St Johnstone 2 - 1 St Mirren: St Johnstone win fourth in a row
IF THE measure of a side is how it performs in adversity, St Johnstone would be worldbeaters. With six key players injured and another suspended, they were under the cosh for the first 20 minutes and most of the second half yet nevertheless managed to fashion a victory built on raw desire.
Scorers: St Johnstone - Hasselbaink (22), Davidson (37); St Mirren - Guy (49)
Manager Steve Lomas happily admits that they are “down to the bare bones” and limping towards a break which, were it not for the fact that they registered their fourth league win on the bounce earlier today, could not come a moment too soon.
“I’m just delighted, we knew they would be tough and we weren’t disappointed,” said the Ulsterman. “We had to be resilient and we were – these boys are a credit to the game; they never know when they’re beaten.”
If Lomax was understandably delighted to claim a fifth successive win, including the cup win over Queen’s Park, visiting manager Danny Lennon was still trying to work out how his team had come away from McDiarmid Park with nothing to show from a match which they dominated for long periods. “The way we took the game to them in the first 25 minutes, I thought we were exceptional even though we had nothing to show for it,” he said. “I think we were shellshocked to find ourselves 1-0 down, let alone 2-0 down at half-time, but we showed real character in the way that we took the game to them in the second half.”
It’s easy to see his point. St Johnstone may have been deeply impressive when steamrollering a weak Dundee side last week but in the early skirmishes against a St Mirren side looking to go top of the table, they looked as if they were the away side. St Mirren even sounded like the home side, with their band of just over 500 visiting supporters from Paisley by far the noisier of the two sets of fans in a disappointing crowd of just 3,223.
St Mirren looked most likely to draw first blood, with Kenny McLean twice forcing Alan Mannus to scramble in the first ten minutes.
Yet despite the visitors’ domination of territory and possession, their hosts had in Gregory Tade and Nigel Hasselbaink a combination of power and pace which put St Mirren under pressure every time either of the two close friends received the ball. Last week it was Tade who did the damage against Dundee, but this time around it was his pal Hasselbaink who really got under St Mirren’s skin.
From the first whistle the little striker was getting pelters from the visiting fans, but he was to have the last laugh. He showed his intent early when he wriggled through three challenges and pinged the ball across goal to Gary Miller, where only a despairing sliding tackle by Paul Dummett stopped St Johnstone opening their account.
Hasselbaink was not to be denied, though, and when the increasingly influential Murray Davidson slipped a sublime through ball into his path just two minutes later, the striker made no mistake, coolly slipping the ball underneath the onrushing Craig Samson for the opening goal.
While St Mirren continued to get more shots on goal, St Johnstone looked incisive on the break and displayed a greater sense of urgency. That bore fruit five minutes before half-time when Hasselbaink and Davidson combined again, Hasselkbaink bringing the ball up, Millar taking a first time shot and Davidson pouncing to ram home Samson’s parried save.
If St Mirren dominated possession to limited effect during a first period in which they struggled to get the ball forward quickly enough, after the break there was a palpable quickening in their game. Much of the impetus for this came from the introduction of Dougie Imrie during the break in place of the ineffective and outpaced Sam Parkin.
Imrie was arguably the catalyst against Ross County last week, and his introduction this time bore fruit within seconds. The ball was quickly swung out to the left from where Graham Carey’s driven, curling cross was touched in by Lewis Guy from almost point blank range just as Mannus came to claim it.
St Mirren were suddenly a side rejuvenated. Dummett smacked a shot into Mannus’s arms from the edge of the box seconds later and then Imrie drove a fierce shot right at the bottom corner of the home goal, forcing the keeper to move sharply to turn it around the post.
What had been a fairly structured game now became a free-flowing end-to-end feast of football in which Hasselbaink always looked a threat for the home side, while Imrie and Carey provided the creative nexus for the Buddies. Yet no matter how hard they pressed, St Mirren could not break down a St Johnstone side which was roundly praised by manager Lomas for its resilience and desire. “We knew it would be hard in that final 30 minutes and it was,” he said.
It was a win, however, which establishes them as a top-half side with the break beckoning. For St Mirren, though, after last week’s five-goal heroics this was a golden chance spurned.
St Johnstone: Mannus, Mackay, Scobbie, Millar, Wright, Anderson, Davidson, Millar, Tade, Hasselbaink, Craig. Subs: Tuffey, Robertson, Beattie, McCracken, Caddis, Gray, Kane.
St Mirren: Samson, McAusland, Carey, Van Zanten, Mair, Parkin, McLean, Thompson, Guy, Dummett, Goodwin. Subs: Smith, Robertson, Barron, Teale, McGinn, Reilly, Imrie.
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