St Johnstone suffered a 2-1 home defeat to Kilmarnock after a road closure forced them into a late reshuffle of their team.
This game was literally a tale of the contrasting vagaries of life on the road. Kilmarnock stretched their unbeaten run away from Rugby Park to seven games with a victory that was reward for a strong second-half performance after surrendering an initiative gained from opening the scoring early on through Stuart Findlay. For St Johnstone, the disappointing outcome capped off a day that started badly when four of their first-team squad were delayed en-route to game by a serious accident on the A9 near Dunblane.
The three points continued the generally upward trend in fortunes for the Ayrshire men under the stewardship of Steve Clarkes with only the niggling inconsistency that afflicts them at home requiring to be addressed. In the meantime, however, Clarke expressed delight that they had banished the memory of their disappointing reverse to Aberdeen in their previous outing in such impressive fashion. “I had a little pop at the players after the last result, but I knew in training last week that I had them with me – there was an edge to the team that I think you saw today.”
Saint’s manager Tommy Wright had forcefully voiced his frustration over the delayed arrival of a group of his players who were travelling together up the A9 from Glasgow in a pre-match radio interview. He was clearly not in any better mood come the final, neither he nor his assistant making themselves available for questions from the press afterwards.
The disruption to his side’s preparations certainly played itself out in a fashion that could only have poured fuel on Wright’s smouldering ire – they looked dishevelled in the opening stages and conceded one of the softest goals imaginable after only ten minutes. From a needlessly conceded corner, some woeful marking allowed Findlay a free header, yet it carried little in the way of power and seemed sure to be booted away by Liam Craig on the goal line until he shanked his kick and the ball bobbled into the net.
It might well have been taken as a signal that this was simply going to be a terrible day at the office for the Perth side and it was to their credit that they initially responded well to this setback. They dominated possession and won a succession of corners as they probed for an equaliser. The ball didn’t fall their way in a number of penalty box scrambles but just as the interval approached a low cross from Blair Alston was bulleted into the net courtesy of Steven MacLean’s diving header.
Having gained an early foothold, it had been curious how Killie had not sought take a firm grip on proceedings, with – a Kris Boyd scorned opportunity apart – hardly any pressure applied on the home rearguard throughout the remainder of the opening 45 minutes. However, with some choice instructions ringing in their ears, they rectified this decisively after the break.
They took a grip of the midfield and served notice of their intent when Eamon Brophy made space for himself with a swivel and turn which Zander Clark could only watch as it fizzed over the bar. The next time the Killie striker found himself in space, he made no mistake, however, burying his shot beyond the Saints keeper to restore the visitors’ lead. Minutes later Brophy really should have stuck again as he was clean through but somehow Clark deflected the ball wide.
There was little sign the home side had it in them to come back for a second time, but in the closing minutes they nearly snatched a surprise equaliser when David Wotherspoon’s shot crashed off the post.