St Johnstone 2 - 1 Motherwell: late winner for St Johnstone

It may not have been the prettiest or most convincing of victories. But for a St Johnstone side previously without a win in nine it was a case of earning three points regardless, as they look to avoid becoming embroiled in the relegation ­battle and concentrate instead on Europe.

St Johnstone hero Tam Scobbie charges off to celebrate his late winner. Picture: SNS
St Johnstone hero Tam Scobbie charges off to celebrate his late winner. Picture: SNS

The bizarre nature of the top flight means both scenarios are realistic possibilities. St Johnstone are in a strong position to take fourth place – which will earn a Europa League spot should Celtic win the Scottish Cup – sitting only a point behind Ross County, who currently occupy the spot.

At the same time they are only seven points ahead of 11th place Kilmarnock, and with their form of late there still exists a threat it’ll be at the wrong end of the table they’ll end up fighting.

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However, one strength St Johnstone have, and indeed have always possessed under Tommy Wright, is a real sense of character. They relied on such qualities once again yesterday to fight back from losing their opening goal and earn their first win since 4 December.

“I’m proud of the players. At 1-0 there was a few jitters around the ground. We showed character to stay in the game and showed a little bit more desire at the end to go win it,” said Wright. “At this stage of the season it’s all about getting the three points. It was an ugly but pleasing win.”

Mark McGhee said the club’s new 3-4-1-2 system, successfully trialled in the 3-0 win over Dundee United, was so ugly that it “would get football stopped”. It certainly seemed to be having that affect on this game during the first 30 minutes, though St Johnstone, lining up in a 4-5-1 with no wingers, were more than doing their part to bore those in attendance.

Finally, mercifully, the match came to life in the 33rd minute.

Having delivered a corner directly out of play moments earlier, James McFadden made the most of his reprieve to find Louis Moult with an inswinging delivery and the striker headed the visitors in front.

Having set up Liam Craig for a great chance, which the midfielder scooped over, David Wotherspoon took matters into his own hands to level the score. Receiving a pass on the corner of the penalty box, he shaped to cross but instead wrapped his foot around the ball at the last second, deceiving the goalkeeper and sending his effort crashing in at the near post.

Motherwell made a tactical switch to push Marvin Johnson further up the park in the second half, and they got some joy as the winger made life difficult for Darnell Fisher.

Sensing the increasing threat from the away side, Tommy Wright rearranged his own side into a 4-4-2 and it was St Johnstone who finished the match stronger.

Substitute Graham Cummins sent a header inches wide before Craig passed up another great opportunity laid on a plate by Wotherspoon.

Home fans believing their chance of victory had come and gone should not have fretted, for injury time is where it inevitably falls apart for Motherwell.

Tam Scobbie’s header from a Simon Lappin free-kick was the ­seventh time they have conceded a goal in the last five minutes this year, five of those coming in stoppage time.

It leaves them looking over their shoulder at the teams behind, rather than pursuing a European dream of their own.