Fortunes can be won and lost on the turn of a card. Football matches are rarely as transformed by them as was yesterday’s encounter at Rugby Park. Just past the hour mark, with Aaron Tshibola having turned his team’s dominance into a goal advantage, you would have put your house on Kilmarnock registering their first victory of the season – a result that would have left St Johnstone with a solitary point from their opening fixtures. But then Ross Millen got shirty, and the Ayrshire side lost their shirts.
A two-footed lunge on Scott Tanser demanded the card referee Andrew Dallas was required to show Millen was red. Kilmarnock simply could not cope playing with ten men, and Callum Davidson’s side quickly realised as much.
“We went to bits; we crumbled,” said Alex Dyer candidly. The Killie manager accepted the dismissal because his player “lunged with studs showing”.
“They got on the front foot and maybe they smelt a little fear in us and capitalised. It was a bad day,” added Dyer.
It was also a day of rank bad defending, and in the closing minutes St Johnstone scored twice to earn their new boss a first win.
Killie’s inability to clear their lines when Liam Craig slid a ball in from the left allowed Saints substitute David Wotherspoon to equalise with a low effort through crowded area.
The coup de grace was delivered by a nightmare intervention from Stuart Findlay in the fourth and final minute of added time. The Scotland defender was desperately short with a pass back and Michael O’Halloran, pictured inset, seized upon it like a cat pouncing on ball of wool, darting forward, rounding the keeper and stroking the ball into the empty net for a win that had appeared beyond the Perth men.
The smile that ran from ear to ear when Davidson faced the media told of a man who knew he had pulled an ace from the bottom of the deck.
“I was disappointed at half-time because I didn’t think we created enough or put them under any pressure,” he said. “But, I am delighted with the way the second half worked out. I thought we showed a lot of spirit and I was pleased with the way we kept going. It was an incredible end but was so strange when there are no fans in the ground after such a dramatic winner.
“I’m so pleased for Michael, particularly after what happened at Dundee United on the opening day of the season [he was sent off]. He felt he let the boys down but he more than made up for that with his performance and his goal at the end.
“He has only played 40 minutes of football this season and to keep going at that pace in that heat was impressive. He still had a lot to do when he made the interception but he kept his composure so well.
“You could see what it meant to all the players with their reaction to his goal. In the second half I thought he was brilliant and was causing all sorts of problems.”
St Johnstone caused their own problems to allow Kilmarnock to break the deadlock in 63 minutes. They should have been punished midway through the first period when Liam Gordon’s tug on the shirt of Nicke Kabamba was clear but overlooked by Dallas.
They weren’t so fortunate when Kirk Broadfoot hoisted a ball forward that Shaun Rooney hesitated in meeting to let Michael Pinnock to nick in. He slid it across to Tshibola to do the rest.
Dyer, whose team head to Ibrox next week, has work to do. And the Kilmarnock manager admitted that Findlay’s flawed pass that cost them dearly in the closing seconds demonstrated the centre-back has to do better.
“Stuart Findlay is honest. He knows what he did,” said Dyer. “He’s experienced enough to know what he should have done. It wasn’t the right decision.
“We were down to ten men and you should just put it in the stand and regroup. He didn’t do that. We have to learn.”
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