A significantly-weakened Motherwell slumped to a second consecutive home defeat as St Johnstone had a comfortable win at Fir Park.
A ‘Well side minus three of its first-choice back four failed to match a Saints team motivated with the prospect of the Betfred Cup final next weekend.
Guy Melamed’s goal after 18 minutes set the tone for an arduous afternoon for the Steelmen. Their cause was not helped when Jason Kerr added a second just before the interval, as ‘Well appealed for a blatant offside in the build-up.
When Melamed claimed his second from the penalty spot four minutes after the interval it was a case of damage limitation for Graham Alexander’s men.
A combination of injuries and suspension forced the ‘Well boss into making four critical changes.
Stephen O’Donnell’s suspension and Bevis Mugabi’s shoulder injury meant a first start for both 17 year-old Max Johnston and on-loan Tyler Magloire. With Allan Campbell and Mark O’Hara missing from the midfield, Robbie Crawford returned and Liam Polworth was recalled after his recent suspension.
From the start, the understrength ‘Well side was pressed deep into its own half by as the Perth men set out eager to impress Callum Davidson ahead of next week’s final.
As Motherwell toiled to relieve the pressure and get the ball up field to the front three, it was little surprise when Saints opened the scoring.
Melamed was allowed to cut in from the right before his controlled strike from 20 yards sailed past Liam Kelly to make it 1-0
The visitors seemed content to control possession and preserve their lead with nothing to threaten Zander Clark’s goal until the 32nd minute. There appeared to be few options when Polworth collected the ball 30 yards out but his blistering drive forced a fine diving save from the Saints’ keeper.
Despite having the bulk of the play in and around the home penalty area, Kelly was not asked to make a save until the final minute of the first half. The ‘keeper did well at full stretch to palm Liam Craig’s powerful drive against the face of the crossbar.
When the ball rebounded to Chris Kane he directed his header towards the back post where Sean Rooney, unmarked and looking well offside, nodded the ball off the crossbar. When the ball eventually fell to Jason Kerr he rattled his shot through a ruck of players and into the net and double Saints’ lead.
The job became a lot more difficult within four minutes of the restart. Polworth caught Kane’s heels and Melamed confidently hammered the resultant penalty low under the diving Kelly to put Saints three goals ahead.
With an hour played, ‘Well made a triple substitution, with Nathan McGinley, Jake Hastie and Jordan Roberts given half an hour to try and alter the pattern of the game.
The changes had some impact as the Fir Park side enjoyed more of the ball, particularly in the Saints half but despite forcing a number of corners little impression was made on the visitors’ goal or their three-goal advantage.
Prior to kick-off, ‘Well were aiming to break loose from the relegation pack below them and still held lingering hopes of claiming a top-six place. However, after two home defeats and a trip to face the other Saints in Paisley in midweek, the Fir Park focus is surely now on maintaining a gap over the bottom three teams.