STEVIE May shone again as St Johnstone moved into the top half of the Scottish Premiership with a 2-0 home victory as Motherwell squandered the opportunity to claim second spot.
May and Nigel Hasselbaink were both on the scoresheet with second-half goals in the clash at McDiarmid Park in front of just 2,449 fans.
St Johnstone manager Tommy Wright tipped May for the top after the striker brought his tally to eight goals for the season. He said: “Stevie plays with energy and mobility and a tempo about his game. He is a real livewire and he plays like that every week. I think Gordon Strachan was here and Stevie put in another good performance.”
Asked if the 20-year-old is ready for the senior Scotland side, Wright said: “I’m just pleased that he is improving as a player. He got another goal inside the six-yard box today after being renowned for his goals from distance.
“We are just concentrating on getting him to continue to improve at his link-up play, which he is doing, to get into the box more and get more goals in the box. If he continues to do that, he will go to the very top of the game.”
May this week penned a contract extension, which keeps him at Saints until 2015, after Peterborough failed with a bid to sign the forward in the summer. Wright said: “The Peterborough thing didn’t affect him. There was never a problem with the contract thing. It just took a little bit of time to sort out one or two things, there was never any problem with the contract. He was always going to sign and he had given me his word that he wanted to sign. I was never in doubt about it.
“He is a confident lad but not over-confident. He works hard and I believe he could go a long way in the game.”
Paddy Cregg and Tom Scobbie were added to the St Johnstone starting line-up for the visit of ’Well, replacing the suspended Frazer Wright and the injured Steven MacLean. New signing Sanel Jahic was named on the bench after penning a short-term deal earlier in the week.
Motherwell also made two changes, with Bob McHugh and Paul Lawson added to the side, and Zaine Francis-Angol and Henri Anier both dropping to the bench.
The home side enjoyed the better start to the game and Cregg saw his shot flash wide from 18 yards in the opening minutes after being teed up by Hasselbaink. Brian Easton then picked out David Wotherspoon in front of goal but his header was deflected past the post for a corner that Saints failed to capitalise on.
At the other end, ’Well came close with the best chance of the first half when John Sutton threw himself in front of a decent cross by Simon Ramsden and nodded on the wrong side of the upright.
The breakthrough came four minutes after the restart when the home side surged into the lead.
Gunnar Nielsen produced a great save to prevent Gary McDonald’s impressive overhead kick from finding the back of the net but May pounced quickly to slot home the rebound from close range.
Saints had the net bulging again on 64 minutes. Nielsen slipped on the slick surface while trying to deal with a Ramsden passback, allowing Hasselbaink to claim possession and rifle into the far bottom corner.
Motherwell manager Stuart McCall said: “I’m naturally disappointed. It was an uncharacteristic performance from us. We were off it today and we got beat. I didn’t see it coming. But St Johnstone deserved their victory.”
St Johnstone: Mannus, Miller, Mackay, Scobbie, B Easton, Millar, Cregg (Murray Davidson 71), McDonald, Wotherspoon (Edwards 86), Hasselbaink (Caddis 78), May. Subs not used: Jahic,Banks,Brown,Fallon.
Motherwell: Nielsen, Ramsden, Hutchinson, McManus, Hammell, Vigurs (Moore 67), Lawson, Carswell (Francis-Angol 65), Lasley, McHugh, Sutton. Subs not used: Cummins, Kerr, Stewart, Anier, Ainsworth.