Three times we took the lead. Three times we were almost instantly pegged back. Even when we took the lead for the fourth time with a minute left you couldn't be sure as there was five minutes of stoppage time to come. Thankfully we clung on and suddenly have seven points from our last three games. Things are looking a lot, lot rosier in the St Mirren garden.
The tactic to get our midfielders forward supporting Steven Thompson is working a treat. Paul McGowan was terrific, Kenny McLean scored twice and Thompson got the winner. The defence clearly needs a bit of work but we now at least have a base to build on. Sticking with the same team for the third game running is surely helping too. The Saintees fielded the dangerous two-pronged attack of Stevie May and Steven MacLean, with Nigel Hasselbaink no doubt out to hurt his old side once again. Dave MacKay was also a threat with his delivery from the right.
For once we made a storming start to a match and barely gave the Saintees a sniff in the opening few minutes, the likes of Thompson, McGowan and McLean all looking dangerous. After a St Johnstone corner came to nothing we took the lead, McGowan playing a terrific ball through to McLean who promptly dispatched it past Alan Mannus. The St Johnstone defence had stopped momentarily, wrongly thinking it was offside, and it was a lead we fully merited - even though we'd only played seven minutes!
An early goal can often work against you rather than for you and sadly that's the way it turned out for us. We should have gone looking for a second while we were on top but for whatever reason we seemed to be subdued, although in fairness we did have to expect a response from the visitors. Sure enough it arrived with just over a quarter of an hour on the clock. Hasselbaink played a short ball to May and then continued his run to collect the return pass before squaring the ball across for MacLean to pop into the unguarded net, Christopher Dilo having gone to narrow the angle for our former player. It was a good move and deserved a goal at the end of it, although we had perhaps been cut open a little too easily.
We were showing a similar ability to open up the Saintees defence though, a terrific counter seeing Jim Goodwin send Conor Newton off through the middle before he sprayed the ball out to Thompson. Newton continued his run forward and should have shot when Thompson gave him the ball back, but instead he decided to pass. He must have assumed McLean or John McGinn would have kept up with play but they hadn't and the pass was nowhere near McGowan. We then let Hasselbaink have too much space about 20 yards out and he decided to try his luck, his curling shot being impressively palmed away by Dilo. The Saintees had a few shots deflected well off target before a Newton run forward was prematurely ended by Frazer Wright, who was promptly booked, as the half came to a close.
Sadly we didn't start the second half as well as we'd started the first and could have been behind when Wotherspoon got onto the end of Brian Easton's cross but he headed wide. Gary McDonald somehow escaped a booking for going straight through the back of McGowan, Goodwin's effort from the free-kick being deflected behind. We then had a frantic couple of minutes around the hour mark. First Lee Mair produced a wonderful, low defence splitting pass and McGowan - who may well have been offside - latched onto it and stroked it past the onrushing Mannus to put us back in front. The St Johnstone defenders were incensed no offside was given - and may have had a point - but they were soon back level, former Morton man Chris Millar being allowed to get to the line and pulling the ball back for ex Buddie Hasselbaink to rattle home In between he'd been flattened by David van Zanten, who was booked for his troubles - obviously he didn't get him hard enough as he was able to score a minute later!
Hasselbaink teed up May with a decent chance that he shot straight at Dilo before we had more drama. John McGinn, who'd had a quiet game, beat a couple of men before passing to Thompson, who then passed to McLean. He took a step forward and then hit the deck after contact from McDonald. Willie Collum gave us a penalty but it looked rather soft and the St Johnstone defenders were far from impressed. It was irrelevant though as Goodwin took the penalty and it was saved by Mannus. I know McGowan missed his last one against Queen of the South but it shouldn't have been Goodwin taking it. May shot narrowly wide as the Saintees tried to compound the miss before Jake Caprice came on for the booked Vanzy and McGowan headed straight at Mannus.
You couldn't take your eyes off it for a minute, Wotherspoon shooting miles over after he somehow got himself into a shooting position. Then we had even more drama as McGowan tried to control a bouncing ball over the top before taking a tumble in the presence of two Saintees defenders. After what seemed like forever Collum gave us a penalty and sent Wright packing. He'd already been booked but it seemed to be a straight red as he had denied a goalscoring opportunity. Unsurprisingly Goodwin didn't take this one and McLean duly did the honours from the spot as he rattled in his second and our third of the day. No sooner had we restarted than Thomas Scobbie replaced Hasselbaink before Mconald was replaced by Rory Fallon a few minutes later. Sadly the striker, who is not particularly good, equalised within five minutes - no one paying any attention as he ghosted in at the far post to prod in May's cross. A shocking bit of marking - but we had effectively shut up shop after our third and were under the cosh.
St Johnstone's MacLean then had to be stretchered off so former Saint Paddy Craig got a late run out - and a booking for fouling McLean! Little did he know he contributed more to us then than he did during his time with us. McLean's free-kick found McGregor deep in the penalty area and he knocked the ball back across for Thompson to smash home our fourth. What a game, and it wasn't finished yet - MacKay shooting over before we began five minutes of stoppage time which saw Goodwin booked for going right through Cregg. He then tried to get himself sent off with another dodgy tackle so he was promptly replaced with Harkins. After the Saintees sent Mannus up for a free-kick that we got away, Collum finally decided enough was enough and, to much relief, blew for time.
We're still 10th, but we're closer to Ross County and Hearts are now 15 points behind us again. Who'd have thought that would be the case just a month ago?
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