Motherwell returned to winning ways after the international break with a 2-0 victory over St Johnstone.
A Nick Blackman strike and a Kevin Rutkiewicz own-goal secured a comfortable win for the Steelmen at McDiarmid Park.
It was surprisingly easy victory for ‘Well, and one which sees them move up to joint third in the SPL table alongside Aberdeen.
Manager Craig Brown had to do without Steven Saunders for the trip the Perth following the defender’s sending-off against Celtic last time out.
So Tom Hateley deputised at right-back in his place while Nick Blackman came into the side up-front.
St Johnstone made four changes to their side which lost 2-1 to Rangers in their last fixture, including a start for 16-year-old midfielder Liam Caddis.
It didn’t take long for the new-look Saints to find their stride as Millar and Mackay linked down the right flank to set Marcus Haber free in the box in the first minute. His fluffed shot skewed across the face of goal to Sam Parkin at the back post, but the big strikers shot was blocked by Darren Randolph.
The ball was immediately crossed back into the ‘Well box and Murray Davidson found himself with a chance just six yards out but the midfielder couldn’t get any purchase on his effort.
Motherwell recovered from the early scare and went straight up the other end to open the scoring less than 60 seconds later. Keith Lasley won possession and teed up Blackman who found the top corner of the net from 25 yards. It was a stunning strike from the on-loan Blackburn man, silencing the home crowd.
Both sides exchanged free kicks in the proceeding minutes as an engaging encounter continued to flow. Danny Grainger fired low and wide from 20 yards out for St Johnstone and Hateley responded by firing his kick from a similar distance just wide of Graeme Smith’s near post.
Brown’s adventurous selection of Murphy and Humphrey on the flanks was paying dividends as the half wore on. With both players causing problems for Mackay and Grainger respectively and whipping in some terrific crosses across Smith’s goalmouth.
Humphrey, in particular, was having an impact as he continued his excellent early season form, and the Englishman was pivotal in the creation of a great chance for ‘Well to double their lead on 24 minutes.
Hateley, Lasley and Humphrey exchanged a delightful series of one-touch passes to get out of a tight spot on the right wing. This released Humphrey, who jinked inside and drove at the Saints defence before sliding Blackman through on goal – but the 20-year old hitman couldn’t grab his second as he fired straight at Smith.
It was no surprise when the visitors doubled their lead and it was no surprise at all to see it come from the flanks. Blackman played a beautifully weighted ball down the left for Murphy. He left Grainger for dead before squaring across the face of goal, forcing Rutkiewicz to divert into his own net.
A Sam Parkin header which flew over the bar from the penalty spot was the best McInnes’ men could muster before the half time break and Iain Brines’ whistle brought understandable boos of frustration from the home fans.
The home side brought on Alan Maybury to shore up the midfield, particularly the wide areas, replacing Caddis who struggled on his first SPL start against a ‘Well midfield on top form.
The move succeeded in curbing the goal scoring opportunities of Motherwell but the hosts failed to really create any chances of their own in the early stages of the second-half.
On the hour mark St Johnstone did finally cause the visiting defence a nervous moment as a Grainger corner was not properly dealt with and the ball fell to Cleveland Taylor six yards out, albeit at a tight angle. The English winger could only lash wildly wide.
Five minutes later Dave Mackay tried his luck from the edge of the area but his left footed drive cleared Randolph’s crossbar by a good metre or two and was a sign of the desperation of the home side as they desperately searched for a way into the match.
An ambitious penalty shout and a long range Davidson effort were the best Saints could muster in the closing stages as Motherwell continued to dominate midfield, while the solid pairing of Craigan and Reynolds mopped up anything the hosts could throw at them.
New signing Alan Gow even came on as late substitute to send the away support home happy on all accounts.
[tab:As it happened]
90+3′ FULL-TIME The final whistle is blown by the referee.
90+2′ Alan Maybury crosses the ball, clearance made by Stevie Hammell.
90+1′ Corner from the left by-line taken by Daniel Grainger, clearance by Stephen Craigan.
90′ SUB Nick Blackman leaves the field to be replaced by Alan Gow.
88′ Steven Milne fouled by Robert McHugh, the ref awards a free kick. Daniel Grainger crosses the ball in from the free kick, clearance made by Stephen Craigan.
84′ Nick Blackman is fouled by Murray Davidson, the ref awards a free kick. Direct strike on goal from the free kick comes in from Ross Forbes, blocked by Michael Duberry.
83′ SUB Robert McHugh is brought on as a substitute for Jamie Murphy.
82′ Murray Davidson concedes a free kick for a foul on Jamie Murphy. Direct free kick taken by Stevie Hammell.
81′ Outswinging corner taken left-footed by Daniel Grainger from the left by-line.
80′ Inswinging corner taken by Daniel Grainger from the right by-line, clearance made by Nick Blackman.
79′ SUB Steve Jennings leaves the field to be replaced by Ross Forbes.
79′ Shot by Steven Milne from outside the area goes high over the crossbar.
77′ Steve Jennings fouled by Murray Davidson, the ref awards a free kick. Mark Reynolds restarts play with the free kick.
76′ SUB Andrew Jackson comes on in place of David MacKay.
74′ Corner from the right by-line taken by Chris Humphrey, Steven Milne manages to make a clearance.
74′ Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Kevin Rutkiewicz by Nick Blackman. Free kick taken by Kevin Rutkiewicz.
68′ Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Nick Blackman by Alan Maybury. Stevie Hammell takes the direct free kick.
66′ Shot by David MacKay from just outside the area goes harmlessly over the target.
65′ Unfair challenge on Chris Millar by Keith Lasley results in a free kick. Daniel Grainger takes the free kick.
61′ Foul by Alan Maybury on John Sutton, free kick awarded. Direct free kick taken by Stevie Hammell.
61′ SUB Steven Milne joins the action as a substitute, replacing Marcus Haber.
60′ Shot by Cleveland Taylor from deep inside the penalty area misses to the left of the target.
60′ Corner taken by Daniel Grainger from the right by-line to the near post.
58′ Murray Davidson gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Nick Blackman. Free kick taken by Tom Hateley.
56′ The assistant referee flags for offside against Marcus Haber. Indirect free kick taken by Darren Randolph.
55′ Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Daniel Grainger by Chris Humphrey. Direct free kick taken by Graeme Smith.
54′ Unfair challenge on Chris Humphrey by Daniel Grainger results in a free kick. The free kick is swung in right-footed by Tom Hateley, Murray Davidson makes a clearance.
48′ Outswinging corner taken by Daniel Grainger from the left by-line, clearance by Stephen Craigan.
47′ The ball is crossed by David MacKay, Mark Reynolds gets a block in.
46′ Alan Maybury fouled by Keith Lasley, the ref awards a free kick. Michael Duberry takes the free kick.
46′ Unfair challenge on Daniel Grainger by Chris Humphrey results in a free kick. Graeme Smith takes the direct free kick.
46′ SUB Liam Caddis goes off and Alan Maybury comes on for St Johnstone.
46′ KICK-OFF The referee blows his whistle to start the second-half.
45′ HALF-TIME The first-half comes to an end.
44′ The offside flag is raised against Nick Blackman. Free kick taken by Graeme Smith.
43′ Daniel Grainger delivers the ball, Headed effort from deep inside the penalty area by Sam Parkin goes harmlessly over the crossbar.
39′ GOAL Kevin Rutkiewicz scores an own goal for St Johnstone, deflecting a Jamie Murphy cross into his own net.
37′ Unfair challenge on Chris Humphrey by Cleveland Taylor results in a free kick. Stevie Hammell crosses the ball in from the free kick, Kevin Rutkiewicz makes a clearance.
36′ The offside flag is raised against Sam Parkin. Free kick taken by Darren Randolph.
34′ Liam Caddis fouled by John Sutton, the ref awards a free kick. Direct free kick taken by Daniel Grainger.
31′ The referee blows for offside. Graeme Smith takes the free kick.
28′ Unfair challenge on John Sutton by Michael Duberry results in a free kick. Free kick crossed left-footed by Stevie Hammell, clearance made by Michael Duberry.
26′ The official flags Nick Blackman offside. Graeme Smith takes the indirect free kick.
25′ Nick Blackman takes a shot. Save made by Graeme Smith.
24′ Free kick awarded for a foul by John Sutton on Michael Duberry. Free kick taken by Michael Duberry.
22′ Unfair challenge on Steve Jennings by Murray Davidson results in a free kick. Free kick taken by Stevie Hammell.
20′ Outswinging corner taken from the left by-line by Daniel Grainger.
19′ Shot from just outside the penalty box by Jamie Murphy misses to the left of the target.
12′ Corner taken by Daniel Grainger, clearance made by Steve Jennings.
10′ David MacKay concedes a free kick for a foul on Jamie Murphy. Shot comes in from Tom Hateley from the free kick.
10′ Sam Parkin concedes a free kick for a foul on Stephen Craigan. Direct free kick taken by Darren Randolph.
7′ Nick Blackman concedes a free kick for a foul on Michael Duberry. Graeme Smith restarts play with the free kick.
6′ Mark Reynolds concedes a free kick for a foul on Sam Parkin. Daniel Grainger shoots direct from the free kick.
4′ Chris Humphrey delivers the ball, clearance by Michael Duberry.
3′ GOAL Nick Blackman scores from just outside the penalty area to the top left corner of the goal. Assist by Keith Lasley.
2′ Darren Randolph makes a save.
2′ Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Mark Reynolds by Sam Parkin. Darren Randolph takes the free kick.
2′ Nick Blackman is flagged offside by the assistant referee. Graeme Smith restarts play with the free kick.
1′ Marcus Haber takes a shot. Darren Randolph makes a save.
1′ KICK-OFF The match gets underway.
Motherwell boss Craig Brown:
“I was delighted to get an away victory. In fairness, had St Johnstone scored in the first few minutes when they should have it would have been a totally different game.
“We defended bravely and survived a couple of early scares but after that there weren’t many chances for the home team.
“To get an away victory is important at this stage and a victory here at McDiarmid Park is always a good result.
“St Johnstone are in a false position and I feel sorry for them. I was appalled when I heard the crowd booing. That’s a reprimand for the St Johnstone fans.”
Motherwell goalscorer Nick Blackman:
“I looked up as I received the ball from Keith Lasley and I thought there was nowhere to go and no one for me to pass to.
“I thought I’d just have a swing with my right foot and luckily it all worked out. It was with my weaker foot and I didn’t have the time on the ball to shift it on to my left foot, so I decided to hit it with my right.
“It was a great strike and obviously I’m pleased with it but the main thing is that goal helped the team get three points.
“It was vital to get the first goal and to get it so early straight after they had a chance. It put them on the back foot and it got the home fans on the opposition’s back. That is what we want when we go away from home.”
St Johnstone manager Derek McInnes:
“I’m disappointed to our reaction to going behind and that is something we are normally good at – we’ve bounced back from worse than that before but there was an anxiety about our performance today and we didn’t reach anything near the standard we can.
“Our second-half performance was a bit better but nowhere near enough and I expected more.
“We expect teams to work a lot harder than Motherwell had to do to win the game.”