Challenged by Brendan Rodgers – along with almost every regular attendee at McDiarmid Park – to put on a performance following their creditable draw with Celtic last Sunday, St Johnstone duly delivered, winning on home soil for the first time in five months.
In danger of being sucked into a full-on relegation battle, they prevailed in this crucial head-to-head with basement club Ross County, for whom recent signs of revival appeared little more than a mirage on the basis of what was witnessed here.
A rare double by Murray Davidson in the opening 45 minutes sent the Perth men on their way and the tense, evenly contested battle that had been predicted beforehand simply failed to materialise. “We’ve done our job and can be happy with our day’s work,” said the delighted St Johnstone manager Tommy Wright.
“We haven’t made any mistakes today and have defended well. When we do that we give ourselves a platform to beat any team in this league.”
It had been oft lamented by Wright and his players that they seemed incapable of negotiating the opening 15 minutes of any home game without conceding a goal. Having tentatively crossed that particular temporal and psychological barrier a sense of belief took hold and they started to gently up the pressure on a far from secure looking County rearguard, notching up a series of corners.
The next milestone in Saints’ rehabilitation came with the breakthrough goal. It was far from a thing of beauty, but they all count of course. Scott Tanser’s cross picked out Steven MacLean at the far post and his knock down was met with a scuffed shot by Davidson which was enough to deceive everyone as it trundled its way into the back of the net.
Just over ten minutes later it was uncharted waters and near dreamland for both Davidson and the hosts as his arcing shot was pushed into the air by Scott Fox but then dropped in a looping parabola into the goal. The County keeper has had a few bloopers this season and this looked like another that could have been avoided.
Owen Coyle’s side had arrived in Perth in decent heart on the back of four points in their last two games. However their woefully insipid and near calamitous first-half showing was summed up when Marcus Fraser sent a volley rocketing off his own crossbar as he made a hash of a clearance right on the interval.
Surely the Dingwall side had to make a better fist of it after the interval? Sadly for the County fans who had made the journey down the A9 the answer was no. While they didn’t concede any more goals, the best attempts by Coyle to pep up his floundering attack came to nought. Indeed Craig Curran, brought on as a replacement for David N’Gog, even picked up two yellow cards in quick succession to quite needlessly get himself sent off late on.
Saints should have added more but were guilty of being profligate. Perhaps they were simply unaccustomed to enjoying the luxury of a comfortable lead in their own surrounds. At the other end it took County until four minutes from time to even test Alan Mannus, with efforts from David Keillor-Dunn and Christopher Routis, but the Saints keeper was equal to them both and it was all too little too late for the Highlanders.
“It’s hugely disappointing,” reflected a subdued Coyle. “We came today with a great chance of getting a bit of momentum. We’ve not done ourselves justice in any manner of means.
“Sometimes you have two or three players out of sorts, but to be honest I’m struggling to give two or three pass marks, given the standards we’ve been at.”