FOR ST JOHNSTONE supporters, the international break may have been a sore reminder of what they have desperately required at times this season, as former player Stevie May’s Scotland debut gave them a glimpse of the cutting edge they have lamented this season.
However, on the resumption of league business yesterday, a Tartan Army hero of days gone by turned back the clock to ensure Saints can look forward with renewed optimism.
James McFadden gave the Perth outfit the breakthrough their first-half probing deserved with his first goal in his sixth appearance since signing last month. The 31-year-old was pivotal throughout and, when Michael O’Halloran doubled the home side’s advantage with 18 minutes remaining to make amends for a remarkable miss earlier, the destination of the points seemed certain.
However, County, who knew a positive result could allow them to leapfrog St Mirren off the foot of the table, gave themselves hope with Jake Jervis’s close-range strike just two minutes later and from a comfortable position St Johnstone were left hanging on grimly as they willed the full-time whistle to arrive. In the end, manager Tommy Wright was able to hail McFadden’s contribution, rather than lament a late collapse.
“James was excellent,” beamed Wright, “I’m really pleased. I’m pleased for him because he’s working really hard. He’s been a big influence off the pitch; he’s been a big influence since he came through the door because he gave everybody a lift.
“He’s a quality player and he’s getting fitter. I don’t tell James how to play, I just tell him where I want him to play and he goes and plays. His quality was evident today.”
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One such moment came when McFadden swivelled on a pass 40 yards from the County goal and surged forward in the 11th minute. The former Motherwell magician’s reverse ball was perfect for O’Halloran, but visiting keeper Mark Brown was equal to the shot.
Despite McFadden’s influence from broken play, it was from a corner that the home side eventually broke the deadlock. Lee Croft’s set-piece landed for McFadden and he twisted swiftly enough to lose his marker before drilling into the net from 12 yards out on the angle. A deflection off the unfortunate Richard Brittain deceived Graham Carey on the line.
“It was good to get on the score-sheet,” commented McFadden. “I felt good and I enjoyed it. I’m enjoying being here, I’m happy turning up every day and the fitter I get the better I’ll get.”
County’s hunger could not be questioned in the second half, as they fought manfully to get a foothold in the match. But they should really have been two behind in the 65th minute. Croft sped on to McFadden’s pass and lifted a cute cross into the goalmouth. O’Halloran got his header in from barely a yard out but, whilst he ended in the back of the net, incredibly the ball ricocheted off the post and was eventually cleared.
O’Halloran shook off the shock of the miss, however, by spearing Saints into a two-goal lead. With County claiming a penalty at the other end, the Scotland under-21 cap meandered into the box after receiving a McFadden pass to score.
The extended advantage lasted just two minutes, though, as Jervis bundled in Scott Boyd’s header down from a Joe Cardle cross with 15 minutes still remaining. Saints were rocking but held firm for a timely boost before the pair meet in next weekend’s Scottish Cup rematch.
County manager Jim McIntyre said: “We had a couple of words at half-time and we knew exactly where we needed to improve, and I felt we did that really well in the second half and created opportunities. Again, it’s about taking your opportunities when they come. They took there’s, but I’m disappointed to leave with nothing.”
St Johnstone: Mannus, Mackay, Anderson, Wright, B Easton, Croft (Caddis 76), Millar, Lappin (Davidson 68), O’Halloran, McFadden (Miller 85), Graham. Subs not used: Banks, Caddis, Morgan, D Easton. Booked: Easton, Lappin, McFadden Goals: McFadden 39; O’Halloran 73.
Ross County: Brown, Irvine, Boyd, Quinn, Reckord, Gardyne (Cardle 59), Brittain, Woods (Kiss 59), Carey, Dingwall (Boyce 78), Jervis. Subs not used: Reguero, Arquin, Frempah, Toshney. Booked: Irvine, Brittain, Carey.
Ref: S McLean
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