These sides finished either side of the great Premiership divide following the league split last season and after a 90 minutes which Kilmarnock dominated and deservedly prevailed it had a look of starting off where they left last May for both of them.
Once they got their sights on goal after the interval Stevie Clarke’s men gave every impression that they will once again be formidable opponents for anyone this term with some very decent attacking options as exemplified by on-loan substitute Mikael Ndjoli’s screamer to wrap up the points late on.
After a decidedly stodgy first half the Rugby Park side got the breakthrough from a poachers’ goal but not as might have been expected from Kris Boyd, but his namesake Scott, after a well worked free kick. They could easily have bagged a few more before Ndjoli intervened with his sumptuous finished, but even so Clarke was well satisfied with his sides attacking endeavours against a St Johnstone side who clearly came with the intent of trying to secure a point first and foremost.
“It was a difficult game as they had a game plan to make it hard for us,” observed the Kilmarnock manager. “In the second half when the game opened up a bit that suited us much better. It’s a pleasing way to start the season.”
“Ndjoli’s a goal scorer, he’s shown that. We’re happy to have him here, he gives up something a little bit different.
“Somebody asked me a few weeks ago have we got enough options in terms of scoring goals? I think we have, you could see the forward power we have today.”
In an intriguing but largely incident-free opening 45 minutes gave rise to the feeling that despite the workout afforded by the Betfred Cup group stages both sides were struggling to click into gear. Killie eventually found it and hit on the accelerator after the break, but it was actually St Johnstone who opened marginally the better, with veteran defender Steven Anderson squandering a plausible chance with a wayward shot in the early stages. The hosts did eventually gather some momentum a blistering 25 yard effort from midfielder Alan Power required a fine save by Zander Clark to tip it beyond the target.
The game cried out for someone to show a bit of boldness and initiative – it was duly supplied by the mercurial Jordan Jones immediately after the interval. Twice he shrugged off the attentions of the Saints rearguard and on the second occasion his low shot had Clark at full stretch to get his hands to it.
Once again the pendulum was swinging firmly in the Rugby Park side’s favour and when Lee Erwin was tripped on the edge of the box a set piece seemingly tried and test on the training pitch finally unlocked the door for them. With everyone waiting for Chris Burke to swing it over towards the six yard box the winger took it short and after Erwin’s shot was spilled by Clark the other Boyd had a simple task to sweep the ball into the net.
St Johnstone’s response was tepid to say the least and the genuine openings were all being manufactured by Killie. Burke tested Clark once again, while effervescent Jones got even closer still when his dipping shot smacked the crossbar. The searing pace and nimble footwork of Ndjoli made an impact almost immediately and he crowned a fine afternoon for the hosts with a wonderful angled drive that simply flew past Clark to confirm the three points.
“I did not see that coming,” reflected the downcast Saints manager Tommy Wright afterwards. “We just didn’t show enough bravery on the ball. We just kept giving the ball away. It made it a long afternoon.”