ST JOHNSTONE had promised not to rest players ahead of next weekend’s William Hill Scottish Cup semi-final against Aberdeen and manager Tommy Wright was good as his word.
Scorers: Kilmarnock - Muirhead 4; St Johnstone - Wright 30; Anderson 43
The 11 who started at Rugby Park will almost certainly be tasked with running out at Ibrox in seven days’ time and they will go into that tie with confidence after a comfortable victory here.
It took them a while to get motoring but, once they moved into fifth gear, they left Killie trailing in their slipstream.
The Ayrshire club keep threatening to pull away from the danger zone only to disappoint their
Teenage striker Robbie Muirhead drew first blood for the hosts, although Saints goalkeeper Alan Mannus can lay claim to an unwanted assist.
Rory McKenzie supplied Kris Boyd, whose shot on the turn ought to have been meat and drink for Mannus. Unfortunately for the goalkeeper, he could not hold the ball and, instead of pushing it to the side, he palmed it straight back out and Muirhead forced the rebound over the line from close range.
Alexei Eremenko then came close to a spectacular second with a dipping shot from 35 yards which only just cleared the crossbar and Boyd took his eye off the ball while shooting after being set up again by McKenzie.
Kilmarnock appeared to be in control, but the visitors restored parity from a set piece. The home rearguard did not cover themselves in glory, allowing their former defender, Frazer Wright, a free header from Lee Croft’s outswinging corner and the veteran beat Craig Samson high to his left.
Saints then moved in front two minutes from the interval and, once again, dilatory defending cost Kilmarnock. On this occasion David Wotherspoon’s near-post corner was met by centre-half Steven Anderson, who scored with – of all things – an audacious volley with the outside of his right boot.
It proved to be the end of the scoring but Saints could, and probably should, have added a few more after the break.
Steven May and Wotherspoon both squandered chances one would normally expect them to convert while Kilmarnock’s hit-and-hope approach got the return it deserved.
Manager Tommy Wright was as thrilled by the identity of his goalscorers as he was by his team’s display.
“I’m pleased because we haven’t scored enough goals from set plays this season,” he said. “We had two great deliveries and Frazer and Steven Anderson showed great determination and desire to get in there ahead of their markers.
“That was no more than we deserved. Last week against Partick Thistle we started to hit the ball long, but I asked them to show a bit of bravery and to pass the ball today and they did that.
“We controlled large chunks of the game. If I’m being critical, we should have scored a few more goals.
“I think we’ve improved this season, but so have other teams.
We got into Europe a year ago with 56 points but Aberdeen and Motherwell have got 60 already.”
Kilmarnock’s Allan Johnston was less impressed with his charges, however. “They have a lot of height in their team, but to lose two goals as cheaply as we did is really frustrating,” he said.
“You’ve got to defend better than that. Twice they’ve shown more desire than us to get to the ball.
“This was an opportunity squandered but we want to avoid that dreaded play-off position and we’ll do our outmost to do that.”