Saints pinch point but fall short in bid to secure second place
ST JOHNSTONE failed in their mission to move into second place in the Ladbrokes Premiership table but they were thankful in the end that they left Lanarkshire with anything at all.
Trailing to a Greg Docherty goal and not looking like penetrating a resilient Hamilton defence in a largely dominant second half, it seemed as though they would leave emptyhanded.
However, Liam Craig rescued a point with his first league goal of the season eight minutes from time.
It was a sign of the character of the Perth men that they fought until the end, especially after a crushing Betfred Cup quarter-final defeat last Thursday night.
And they were also forced into an early change when Richard Foster went off in four minutes with a thigh injury and was replaced by debutant Aaron Comrie.
Unsurprisingly, manager Tommy Wright was appreciative of his players’ efforts. He said: “We showed great character to bounce back after losing so late at Aberdeen in midweek and we had moments of quality as well.
“It’s disappointing not to have moved up to second because we’re a wee club and we wanted our moment of glory. But this is a good start for us. We’re on the coat-tails of Aberdeen and Hearts, who are much bigger clubs than us.”
Hamilton took the lead in 37 minutes and it was a very well-worked goal as they made the most of a set-piece opportunity, although St Johnstone were unhappy that a free-kick was given against Joe Shaughnessy for barging into Eamonn Brophy.
Wright lamented: “It was so soft. I haven’t seen it again but if that’s a foul then God help us. Referees will be blowing their whistle every 30 seconds.”
Ali Crawford clipped the ball to the back post where Alex D’Acol was unmarked and he headed back across the face of the six-yard box.
The ball broke to Docherty and he slammed a left-foot shot high into the Saints net.
Having assisted with the goal, D’Acol proved to be a highly competent defender as he prevented the Perth side from equalising four minutes later. Saints won a corner on the left side and the Accies defence failed to deal with Danny Swanson’s ball as he picked out Shaughnessy inside the six-yard box.
The Irish defender thought he had scored as he powered a header towards the left corner but D’Acol was on the line to make a vital block.
It would have been sweet retribution for Shaughnessy who felt aggrieved by Euan Anderson’s decision to penalise him for the free-kick that led to Accies’ goal.
It had been an even contest to that point although St Johnstone had enjoyed better scoring opportunities.
They sliced Hamilton open with a sweeping move in 30 minutes when Swanson worked the ball wide to Michael Coulson who quickly rolled a great pass back for Liam Craig whose shot was spilled by Remi Matthews but then reclaimed by the on-loan Norwich goalkeeper.
Four minutes later Swanson was at the heart of the matter again as he teed up Coulson just outside the box but he shot past the right post.
Hamilton had been brighter to begin with – much like the Lanarkshire weather – and Grant Gillespie thought he had played in Brophy to perfect effect in the inside right channel but Zander Clark was quick off his line to make a fine blocking save.
However, as the rain battered down in the second half it seemed to dampen their style and St Johnstone put them under considerable pressure without really carving out an opening.
Hamilton defended superbly and may have sealed victory had they taken chances on the counter-attack.
Docherty could not get the ball out of his feet quickly enough to angle a shot past Clark, having been set up by Dougie Imrie in 64 minutes, shooting straight at the goalkeeper.
Then Docherty produced some sparkling play down the left side before delivering a great cross for Brophy but the young striker headed over the bar.
Wright withdrew his starting strikers Coulson and Graham Cummins, sending on Joe Gormley and Chris Kane to try to find the equalising goal his side deserved.
He got his reward when Kane played a pivotal role in the build-up to the leveller eight minutes from time.
Swanson picked him out in the box and Kane hammered a right-foot shot which proved to be too hot for Matthews, who did well to make a block on it.
Craig was first to the loose ball and slammed a low left-foot shot home.
Hamilton manager Martin Canning was frustrated that his side could not hold on for what would have been a most welcome victory.
He said: “For us, it’s another one that got away. It’s a recurring theme for us just now. I go back to Kilmarnock when we were 1-0 up and creating chances. Dundee away was the same.
“St Johnstone pinned us in a bit in the second half. They had a lot of corners and free-kicks but we defended our box well. We also hit them on the break and Greg has to score to make it 2-0. We must be more ruthless in front of goal.”
Matthews; Gillespie, Sarris, Donati, Seaborne; Docherty, MacKinnon, Crawford, Imrie; D’Acol (Longridge 64), Brophy (Bingham 77). Not used: Thomson, Redmond, Roy, McMann, Want.
Booked St Johnstone:
Donati, Docherty, MacKinnon, Crawford.
Clark; Foster (Comrie 4), Anderson, Shaughnessy, Easton; Alston, Swanson, Davidson, Craig; Cummins (Kane 74), Coulson (Gormley 68). Not used: Mannus, Wotherspoon, Paton, Gordon.
WHAT A FEELING: St Johnstone’s Liam Craig gives it laldy after equalising late on to earn a point from a match the Perth side looked like taking nothing from. Picture: SNS