St Johnstone 1-1 Dundee United: Third eludes both

St Johnstone's Michael O'Halloran, centre, runs from Dundee United's Callum Morris. Picture: SNS
St Johnstone's Michael O'Halloran, centre, runs from Dundee United's Callum Morris. Picture: SNS
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THESE Tayside rivals will continue their quest for fourth place on another day and with it the hope that it may yet bring a Europa League qualification spot.

Scorers: St Johnstone - Davidson 77′; Dundee Utd - Rankin (68)

Their supporters won’t be looking out their passports yet, but the home fans at least may already be reacquainting themselves with some French in the form of the expression déjà vu. Just as in their previous fixture against Inverness,

St Johnstone were the better side, but failed to be clinical enough in front of goal and, in the end, had to work hard to salvage a point after going in arrears.

St Johnstone’s profligacy, not helped by the fact that on-loan striker Brian Graham wasn’t able to play against his parent club yesterday, even extended to missing a penalty right on the stroke of half-time, Radoslaw Cierniak pushing away Dave Mackay’s effort. When John Rankin pounced midway through the second half it looked as though Jackie McNamara’s men had grabbed a priceless victory, but the Perth side are nothing if not stubborn and they clawed back a deserved point through a fine finish by Murray Davidson.

“I thought we were the better side, had the better chances and should have won the game,” reflected the St Johnstone manager, Tommy Wright ruefully. “I was disappointed with their goal, we were arguing it was a foul and should have got on with the game. But I thought we played really well overall”.

Level on points and with their goal differences only three apart, it looked on paper that there was little to separate the two sides and so it proved to be on grass.

Saints started the game on the front foot and created the best of the early openings. A Michael O’Halloran cutback should have been put away by David Wotherspoon but his wildly off-target attempt was to set something of a theme for the afternoon for Wright’s men.

United were more fits and starts in the opening 45 minutes but a little cameo of all that is best about Nadir Ciftci very nearly gave them a stunning breakthrough. Jinking past a couple of challenges he then unleashed a venomous drive only to the see the ball smash off the post to safety.

Mostly though, the hosts held the upper hand, their curmudgeonly defence comfortably mopping up what the visitors had to offer and inexorably carrying more threat as the interval approached. They had a trio of really decent chances as they pinpointed gaps in the United rearguard and then just on the half-time whistle Callum Morris misjudged the bounce of the ball in his own box and brought down the goal-bound O’Halloran. MacKay hit the resultant penalty well but at an ideal height for Cierzniak and the Polish goalkeeper beat it away to the delight of his team-mates and supporters.

Understandably, the visitors emerged after the break looking like a side who had been given a new sense of purpose. While Saints continued to have the greater possession there was much tenaciousness about their challenges and determination to close down their opponents. Play switched rapidly from end to end and still more chances went begging. Ciftci burst clear but stumbled at the crucial moment, while Wotherspoon had yet another horrible miss when set up by Danny Swanson.

Having ridden their luck, it looked as though this could be the Tannadice men’s day when Chris Erskine’s swinging cross was headed on to the bar by Robbie Muirhead and Rankin was in exactly the right place to knock in the loose ball. However, just as in midweek against Inverness, their advantage was to slip away from them. Swanson sent in yet another teasing cross and Davidson hit it first time on the volley to leave Cierzniak helpless and these two neighbours virtually inseparable for another week.

McNamara sought to play down suggestions that the outcome had left his team in the driving seat for fourth spot. “It’s still two games to go, we’re three goals ahead, but we have to make sure we do our own job first and not worry about St Johnstone’s results,” said the United manager.

St Johnstone: Mannus, Mackay, Wright, Anderson, Scobbie, Wotherspoon (McFadden 73), Millar, Davidson, Swanson (Lappin 89), MacLean (Kane 74), O’Halloran. Subs not used: Banks, Caddis, Miller, Easton.

Dundee United: Cierzniak, Dillon, Fojut, Morris, Dixon, Souttar, Rankin, Butcher (Scott Smith 74), Ciftci, Erskine, Muirhead (Anier 69). Subs not used: Telfer, Connolly, Spittal, Szromnik, Coote.

Referee: Kevin Clancy. Attendance: 4,862.