It is actually Tommy Wright’s men who should be becoming seriously concerned about an impending relegation battle. For so long stalwarts of the top six they now hover just three points about the dreaded play-off spot. Thistle, compact and full of running, always looked likely to prevail and were well worth the victory.
“We spoke about St Johnstone not having a game for while and maybe catching them on the back foot,” revealed Thistle manager Alan Archibald. “We did that – we started brightly and scored a really good goal.
“We knew we had to start picking up points on the road. So we’re delighted and we’ve now got to build on this.”
Even the script for Groundhog Day had more variety and suspense than the story of what unfolded in Saints’ latest abject display on their own turf. Even allowing for their 27 days of inactivity, they were caught looking so cold in the opening stages of this game they appeared to be in suspended animation as Thistle seized the opportunity to expose them down either flank with gleeful alacrity.
A breakthrough for the visitors was on the cards from as early as the second minute when both Connor Salmon and then Niall Keown both passed up a glorious chance to apply a finishing touch to Chris Erskine’s teasing ball across the six yard box. Shortly afterwards Salmon again failed to make the crucial connection when Paul McGinn split the failing Saints defence with another fine run and cutback. However, it turned out to be third time lucky for Thistle as Miles Storey simply ghosted past his markers to set up Steven Lawless who clinically sent a drive into the roof of the net for what was a deserved breakthrough.
The first half was little more than leisurely stroll for Thistle, with the hosts offering little going forward. Wright sought to introduce some pace and agility into his attack by bringing on new signing from Dundalk, David McMillan, and Chris Kane, recently returned on loan from Queen of the South. But it was a case of one step forward, another back, as the visitors once again easily unpicked the Saints defence, substitute Ryan Edwards’ low cross being bundled in by Salmon who was finally rewarded for sheer persistence.
The storyline inexorably drifted towards this being game over but in an unexpected twist the Perth side were thrown a lifeline when McMillan made a significant contribution, albeit a painful one, as he was body-checked by Tomas Cerny as he chased a through ball and match referee Gavin Duncan pointed to the pot. After a lengthy delay Liam Craig slotted the penalty to reduce the deficit.
A comeback still seemed unlikely as the Thistle defence held its discipline and the visitors quelled the resistance when Edwards ran half the length of the pitch to calmly stroke home a third for Archibald’s men.
A sullen Wright did not mince his words afterwards. “There’s a few in there who won’t be starting the cup game against Albion Rovers on Monday, because I’ve had enough of people starting badly. We can’t get by the first 15 minutes without conceding a goal. We’re gifting too many goals, gifting too many teams’ footholds in the games.
“I’ve maybe been too loyal to too many for too long.”