Kilmarnock 3 - 0 St Johnstone: Killie net three goals against the Perth Saints

Kris Boyd celebrates after scoring Kilmarnock's third goal. Picture: SNS Group

Kris Boyd celebrates after scoring Kilmarnock's third goal. Picture: SNS Group

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St Johnstone staggered into the top six despite allowing Lee Clark to finally register his first victory as Kilmarnock boss with a 3-0 win at Rugby Park.

The Perth men knew three points in their final pre-split fixture would guarantee them a place in the top half of the Ladbrokes Premiership for the fifth season running.

But in the end they were relieved to see Hamilton and Ross County do them a favour with victories over rivals Dundee and Partick respectively.

Former Huddersfield, Birmingham and Blackpool boss Clark finally got his maiden triumph at the seventh time of asking after Kris Boyd fired his first two goals of 2016 either side of Kallum Higginbotham’s second-half header.

It could yet be a vital victory, with Killie in the relegation play-off spot and eight points clear of bottom club Dundee United, although they remain four points behind the Accies and outright safety.

Clark’s February appointment had failed to spark the upturn the Ayrshire outfit were hoping for.

His side managed just one goal in his first six league games in charge but the former Newcastle midfielder’s decision to start with both his main striking assets proved to be shrewd.

It almost paid off after 23 minutes when Boyd pounced on Josh Magennis’ cross from the right - but the former Rangers poacher saw his first-time volley hit the post.

However, the near miss provided Kilmarnock with a surge of confidence and they capitalised after 25 minutes.

Winger Greg Kiltie was dragged back by Darnel Fisher as he surged towards goal and the home team were quick to demand the culprit be sent off for a last-man foul. However, referee Crawford Allan caused confusion as he seemed to flash yellow at Kiltie for an apparent dive before reversing his call and cautioning the St Johnstone player.

It was not the punishment Killie were after but Boyd ensured the on-loan Celtic defender paid the price as from Higginbotham’s tapped free-kick, he swept the ball under Alan Mannus’ left hand into the net.

Jamie MacDonald pushed away a Chris Millar strike as the visitors looked to respond but they were relieved to see the offside flag come to their rescue after Higginbotham netted, while Mannus had to palm away a Magennis header from Higginbotham’s driven corner.

It had been an impressive opening half from Killie and they cemented their dominance on 66 minutes, with Magennis picking out Higginbotham in a ridiculous amount of room at the back post where he nodded past Mannus.

Liam Craig thought he had given Saints a lifeline moments later but was dismayed to see his header chalked off for a push on young defender Mark O’Hara, while MacDonald produced another couple of impressive stops from Plamen Krachunov and Millar.

Nervous Killie dropped deeper and deeper in the final stages but they made sure of the points with a minute remaining when Greg McKenzie was tripped in the box by Krachunov, with Boyd lashing home the spot-kick.

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