PROMOTED via the promotion play-offs, Hamilton Accies could not have been expected to take to life in the Premiership as seamlessly as this. After notching their fourth win in five games yesterday, they find themselves level on points with champions Celtic and reassessing their previous target of merely staying in the division.
Scorers: Hamilton - Andreu 34
Tony Andreu’s 34th-minute strike was enough to seal the three points in Perth, where James McFadden’s red card in the closing stages served to dash St Johnstone’s hopes of snatching a draw in a nervy five minutes of injury time. Already just one short of the 40-point threshold player-manager Alex Neil set his side to try to stave off relegation, third-placed Accies are redirecting their sights to a higher goal.
“I think now looking at us, and the way we have been performing, the top six is achievable,” said Neil. “I think that’s our aim now, to see if we can go and finish in the top-six. After this result and the way other results have gone, we’re pretty much safe. With the way we’ve been playing, it would take something catastrophic for us to go down.”
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After a memorable 2014, in which they pulled off their play-off triumph against Hibernian in May, Hamilton could not have dreamed of a better way to bring in the New Year. First-footers Motherwell found Accies to be less then hospitable hosts as the New Douglas Park men routed their Lanarkshire neighbours 5-0 on Thursday and it was clear from the outset that they were full of confidence as they pitched up at McDiarmid Park.
St Johnstone, by contrast, greeted the new year with a 2-0 defeat away to league leaders Aberdeen, a reverse which brought to an end six successive victories. After their historic Scottish Cup triumph of 2014, the Perth outfit must ensure the new year does not bring a dip in fortunes.
Saints went close to a ninth-minute breakthrough when Lee Croft’s corner from the left caused mayhem in the box, but when Michael O’Halloran eventually sent in a shot it grazed the crossbar on its way over the top.
The small band of Accies supporters proclaimed there was “only one Jason Scotland” following the departure of the popular Trinidad and Tobago internationalist, but they were soon to be acclaiming another hero when they took the lead in the 34th minute.
A majestic crossfield pass by Mikey Devlin found the overlapping Stephen Hendrie and the full-back, who is reportedly attracting interest from West Ham United, perfectly picked out Andreu, who nonchalantly volleyed in his 13th goal of the season from ten yards out.
Five minutes later, a superb threaded pass inside makeshift left-back Simon Lappin from Ali Crawford deserved a much better finish than Mickael
Antoine-Curier supplied, the striker horribly screwing his shot yards wide under pressure.
The former Hibs and Dundee marksman was more composed seven minutes after the break, though, as he poked a shot towards goal after latching on to Dougie Imrie’s cutback. However, Steven Anderson got a block on the effort and sent the ball spiralling up and off the crossbar before it was booted clear.
Saints reacted by switching to a 4-4-2 formation and, almost instantly, O’Halloran forced Michael McGovern into a save before Jon Routledge’s last-gasp touch prevented the attacker from turning in McFadden’s cross on the break.
However, there was no way back for Saints when McFadden, who had been booked in the first half for a foul on Imrie, frustratedly threw over Accies substitute Eamonn Brophy to earn a red card in the 84th minute.
“It was frustration with James because it was a foul on him first,” insisted St Johnstone manager Tommy Wright. “It may or not have deserved a yellow but if that’s a yellow card for a sending-off then we’ll end up with six-a-side.
“It was a foul on James but the referee didn’t see it that way, and I don’t think he gave James enough protection throughout the game.”
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