MOTHERWELL are sponsored by a company called Cash Converters and in Michael Higdon, they have someone well practised in the art of turning half-chances into a priceless commodity called goals.
Scorers: Motherwell (Higdon 8, 20, 69) St Johnstone (Vine 77; Craig 79)
Bookings: St Johnstone (MacKay)
Higdon was at his clinical best yesterday, as he struck three times to ensure his side keep pace with Inverness Caledonian Thistle in joint-second place.
His 13th and 14th league goals came within the first 20 minutes and left St Johnstone with the impression that, however hard they tried, this was not destined to be their day. One wondered whether a hat-trick was the natural conclusion to such a quickly-delivered brace. Higdon was left with more than three quarters of the game in which to score one further goal, and in the 69th minute it came – his second hat-trick of the season, with the previous one coming on a Sunday as well, against Inverness.
St Johnstone looked on in envy. Their strikers failed rather miserably to produce anything quite so accomplished, although the visitors saw plenty of the ball and managed to contribute to a chaotic end to the game. St Johnstone finally plundered the goals their general play deserved, scoring twice in the final 15 minutes. Rather embarrassingly for Motherwell substitute goalkeeper Lee Hollis, he had barely pulled on his gloves before he was twice rummaging around the back of his goal net.
In the 76th minute, he had replaced Darren Randolph, who could not carry on after straining his hamstring. By the 79th minute, St Johnstone were back in the match after strikes by Nigel Hasselbaink and Liam Craig. Hollis did, though, secure the win for the home side when saving bravely at Hasselbaink’s feet in the 90th minute.
The theme of the first half was quite simple; St Johnstone won corners, Motherwell scored goals. The visitors’ contribution to the game was such that they deserved to be in front rather than trailing by two goals after only 20 minutes.
This scenario proved the worth of having someone like Higdon in your side. Evidence of a two-week winter break lay-off could be traced in the bulky centre-forward’s waistline. He is the sort of player who needs to be playing. Still, the break has not dulled his striker’s instincts. This was a masterclass in taking chances. St Johnstone had plenty and didn’t capitalise on them. Motherwell, meanwhile, had two in these early stages and scored with both. It meant there was an air of desperation to St Johnstone’s play as they tried manfully to retrieve the situation.
Higdon even began the move for the first goal himself, funnelling the ball out wide to Chris Humphrey. Higdon then puffed out his cheeks and set off in a bid to be in the box by the time the winger sent the ball over. His lack of pace actually helped on this occasion. He found space at the back of the box as the faster defenders sprinted in to cover the near post and six-yard area. The Englishman met Humprey’s cut-back with precision, steering the ball past Alan Mannus and into the corner of the net.
St Johnstone were deprived the creative hub that is Murray Davidson. The Perth side’s playmaker sat out with an ankle injury. Gregory Tade, without a goal since September, sought to engineer something of note for the visitors, but too often got the ball tangled up in his legs. St Johnstone were still the more dangerous-looking side.
The Hibernian-bound Craig was intent to shoot on sight. While admirable, it initially failed to reap any dividend. Chris Millar, meanwhile, had only one opportunity to score – and it was a golden one. Had he not sent his effort from the edge of the box over the bar after just four minutes then this might have been a completely different story. Keith Lasley then cleared a header off his own line – one that looked to have been sent goalwards by team-mate Shaun Hutchinson, after a St Johnstone corner.
Again against the run of play, Motherwell edged further ahead. Frazer Wright managed to get into a fankle by the penalty spot, under pressure from Higdon. The striker’s first attempt on goal was blocked by Wright, who fell to the ground in the process. The ball then broke back to Higdon off St Johnstone left-back Callum Davidson. He pulled back his right boot and despatched the ball past Mannus again, this time sending it into the opposite corner of the net.
The small pocket of St Johnstone travelling fans could barely credit what had occurred beneath their noses in the away stand. As far as they could discern, their team had had the better of the game, and yet they were now in a position where even getting anything at all from the match now looked extremely unlikely.
They were buoyed when Tade bashed a header off a post, although the linesman indicated – wrongly, it turned out – that the cross had already swung over the bye-line. St Johnstone were still making chances. This pattern continued into the second half. Rowan Vine saw his speculative effort clip the top of the Motherwell bar. How St Johnstone wished that they could rely on someone like Higdon. This was again underlined in the 69th minute. Tom Hateley’s corner was headed towards goal by Hutchinson. The ball landed kindly for Higdon, after rebounding off team-mate Henrik Ojamaa, and he completed his treble.
Hasselbaink could be spared some of the criticism directed at his fellow St Johnstone strikers. Having only been on the pitch for a dozen or so minutes, he whipped a right-footed shot into the top corner, bringing St Johnstone some hope. Craig then cut the deficit to just one, sending a half-volley into the net from the edge of the box. Given Higdon’s impressive outlay, it was remarkable that Motherwell ended the game clinging on to the three points.
Motherwell: Randolph (Hollis 75), Hateley, Hutchinson, Ramsden, Hammell, Humphrey, Lasley, Law ,Ojamaa (Carswell 82) ,Higdon, McHugh (Francis-Angol 71). Subs Not Used: Higginbotham, Daley, Kerr, Hetherington.
St Johnstone: Mannus, Mackay, McCracken, Wright, Callum Davidson, Millar (Miller 76), Craig, Pawlett (Hasselbaink 62), MacLean, Tade (Cregg 76), Vine. Subs Not Used: Tuffey, Moffat, Scobbie,