KILMARNOCK manager Allan Johnston said he was thrilled to see his side continue their fine start to the Scottish Premiership season after fearing they would lose momentum after the international break.
St Johnstone 1-2 Kilmarnock
Scorers: St Johnstone - Davidson (10); Kilmarnock - Magennis (19, 22)
The Rugby Park side produced one of their strongest performances of the campaign to beat Dundee United prior to the two-week gap in club action and returned to defeat St Johnstone at McDiarmid Park on Saturday.
The victory, which arrived courtesy of two Josh Magennis headers in the first half after the visitors had fallen behind to a controversial Murray Davidson opener, means Kilmarnock have 20 points from their first ten league games, putting them fourth in the table.
Johnston was impressed with the way his side battled for victory in Perth, particularly after the sense of injustice his players felt after St Johnstone’s goal appeared to have been successfully cleared by captain Manuel Pascali before it had fully crossed the line.
The Killie manager said: “I am delighted because the boys left for the international break on the back of a big performance against Dundee United and we could quite easily have fallen flat on our face after the break – but the way they played out there showed the desire and the hunger they have.
“We have had a quick look on the video and it doesn’t look as if their goal was in. The boys responded well to it. A lot of times, especially last year, that would have been game over. But we had belief to come back, get the goals and win. You can see even with the defending at the end how much it meant to them all to win the game.”
Johnston was, unsurprisingly, reluctant to be drawn on the end-of-season bonus row at Kilmarnock that dominated the build-up to the game, saying only: “The boys have been doing fantastic with the effort they’re putting into every game. They’re not letting things effect them and we’ve just got to concentrate on the football.”
The Rugby Park manager gave a special mention to Magennis, the former Aberdeen striker, following his first-half brace. “He was fantastic again today,” said Johnston. “He’s been one of our best players all season. I’m just delighted for him getting the goals to match his performance.”
It was St Johnstone who made the fastest start, forcing two early corners before Brian Graham headed straight at goalkeeper Conor Brennan after a probing cross from Brian Easton.
The hosts then opened the scoring in the tenth minute in contentious fashion. James McFadden, making his first start for the Perth club, twisted into space down the left and chipped towards the back post. After a scramble for possession, Davidson struck low past Brennan from eight yards. Killie captain Pascali desperately attempted to clear from the goal-line, only for referee Craig Thomson to rule that the shot had already crossed the line, sparking furious protests from the visitors.
The controversy enlivened Kilmarnock and they were level just nine minutes after falling behind. Ross Barbour whipped in a cross from the right and Magennis’ downward header bounced up and into the top corner beyond Alan Mannus’ despairing grasp.
In the 22nd minute, Kilmarnock struck again with a simple goal when McKenzie’s near-post corner from the left found Magennis, who swooped in to head home from close range.
Magennis should then have made it a hat-trick of first-half headers as the Scottish Cup holders failed to learn their lesson in dealing with set-pieces. Another corner was knocked on by Mark Connolly and Magennis somehow nodded his attempt over the crossbar from just two yards out.
There was more debate involving Davidson just before half-time when he bundled another McFadden cross over the line at the far post after Graham had kept the ball alive, but referee Thomson whistled and booked him for handball just as the home fans were starting to celebrate an equaliser.
Kilmarnock almost netted in bizarre circumstances after the break. Barbour’s free-kick from the halfway line missed everyone and appeared to be bouncing harmlessly to the goalkeeper, only for Mannus to misjudge the trajectory and watch with relief as the crossbar came to his rescue.
St Johnstone had been finding it difficult to create chances until substitute David Wotherspoon fired narrowly off-target after a weaving run.
Any hopes of a comeback from the home side were almost ended when Easton’s disastrous back-pass gave Magennis an opening, but he failed to beat Mannus one-on-one.
Saints manager Tommy Wright conceded that his side may have been fortunate with Davidson’s goal, but felt they deserved a draw from the encounter rather than a fifth consecutive Premiership defeat.
“We controlled large parts of possession but did not work the keeper hard enough,” he said. “We had plenty of goal attempts but not enough of them were on target. We probably did not do enough to win the game but should have at least got something out of it.
“It is possible that our goal was not over the line. I have seen it again and the camera is pretty poor but it does not look like it has crossed the line. That is one of those decisions you can get, but we haven’t had too many go our way recently.”