A late winner from midfielder Ali McCann eased St Johnstone’s relegation worries, hoisting them up to ninth place, seven points clear of Hearts at the bottom. The 20-year-old’s first goal for the Perth club was their only attempt on target during a contest lacking in just about everything which makes football the world’s favourite spectator sport.
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Saints, who were propping up the Premiership before winning at Tynecastle two weeks ago, remain the lowest-scoring team in the elite division but a fourth consecutive clean sheet was enough to see them prevail on a bitterly cold afternoon which will not live long in the memory.
The first half did little to help fans forget about their Christmas hangovers, with neither goalkeeper being asked to make a save worthy of the name. St Johnstone manager Tommy Wright cut a disgruntled figure on the touchline, repeatedly berating right-winger Michael O’Halloran and, at one point, appearing to punch the dug-out in frustration.
However, he was much happier afterwards, having extended their undefeated run to four games which have produced eight points for them.
“It was a massive game for both teams and we’ve had a couple of them recently,” he said. “I thought it looked like a 0-0 and there wasn’t a lot between the sides.
“Callum Hendry comes on and makes a difference. It’s a well-worked goal in the end and the one bit of magic in a pretty quiet game.
“We had a bit of a disaster in terms of the start of the campaign, but we seem to be turning that around; if you keep clean sheets, you always have a chance to win the game.
“As the home team, we’ll be looking to take the game to Ross County and we have a massive opportunity to move up a place and get to 22 points. Six weeks ago, nobody probably gave us any chance of doing that.”
Neither side managed to move through the gears, with only Hamilton’s Mickel Miller providing an occasional flash of inspiration. He came closest during the opening period with a shot from the edge of the penalty area which flew over Zander Clark’s crossbar.
The second half was no more entertaining than its predecessor but Wright’s substitutions helped turn the tide in Saints’ favour and they made the breakthrough with nine minutes remaining.
McCann set the ball rolling when he supplied Hendry on the right and then continued his run to meet the striker’s cutback from the byline and emphatically drive the ball behind Luke Southwood from eight yards to give his side their first back-to-back away victories
Saints, who have now won nine of their last 11 league games against Hamilton, could have increased their winning margin as Accies committed more players forward in search of an equaliser but McCann’s accurate strike proved to be the exception to the rule on a day when wayward finishing prevailed.
“I didn’t see that coming,” said Hamilton manager Brian Rice. “We played well in the first half but without an end product and I think we’ve had our pockets picked today. St Johnstone have been doing that for years and fair play to them.”