed wide #SJFCvMFC
6mins: Francis-Angol forces a second ‘Well corner…….taken short and is headed out for another corner #SJFCvMFC
5mins: Francis-Angol picks up a loose ball on the edge of the box but Mannus safely gathers his cross/shot #SJFCvMFC
4mins: Good spell of passing results in a corner for ‘Well…..but Vigurs’ delivery is headed clear #SJFCvMFC
Ojamaa and Lasley kick the action off. COYW!!! #SJFCvMFC
Out come the teams, ‘Well in claret and amber, Saints in blue and white #SJFCvMFC
Minutes away from kick-off here at McDiarmid Park. Right on cue, the rain has just started…. #SJFCvMFC
Motherwell manager Stuart McCall:
“The harsh reality is we have lost a game that, if we take our chances, we win.
“For a team down where we are, supposedly lacking in confidence, I thought we played some great football.
“We had a good chance and the goalie makes a diving save with his legs, and they break away and score.
“We have had good chances to go ahead. The second half was more even but I thought it was unjust to go into half-time level.
“The winner sums it up, Fraser Kerr ends up sliding into (Stephen) McManus and takes him out and the boy O’Halloran dances around us and puts it in.
“I can’t be critical of the players whatsoever. I’ve been banging on all week about creating chances, and we did, but just didn’t take them.”
St Johnstone manager Tommy Wright: