SINCE influential striker Steven MacLean went down with an injury suffered the last time these two teams played, St Johnstone have looked a pale shadow of the side that started the 2013-14 campaign so brightly.
However, Tommy Wright’s long search for the perfect team balance without the veteran has surely ended with this demolition of St Mirren.
The only worrying aspect of this result is the fact that it somehow took the hosts 70 minutes to break the deadlock. Starting in a 4-2-3-1 system, they went at their opposition right from the start, dominated the midfield and had they won by five or six clear goals, the visitors would have had no complaints.
“The manner of the victory was very pleasing,” said Wright after the match. “I thought we did a lot better today. There was a lot more pressure and we got a lot more bodies into the penalty area.”
Wright’s men had suffered through a worrying sequence of results prior to kick-off. Worse than losing six of their past seven Premiership games was the fact that only Stevie May – grabbing all three in the win over United – had scored within that time.
Desperately needing his midfield to chip in with a goal or two, Wright pushed Murray Davidson high up the park, playing off May in the No.10 role. The midfielder has mainly been deployed in front of the back four by Wright this campaign, which has limited his ability to impact the game on the attacking end.
“As everyone in the press has been saying, we need to score more goals, so you kind of forced my hand,” joked Wright at the after-match press conference. “We just thought that, out of our midfielders, Murray is the one capable of scoring goals. I was pleased with his performance today.”
Throughout the first half, Davidson offered a different option with his aerial threat from Alan Mannus’ long balls forward. It complimented the pass-and-move approach when they did get the ball on the deck, with the front three of May, Nigel Hasselbaink and the outstanding David Wotherspoon continually switching position and finding gaps between the St Mirren rearguard.
The hosts had already hit the woodwork twice, through May and a David Mackay free-kick, when Hasselbaink was presented with the best chance of the half. May received the ball from Davidson on the left touch-line and immediately sent through a perfectly-weighted through-ball for the Dutchman to run on to. He beat both keeper and defender to the ball but somehow stabbed it wide of the post.
St Mirren gradually began to pull themselves into the match after half-time but without creating anything of note, while St Johnstone continued to be their own worst enemies. In the 62nd minute a bizarre passage of play saw Gary McDonald, May and Davidson all have chances within the six yard area but some stubborn last-ditch defending denied them on each occasion.
Just when it would have been forgivable for the home players to succumb to fatalism, they upped a gear once more and finally broke the deadlock. Wotherspoon’s corner from the right was not dealt with effectively by Christopher Dilo, playing in place of the injured Marian Kello, and when the ball dropped down to earth, Davidson was on hand to nod into an empty net.
It was another poorly defended set-piece which gave St Johnstone the clinching goal. Mackay’s corner from the right was only half-cleared and when the ball arrived to May on the left-side of the penalty area, the prolific striker looked up and curled a beautiful shot that nestled in the back of the net via the inside of the post.
Stephane Bahoken almost made things interesting for the last few minutes when he forced Mannus into an impressive double save, but it would have glossed over a dreadful St Mirren performance.
“When I look at how well we done last season, getting all the way to the League Cup final and then winning it,” reflected Danny Lennon, “I wonder if these players need that all-or-nothing mentality. Because we’ve got 17 games left this season. How long do we have to wait until we start performing? Do we need to wait until the last five again? The fans don’t deserve that.”
St Johnstone: Mannus, Mackay, Scobbie, McDonald, Anderson, Wright, Millar, Davidson, May, Hasselbaink (Croft, 78), Wotherspoon (O’Halloran, 88).
Subs not used: Banks, Cregg, Miller, Brown, Easton.
Goals: M Davidson 71; S May 74.
Booked: S May, L Croft.
St Mirren: Dilo, Naismith, Kelly, Goodwin, McAusland, McGregor, Newton, McGowan, Campbell (Bahoken, 54), Thompson, Grainger.
Subs not used: Hughes, van Zanten, Mair, Reilly, Brady.
Booked: J Goodwin, D Grainger.
Referee: C Murray