Phil McGhee Fir Park
Motherwell made it three consecutive wins with a hard-fought victory over high-flying St Johnstone at Fir Park.
It was a dogged and determined showing from the Steelmen and they took the lead after 38 minutes when Ben Hall headed home a Stevie Hammell corner.
And it got better seven minutes later when Stephen Pearson slid home a second to double Motherwell’s advantage.
Saints had a fair bit of the ball during the second half, and Connor Ripley had to make two or three excellent saves, but it was a deserved win for the Fir Park men.
Motherwell, unsurprisingly, began with the same starting 11, which had beaten Celtic at Parkhead, and the hosts had the opportunity to draw first blood in the sixth minute.
A Marvin Johnson shot was deflected into the path of Louis Moult but Motherwell’s leading marksman volleyed wastefully over from eight yards out.
Four minutes later the home supporters broke into applause to commemorate the eighth anniversary of the passing of midfielder Phil O’Donnell, who collapsed on the pitch at Fir Park towards the end of a victory over Dundee United.
Scott McDonald then cut in from the left flank to fire in a shot which found only the side netting while Chris Kane’s effort from distance beat Connor Ripley but failed to dip under the crossbar.
The impressive Ripley then dived to his right to keep out a low drive from Steven McLean which was heading for the bottom right-hand corner.
Saints had lost both Michael O’Halloran and Murray Davidson by the time Motherwell opened the scoring from a set-piece in the 37th minute.
Irish central defender Ben Hall rose to head home Steven Hammell’s inswinging corner and the home side doubled their advantage following a great escape.
Substitute Craig Thomson, who had replaced O’Halloran, matched the winger’s pace with a searing run down the right and his inch-perfect cross ought to have been swept home by Kane.
However, there was a lack of conviction about the striker’s attempted conversion and Ripley spread himself to make the save.
The Perth men paid for their profligacy immediately. Motherwell broke upfield and McDonald released Stephen Pearson on the left.
Darnell Fisher did well to block the veteran midfielder’s first effort but Pearson retained the composure to fire the rebound behind the helpless Mannus.
It was, on occasion, a feisty affair, and Brian Easton could have had no complaints about the caution he collected for his fresh-air swipe at Johnson in the 46th minute.
Ripley then produced arguably his best save of the evening, twisting to push over a header from Liam Craig, who had been picked out for a second time by a fine delivery from Thomson.
Yet the home side were not content to sit back and soak up the pressure, offering a palpable threat of their own when Saints over-committed.
McDonald has the experience to exploit such chinks in an opponent’s rearguard and he forced a fine save from Mannus with a raking 20-yarder and then was inches away with a diving header.
Substitutes David Clarkson and Lionel Ainsworth also came close for Mark McGhee’s side as Saints’ challenge petered out.
[tab:As it happened]
Ally Reilly at Fir Park
FULL TIME: Motherwell 2 – 0 St Johnstone
90′ | 2-0
Three minutes added on…
89′ | 2-0
‘Well break away through Pearson who clips the ball to the back stick for Ainsworth but his volley flies wide of the post.
87′ | 2-0
Lovely play down the right from Grimshaw sets up Clarkson but his shot from inside the box is well blocked by MacKay.
84′ | 2-0
Motherwell sub, Clarkson on for Johnson
Young ‘Well fans can vote now for their Man of the Match. Tweet their name, age, choice & #MatchAttaxMOTM.
79′ | 2-0
Johnson looking dangerous cutting in off the right. This time his shot whistles just wide of the far post.
77′ | 2-0
So nearly 3 there as McDonald gets across Anderson and meets Johnson’s cross with a diving header but its just wide of the post
76′ | 2-0
McDonald fires off a shot which Mannus can only beat away for a corner.
72′ | 2-0
St Johnstone sub, Craig off for Sutton
69′ | 2-0
Big punt forward eventually finds Johnson but from an awkward angle, he can only volley wide of the post.
62′ | 2-0
Thomson’s shot is deflected wide for a corner…….from the delivery, it’s headed just wide.
60′ | 2-0
Motherwell sub, Moult off for Ainsworth
57′ | 2-0
Great save by Ripley, acrobatically tipping Craig’s looping header over the bar!
52′ | 2-0
Free-kick to St Johnstone, wide on their left……ref blows his whistle for a foul on McManus
47′ | 2-0
Johnson goes on a mazy and gets hacked at by Easton then Anderson. Free-kick about 25 yards out….
St Johnstone get the second half underway. COYW!!!
HALF TIME: Motherwell 2 – 0 St Johnstone
44′ | 2-0
PEARSON makes it 2-0!! His first shot as blocked but knocked the rebound past Mannus. Great stuff!
43′ | 1-0
HUGE save from Ripley there, sliding out at the feet of Kane as a goal looked inevitable
38′ | 1-0
HALL opens the scoring with a bullet header from a corner!!
35′ | 0-0
Another St Johnstone sub, Davidson off for Scobbie
34′ | 0-0
First test for Ripley as he has to dive low to palm away MacLeans shot on the spin. Solid save.
33′ | 0-0
Great little spell of possession football creates a chance for McDonald who goes down in the box but ref waves play on,
22′ | 0-0
Early St Johnstone change, O’Halloran off for Thomson
16′ | 0-0
Decent effort there from McDonald who skips in off the left but fires his shot into the side-netting. Positive start from ‘Well.
10′ | 0-0
Chants of “One Phil O’Donnell” ring out around Fir Park, to rapturous applause.
6′ | 0-0
Johnson cuts in off the right and his shot takes a wicked deflection to Moult who volleys just over from inside the box.Good chance
5′ | 0-0
First opening of the game as McDonald lays it off to Grimshaw who looks a little off balance and shoots well over from 20 yards
Lasley and Grimshaw get the game underway. COYW!!!!
Motherwell manager Mark McGhee:
“I didn’t think we deserved to be 2-0 up at half-time, I didn’t think we did enough.
“I was a bit concerned that the disjointed training and routine we’d had with the game being off, having to train on astro-turf and Christmas days off was going to affect us and I thought it did.
“We were off the pace a wee bit. We got a wee bit of luck.”
St Johnstone manager Tommy Wright:
“I thought the performance was good. Sometimes the better team loses and that was the case in this game. We had the better chances.
“Late on when we were really going for it they had a couple of opportunities but I can’t remember Alan Mannus having anything really difficult to do.
“We gave away goals at bad times. It was a soft corner and we didn’t deal with it. The turning point is when we broke away, Kano was a little indecisive and they go up the field and score.
“It’s always difficult to come back from 2-0 but I was pleased with them second half, we created numerous opportunities and the keeper had made saves.”