Motherwell eventually overcame a very determined St Johnstone to make it four wins from their last five home games and strengthen their grip on fourth place in Ladbrokes Premiership.
After a cold start on a freezing afternoon, Devante Cole’s goal just before the half hour raised the home side’s tempo.
Peter Hartley headed home a second four minutes into the second half to give ‘Well the upper hand, before Jake Carroll and a late goal from debutant Christy Manzinga gave the Fir Parkers a deserved, workmanlike win.
Stephen Robinson made one change from the side which played well but left Easter Road empty handed. Liam Donnelly returned to the heart of the Motherwell midfield, with Barry Maguire stepping down.
Eager to put two consecutive away defeats behind them, the Steelmen started the game with great intent. But it was Saints, helped by some slack passing in the home ranks, who put some early pressure on Mark Gillespie’s goal.
After 11 minutes Anthony Ralston drive towards the home box ended with a low drive which provided Gillespie with his first save of the afternoon. A minute later, after another poor pass set up Chris Kane, Peter Hartley blocked the striker’s powerful shot.
Gradually, ‘Well gained a couple of openings around the Saints box.
In the 23rd minute, Liam Grimshaw dragged the ball across the visitor’s penalty area before feeding Long, whose angled drive flew narrowly across goal. Three minutes later Hylton was even closer with a sweet 20 yard drive which had Clark flying across his goal.
The increased tempo from the home side had Saints on the back foot and it was no surprise when ‘Well opened the scoring in the 29th minute.
Close to the byline Hylton’s trickery left Ralston on the ground, and when the winger’s lofted ball found Cole towering above Jason Kerr at the back of the six yard box, his downward header sped beyond Clark for his fourth goal of the season.
Motherwell should have extended their advantage as Saints struggled but a series of misplaced passes let the visitors off the hook.
Seven minutes from half-time, Kane’s cute back healer four yards from goal almost punished ‘Well for their carelessness. While the Perth men had plenty of the ball, ‘Well looked more dangerous around goal.
It was quite a different start to the second 45 as ‘Well immediately pressed the Saints into defence.
And after being denied just before the break Hartley took only four minutes to find the net. A brilliant burst into the box by Hylton earned a corner. And when Polworth delivered the ball towards the ‘huddle’ of ‘Well players, Hartley stretched to fire his header through a ruck of players and give his side a more comfortable lead.
Great strength and pace from Cole carried him into the box but with Long completely unmarked the on-loan Wigan striker screwed his shot wide of goal.
Long’s hard working hour was recognised by the fans as he made way for James Scott – as ‘Well looked to extend their lead.
However, for a spell it was Saints who looked the more likely to get the next goal and drag themselves back into the game. And a positive double substitution by Tommy Wright with 23 minutes remaining was aimed to give his side an extra spark.
Then out of nothing Hylton won the ball five yards outside the Saints’ box and his low curling shot forced a fine diving save from Clark, as Cole tried to latch onto the rebound.
A couple of minutes later more good work from Hylton led to another corner. Once again Polworth’s delivery from the corner flag found a team mate and when Declan Gallagher’s header bounced off the post, Carroll stabbed home the rebound for his first goal in claret and amber.
With 15 minutes remaining, and having made a major contribution, Hylton came off allowing fans their first glimpse at home of Christy Manzinga.
And the Belgian marked his debut with a goal a minute from time. All three subs combined as Scott broke from his own half and when his pass found Mark O’Hara, he nodded the ball into the path of Manzinga who coolly steered the ball beyond Clark and make it 4-0 and round off a solid afternoon’s work.