Prior to yesterday Hamilton had been flying, with three wins in a row, while St Johnstone had been spluttering along inconsistently. By half-time the nascent formbook had been ripped up and Saints, who hadn’t been ahead in any of their fixtures to date, were three to the good. It was all a bit bewildering.
Steven MacLean, who has seemingly rolled back the years, scored a hat-trick as the Perth men wrapped matters up in the second half and left their fans feeling a bit more content after their indifferent start to the campaign. Their recast defence, with Celtic loanee Darnell Fisher in at right-back, looked much more like the parsimonious unit they have become renowned for in recent seasons.
“I’m delighted with four goals at any time, but particularly against a side that’s started the season particularly well,” reflected the phlegmatic Saints manager Tommy Wright. MacLean’s revival of form and fortune were identified as being particularly satisfying. “Macca’s getting in the box more, which we’ve tried to encourage him to do and the competition for places we have here possibly puts more onus on him too,” added Wright.
The opening 45 minutes in particular were a remarkable cornucopia by the low-key standards that have become something of a norm in recent years at McDiarmid Park. Hamilton looked full of trickery and threat going forward, but defensively they disintegrated towards the shambolic as the half progressed. The Lanarkshire men started on the front foot and looked by far the likelier proposition as they weaved all sorts of imaginative and intricate moves around the St Johnstone box. They had reason to feel aggrieved that this early momentum didn’t yield them a penalty as Brian Easton brought Carlton Morris tumbling as he burst towards Alan Mannus’s goal and the whole stadium was left stunned that match referee saw nothing untoward.
“It’s a stone-wall penalty and it’s a potential red card as well,” insisted Accies manager Martin Canning. “It would have changed the complexion of the game. Having said that it doesn’t excuse us losing three goals in the first half as we did”.
Darian MacKinnon and Dougie Imrie also made decent openings before, out of nowhere, Saints launched the first of a series of punishing breaks. MacLean’s ability to link up with his colleagues is something that Wright has continuously highlighted and he demonstrated it tellingly after 22 minutes as he squared the ball for Liam Craig, who had just come on to replace the perennially unfortunate Murray Davidson. The advancing midfielder thumped in a shot that Michael McGovern couldn’t stop hitting the back of the net.
Hamilton were shocked by this and it showed. Three minutes later, MacKinnon handled the ball while engaged in an aerial challenge in the box with Craig, and MacLean rifled the resultant spot kick beyond McGovern who had dived the other way. Canning’s men needed something to settle them down and to be fair they almost got it when Jesus Garcia Tena sent a curling shot a fraction wide.
However, their hopes of getting something from this game were all but extinguished when another incisive run by Michael O’Halloran picked out MacLean right in front of goal and he finished clinically to put Saints three ahead and in something approaching dreamland.
The break brought no respite for Accies and MacLean completed his hat-trick within nine minutes of the restart by getting his toe on a Graham Cummins knock-down. It left Saints cruising in a pleasantly agreeable comfort zone, able to attack when the opportunity and inclination took them.
It did, however, also leave them less than fully vigilant at the back. When Chris Millar sent a poorly directed clearance out to the flank it was hit straight back into the danger zone where Lucas Tagliapetra was lurking to power a header into the net to bring a small crumb of comfort to the visitors.