St Johnstone 1-2 Kilmarnock: Killie dent Saints

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Crisis, what crisis at Kilmarnock? They may be at odds with Chairman Michael Johnston over bonus payments, but the Ayrshire side’s players obviously haven’t lost any of their appetite for winning.

Scorers: St Johnstone - Davidson 10; Kilmarnock - Magennis 19, 22

St Johnstone's Steven Anderson (right) clears from Kilmarnock's Robbie Muirhead. Picture: SNS

St Johnstone's Steven Anderson (right) clears from Kilmarnock's Robbie Muirhead. Picture: SNS

If you were being picky, it could be argued that they should have prevailed by an even greater margin, but the only team genuinely looking stricken yesterday were St Johnstone, for whom this was an alarming fifth consecutive league defeat.

Were it not for Hamilton’s remarkable form, a great deal more focus might be falling on the turnaround Allan Johnston has fashioned at Rugby Park this season.

As it is, this victory keeps the Ayrshiremen hot on the heels of Accies and the chasing pack. Josh Magennis’s quick-fire first-half double quickly cancelled out a controversial opener for Saints with Murray Davidson’s shot appearing to be cleared before it had crossed the line. Understandably, though, Johnston was happy enough to dwell on the positives.

“The boys responded well to the setback – a lot of times last year that would have been it, game over,” he reflected. “But they had the belief to come back today and get the goals. You could see the way they defended at the end how much it meant to them to win the game”.

Saints must have thought they had finally got themselves back on track after their slide down the table when Davidson’s goal was given by match referee Craig Thomson on the tenth minute mark despite protests by Manuel Pascali that he had successfully blocked the midfielder’s effort.

However, their long-dependable defence is no longer the curmudgeonly force it used to be. Twice within the space of three minutes Magennis was barely challenged as he firstly headed home a Ross Barbour cross to equalise and then gloriously flicked a Rory McKenzie corner past the helpless Alan Mannus to put Killie ahead in startling fashion.

“We contrived to let them back in the game,” lamented Saints manager Tommy Wright. “They didn’t have to do a lot to get the first goal, which we should have dealt with, and the second from a set play was a free header.”

Damning though the defensive frailties of the Perth side were, with Magennis missing a glorious chance to notch up a hat-trick within the opening half hour as he missed with another close-range header, credit had to go to Johnston’s men for the defiant response to both the loss of an early goal and their off-field travails. They played some lovely fluent football with young McKenzie in particular showing great awareness and distribution. Yet more chances came their way with Magennis again in the thick of things, testing Mannus with a well-struck volley and then sending Tope Obadeyi clear only for the winger to be thwarted by a vital last-ditch challenge by Steven Anderson.

The Perth side lived off scraps until the interval, but a drilled shot by Brian Graham, which Conor Brennan did well to smother and then another Davidson effort which was ruled out for a handling offence, did at least give them some hope that they could yet salvage something from the contest.

Saints were given further encouragement by the visitors taking their foot off the accelerator after the break, which was puzzling given the rewards they had reaped by giving it a go early on. Killie could have paid a heavy price for this as

Brennan and his defensive colleagues didn’t always appear to be on the same wavelength. However, despite some laudable touches from James McFadden and Simon Lappin, Saints let themselves down with some wretched final deliveries.

“We probably didn’t do enough to win the game, but should have got something out of it”, insisted Wright.

Yet, for all the home side’s second-half possession, it was still Magennis who came closer than anyone to adding to the scoreline with a neatly executed overhead kick drifting just wide and then some further generosity from the Saints defence presented him with a clear run at goal in the closing 15 minutes, but he was denied by a superb reaction save by Mannus. Only a fizzing effort by Lappin could count as a near miss by Saints and their fans made clear their disgruntlement with what was an undistinguished way to mark the 25th anniversary of the official opening of McDiarmid Park.