IN A match that was denied much in the way of high-calibre, fluid football, the finish from Michael O’Halloran to put his team two goals up just before half-time was worthy of all three points.
Scorers: St Johnstone - O’Halloran 9, 43
It stood out like a diamond in the glaur, a delightful finish after the Perth side hit their hosts on the counter, Dave Mackay delivering in a cross which was wrapped up with a deft right-foot finish from the midfielder, who connected perfectly from about eight yards out.
“It was a great ball in from Dave Mackay,” said O’Halloran, who revealed he had been tasked the job of surpassing ten goals this season by his manager and has no plans to take his foot off the gas despite fulfilling that remit with two efforts yesterday. “He just floated it in and I thought [Steven MacLean] was going to head it but he pulled out at the last minute and I knew that if I got a good connection… as soon as it left my foot I knew it was a goal. That was pleasing because I work on getting into the box and finishing.”
Those who had watched the game up until that point will not have held out much hope of Dundee United fighting back from that as St Johnstone dealt with the directness of their approach and did everything they could to break up play and prevent them gaining any kind of fluency.
“Teams around us might have thought that this was a place we might drop points,” conceded Saints boss Tommy Wright, who knows that his men are embroiled in a tough battle for a place in the top six.
“It’s a difficult place to come but, overall, we dominated large parts of the game and thoroughly deserved the 2-0 and probably could have scored more goals. We were the team creating the clear cut opportunities.”
They certainly had more than United. A point Wright was had to stress. “I don’t think Alan [Manus] had a lot to do,” he said of his keeper, who was only really tested in the 68th minute, when Nadir Ciftci forced an intervention.
St Johnstone, though, are a side who seem to have the mark of the Tannadice men, the win yesterday improving the statistics to only two defeats in 12 games. Hard-working, they unsettled Jackie McNamara’s men, who could not find a way of breaking them down and with Fraser Wright reinstalled at the back, they easily absorbed any aerial assault.
“The first goal is always crucial against them and it gives them something to hang onto,” observed the United manager. “I was disappointed with the whole game. It was stop-start with free-kick after free-kick. But they are always a difficult team. There weren’t a lot of good moments in the game for us. But as I said, that first goal was crucial.”
It came with only nine minutes gone and was a goal that should have been prevented. David Wotherspoon’s corner was cleared only as far as Brian Easton and he played it back out to the midfielder, who laid it on for O’Halloran and he curled in a shot that Michal Szromnik should have done better with. In for Radoslaw Cierzniak, who had been playing through a thigh injury but has struggled under some tough reviews in recent weeks, the keeper couldn’t stop the ball tucking into his net.
It was the dream start for Saints and that allowed them to smother the play and deny United any chance of a comeback. The disgruntled reaction from the crowd, still unhappy at the permitted departure of two of their main playmakers, Gary Mackay-Steven and Stuart Armstrong, suggested they were unhappy at the lack of options and having seen O’Halloran double his tally and wrap up United second successive league defeat since the transfer window closed, they booed the team off the field at half-time and reprised that chorus at the completion of the 90 minutes.
It wasn’t that long ago that they harboured hopes of a second-place finish and boasted about their chance of a domestic treble. In theory, that all remains a possibility but, now cut adrift of third-placed Inverness Caledonian Thistle, the sense of bravado was understandably absent yesterday and when the stadium announcer followed up the cacophony of jeers with an announcement about the sale of League Cup final tickets even he sounded almost sheepish.
Dundee United: Szromnik, McGowan, Dillon,Fojut, Dixon, Butcher (Spittal 57), Paton, Rankin (Telfer 57), Dow, Anier, Ciftci. Unused subs: Cierzniak, Connolly, Erskine, Muirhead, Spark.
St Johnstone: Mannus, Mackay, Wright, Anderson, Easton, Wotherspoon, Millar, Lappin (Croft 45), O’Halloran, Kane (Miller 72), MacLean. Unused subs: Banks, Scobbie, Swanson, McFadden, Brown.
Referee: W Collum. Attendance: 7,623.
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