A Callum Hendry double gave St Johnstone a vital win in their Premiership relegation battle, while blowing a massive hole in Motherwell’s chances of a top-six finish.
The Steelmen led in 12 minutes through Kevin Van Veen’s 10th goal of the season, but Hendry bulleted a header in to level 10 minutes later, and then bagged a vital winner inside stoppage time with a wonder-strike.
This is a massive missed opportunity for Motherwell, who were in the middle of a congested mid-table position, and a win could have put them fourth in the table.
The Steelmen may now need back-to-back wins over St Mirren and Livingston just to secure a top-six place.
As it was, this looked like two struggling sides who aren’t scoring a lot of goals at the moment.
The first half was pretty even, with Motherwell maybe shading it, in terms of potential chances, but really both sides scored with the one moment of quality that they created during the 45 minutes.
Van Veen put Motherwell ahead in 12 minutes with a stunning strike into the bottom corner, but Callum Hendry drew Saints level 10 minutes later.
A scrappy first half continued into the second period, and there were few genuine moments of quality, right up until Hendry’s brilliant strike.
Saints’ first-team coach Steven MacLean, deputizing for Covid-hit boss Callum Davidson, made three changes to the side that drew 0-0 with Hibs on March 5, with Shaun Rooney, Murray Davidson and Nadir Ciftci starting in place of Tom Sang , Cammy MacPherson and Glenn Middleton.
For influential Rooney, it was his first start since the 2-0 defeat at Motherwell on December 18.
Motherwell boss Graham Alexander also made three changes to the side that exited the Scottish Cup quarter-finals against Hibs on Sunday. Captain Stephen O’Donnell, Jake Carroll and Connor Shields replaced suspended Bevis Mugabi, Nathan McGinley and Jordan Roberts.
Motherwell went into this game looking for their first league win of 2022, which could potentially rocket them up the Premiership, while Saints desperately needed three points that might taken them further away from basement side Dundee.
After a sluggish start from both sides, Motherwell took the game by the scruff of the neck with a good opener in 12 minutes.
Carroll on the left picked out Van Veen and the Dutchman ran in and up the pitch before rifling a low shot into the bottom left corner.
St Johnstone leveled 10 minutes later when Melker Hallberg was sent down the right and his cross was bullet-headered into the net by Hendry.
Motherwell had a couple of flurries up front and Van Veen let strike partner Connor Shields know in no uncertain terms that he would have appreciated a pass as a move fizzled out, but there wasn’t much to get the fans going.
Joe Efford should have done better in 43 minutes when Dean Cornelius picked him out with a good cross, but the American striker couldn’t get control and the chance was lost.
There was an interesting moment towards the end of the first half when Daniel Cleary looked to have caught Van Veen off the ball, with both shown a yellow card by referee David Munro.
Hallberg nearly grabbed a chance of his own to put Saints ahead in 54 minutes, but Liam Kelly made a comfortable save from his deflected effort.
Other than that, the second half was poor quality, with the closest Motherwell came when O’Donnell fired an angled show well past the left post in 70 minutes.
Saints’ Liam Gordon headed narrowly over from a corner with 10 minutes left.
Van Veen went on a run and hit the side-netting in the first minute of stoppage time.
But Saints took the lead inside stoppage time when Jacob Butterfield’s lobbed pass released Hendry, and he clipped a fine volley past Kelly.
Motherwell had one last chance to level but Zander Clark clawed Van Veen’s free kick over the top left corner.
ST JOHNSTONE: Clark, Gordon, McCart, Cleary, Gallacher, Rooney (Brown, 88), Davidson (Butterfield, 74), Hallberg, Crawford, Hendry, Ciftci (May, 66).
Subs (not used): Parish (GK), Mahon, Booth, Gilmour, Middleton, Blair.
Booked: Davidson (15), Rooney (41), Cleary (45)
MOTHERWELL: Kelly, O’Donnell, Solholm, Ojala, Lamie, Carroll (Woolery, 77), Cornelius, Donnelly, Efford, Van Veen, Shields.
Subs (not used): Fox (GK), Shaw, Slattery, Amaluzor, Grimshaw, Tierney, Goss, Nirrenold.
Booked: Van Veen (45), Woolery (85)
Referee: David Munro.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.