Credit should be awarded to Motherwell, who looked sharp and confident and they could easily have won by a wider margin. However, St Johnstone is the story here and it increasingly looks like one which will not provide a happy ending.
They offered little hope to their dwindling travelling support here with an anaemic display, rarely threatening their opponents’ goal and looking vulnerable whenever the ball was played into their penalty area.
Swift and considerable improvement is required and the January transfer window will surely be the most significant in their recent history.
“We counted seven decent balls into our box and we lost every header,” said manager Tommy Wright. “Three of the goals came from crosses that they put in. We started well but it’s what you do in both boxes and we didn’t do enough.
“But we can’t defend like that – and I can’t defend it. It’s individual errors that are costing us. I see Peter Hartley at the end of the game putting his body on the line. My players can do that too but they don’t do it often enough or consistently enough.
“Motherwell won’t get four easier goals all season. It’s frustrating but, until we get some experience in, then they’re just going to have to deal with it. I have to be patient with them and stick with them as this is what we’ve got until January. We will get an experienced defender in.”
Saints, who were propping up the Premiership at kick-off time, could perhaps have been excused for the nervousness and uncertainty which accompanied most of their early attempts to build from the back but fourth-placed Motherwell had no such excuse.
They took a while to get going yesterday and we were into the second quarter of the contest before they revealed themselves as an attacking force, when Chris Long and then Jermaine Hylton both came close with efforts from distance. But Motherwell did find their range and took the lead with the first effort on target.
It came following a well-worked move, with Hartley supplying Long, who released Hylton and the latter’s cross was met by a firm downward header from Devante Cole at the far post, leaving goalkeeper Zander Clark helpless.
Hartley could easily have added a second just before the break when left unmarked at a Liam Polworth corner but his header from six yards was cleared off the line. He did not have long to wait before he claimed his third goal of the season.
Four minutes after the restart he was again unchallenged when he stooped to head home another Polworth flag-kick to secure the outcome, even at that early stage.
Cole squandered a great chance to make it 3-0, dragging a shot wide from 12 yards when the unchallenged Long was in a much more promising position. Had Matt Kennedy not been similarly wasteful when left one-on-one with Mark Gillespie in Saints’ next attack, Cole may have been left feeling even more rueful.
However, Saints were undone by yet another set play when the home side further increased their lead with 18 minutes remaining. Polworth placed a corner on to Declan Gallagher’s head and, although the post initially came to Clark’s rescue, full-back Jake Carroll forced the rebound over the line.
Three substitutes combined to complete the scoring in the final minute, with James Scott crossing for Mark O’Hara, whose cushioned header picked out Christy Manzinga and the former Paris St Germain player calmly stroked the ball behind the despairing Clark.
“Maybe the 4-0 scoreline flattered us a little bit but we were always in control of the game and we can be better than that,” said Motherwell manager Stephen Robinson.