ST JOHNSTONE did what was asked of them in terms of sealing a place in the top six but no-one at McDiarmid Park will be putting their feet up.
Scorer: St Johnstone - Graham 26
No sooner had they sealed a run-in amongst the Premiership elite than manager and players were expressing a desire to chase down Dundee United and close in on the promise of a European place.
Victory over Dundee means this will be the fourth season in a row that the Perth side will spend the games post-split in the top half of the table.
As far as manager Tommy Wright is concerned, it is no more than his players deserve.
The three points against Dundee sealed their fate and epitomised the industry and team ethic that has granted them the more glamorous run-in. They had missed opportunities in the past couple of games but took the lead against Paul Hartley’s men and showed the necessary spirit and organisation to hold on to it.
The goal came in the 26th minute and it was a perfect response from Brian Graham, not only to a display of bravado in the Dundee ranks but also to his gaffer’s decision not to call on his services on a more regular basis. Just moments before Graham broke the deadlock, the away fans had lauded their goalkeeper Scott Bain as he showed a decent touch to deceive the St Johnstone strikeforce and play his way out of trouble on the byeline. The travelling support behind him loved it but seconds later they were less smug as Graham cut in from the left and curled an unstoppable strike across the face of the goal which tucked just inside the far post to open the scoring.
“The win was what we wanted,” said Wright. “It keeps the pressure on the team above us, Dundee United. It was important to get the job done and we deserve nothing but praise for the way the players have done it. What they’ve achieved is nothing short of a miracle.”
For Dundee, the wait to have their spot in the top six rubber-stamped goes on. But with Kilmarnock needing to beat Celtic and Aberdeen to have a shot at denying them, the clever money is on a fourth meeting between these sides before the season is done.
It wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing. The conditions were not conducive to total football but the desire in the teams was sufficient to still conjure up a compelling contest.
After the highs of the Dundee derby triumph, this match was never going to stir up the same raw emotion and intensity in Hartley’s men.
That midweek victory had given them the spring in the step needed to leapfrog Hamilton and ensure there was enough at stake to give this one significance – they just couldn’t quite find the final ball needed to break through the regimented home rearguard.
They had sniffs at goal when David Clarkson and Paul McGowan engineered a move that ended with Alan Mannus at full stretch to push the latter’s effort away from target. Clarkson had another half chance before the break, while Paul McGinn tested the keeper with a high ball in that almost sneaked in behind him.
St Johnstone made sure they had to stay alert at the back as well as they sought out a second. Graham, Steven MacLean and Steven Anderson all came close but there were no more goals.
Overshadowed by St Johnstone in the first half, Dundee manager Hartley cut a frustrated figure on the sidelines as possession was wasted.
They upped the ante in the second half and threw creativity and attack on one substitute at a time but still the end product was lacking.
The one-twos got them so far before the flow was stemmed and once they conceded it was always going to be a tough ask to back up the midweek win with another three points in the diluted down derby, against the team above them.
“We always thought that one goal would win the game. We put a lot into Wednesday’s game and that showed today,” said Hartley, who refused to consider the job done with regards their likely position after the split. “We are nearly there but Kilmarnock still have to play. Hopefully
Aberdeen get a good result [at Rugby Park today].”
St Johnstone: Mannus, Mackay, Wright, Anderson, Easton (Scobbie 88), Wotherspoon, Millar, Lappin, O’Halloran (Swanson 83), Graham (Kane 76), MacLean. Subs not used: Banks, McFadden, Miller, Brown.
Dundee: Bain, P McGinn, Davidson, Konrad, Dyer, S McGinn, McGowan, Ferry (Heffernan 67), McAlister (Harris 78), Stewart, Clarkson (Wighton 64). Subs not used: Letheren, Godzhalov, Black, Colquhoun.
Referee: S McLean. Attendance: 6,386.
SCOTSMAN TABLET AND MOBILE APPS