St Johnstone only succeeded in putting two past them and but for goalkeeper Craig Samson and the Perth side’s own shortcomings in front of goal, it could have been so much worse for a team who, even at this early stage of the season, look destined for a swift return to the Championship.
With only one win so far, and only one point from the subsequent nine Premiership games, Kearney has his work cut out.
St Johnstone’s only gripe will be that they did not put this beyond doubt sooner. Tony Watt will rue a missed sitter, and a saved penalty, while Liam Craig was also profligate from the spot.
Add to that the two moments in the first half when the Paisley keeper and the crossbar combined to deny Watt and then Matty Kennedy and the save the goalkeeper produced from the best player on the park, Murray Davidson, and this could have been a rout.
“I thought we were outstanding, particularly second half,” said manager Tommy Wright, who was delighted to see his men move away from the danger zone and edge closer to the top six. “We created numerous opportunities. Truth be told if it had been five or six they would have had no complaints.
“I was pleased with how we managed the game because at 1-0 and you miss two penalties I’d have expected my team to get a lift from that. But we made sure they didn’t.”
In the 11th minute, the home side should have taken the lead when Kennedy’s cross found Watt and his downward header produced a stunning save from Samson, who got down to get a hand to it and pushed it up on to the bar.
But with the scoreline still blank, St Mirren were left cursing the referee and their luck as Danny Mullen looked to be fouled in the box as Davidson came through the back of him but instead of a spot kick, the Paisley frontman was booked for simulation.
“By all accounts the penalty in the first half was absolutely nailed on,” said Kearney. “Some of the St Johnstone players came in at half-time laughing – not in jest, but disbelief – that it wasn’t given.”
St Mirren were getting up the park but the final product was woeful, ensuring Zander Clark had a quiet afternoon and giving St Johnstone the breathing space to take a grip on proceedings.
After Watt had missed a sitter in the 48th minute, sclaffing his effort wide, the opening goal finally came in the 59th minute when the ball was played in and Watt attempted an overhead kick. With players rushing to smother his effort, he missed and David Wotherspoon picked it up in space and drilled his angled shot home.
They should have put things out of sight when Davidson was fouled four minutes later but Watt’s spot kick was at the perfect height for Samson to save, and when they got another chance in the 72nd minute, after Lee Hodson felled Drey Wright, Craig blootered his penalty attempt wildly over.
But with eight minutes remaining Kennedy was on hand to finish from close range after Samson had blocked Jason Kerr’s header.