TOMMY WRIGHT saw St Johnstone spark off the post-Stevie May era with a stirring victory in the Highlands and insisted there were still goals aplenty in the Perth side’s ranks.
Scorers: Ross County - Jervis (55); St Johnstone - O’Halloran (31), MacLean (48)
The McDiarmid Park manager was thrilled by the freshness and creativity evident in his side so soon after losing the talismanic influence of the Scotland Under-21 forward and so soon after European endeavours.
Michael O’Halloran and Steven MacLean struck the telling finishes and Wright insists the need for others to step up to the plate and plug the 27-goal chasm left by May’s move south is a challenge his team have already risen to in the past.
The Northern Irishman said: “It’s always good to get the first win, particularly on the road – and particularly after the tough European game we had last week.
“I thought we looked fresh. We passed it really well. We had a couple of scares in the first half and probably should have done better for their goal, losing it too easily in midfield. At 2-1 you can never be comfortable, but Alan Mannus never had too many more saves to make.
“Stevie May stepped up. He’s gone now and it’s probably natural that people feel we will struggle for goals.
“But you saw how we played today. I think we created enough chances and other people are going to have to step up to the mark.”
There was a mournful backdrop for Saints supporters braced for life after May, given the local hero’s £800,000 move to Sheffield Wednesday.
On-loan Yeovil striker Adam Morgan, 20, has been billed as a potential replacement for May, after arriving with a decent pedigree from his time at Liverpool.
However, he had to settle for a spot on the bench and, in the end, stayed there.
Instead it was left to MacLean, soon in the wars with some crunching challenges, to slot the all-important second goal. There was an interesting contrast between the teams given Saints’ advantage of four competitive Europa League matches, while County’s eight summer signings – five starting – were treading the Global Energy Stadium turf for the first time.
Saints made four changes from the team that bowed out bravely in midweek to Spartak Trnava, but it was all change for County.
The first good move came after 21 minutes from a Graham Carey free-kick on the left. It broke first to Yoann Arquin whose low strike was blocked as was Dreesen on the rebound.
It rebounded again to Jake Jervis but his fierce dig was somehow tipped from under the bar by the flailing arm of the St Johnstone keeper.
Against the run of play, the Perth men stormed ahead after 29 minutes.
David Wotherspoon’s high cross fed in from the right was punched under pressure by keeper Antonio Reguero but unconvincingly. Dave Mackay drilled the loose ball hard towards a ruck of players before O’Halloran controlled and swept home from eight yards.
Carey, fresh from signing a new Dingwall deal, was consistently County’s most dangerous outlet.
After 38 minutes, the Dubliner showed great skill on the left then unleashed a rocket at Mannus, with the ball striking his glove before veering against the crossbar.
County hopes of drawing early blood in retaliation after half-time were dealt a blow as Saints stormed 2-0 up rapidly from the re-start.
Scott Brown’s cross from the left was missed completely by a parting home defence, leaving Steven MacLean with ample space to power a diving header past Reguero.
County’s reaction was positive, though, and they clawed one back after 55 minutes. Yoann Arquin’s cross from the far right hung high in the six-yard box and the 6ft 3in tall Jervis leapt high above all else to thrash in the unstoppable header. The rest of the flow was mainly in St Johnstone faces as County strived to save a point.
There was no crushing sense of dejection from home manager Derek Adams who saw enough within his greatly-revamped team to take encouragement.
Adams said: “It was a good performance from us. We created a lot of the chances in the game, hitting the bar twice.
“Their goalkeeper had really good saves , but it’s always disappointing to lose any game.”