Stevie May scored a dramatic stoppage-time winner as St Johnstone cruised to a 2-1 win over Motherwell in an entertaining Scottish Premiership game at Fir Park.
Jamie Murphy gave the visitors the lead with a low strike in the first half, before Motherwell thought they had secured a hard-fought point as Sean Goss’ corner kicked its way into the net in the 90th minute, with Sondre Solholm celebrating. .
There was to be an even later twist, however, as May ran over Ryan McGowan’s header to slip a nice finish past Motherwell keeper Liam Kelly and seal the points.
How May’s late goal earned Saints dramatic win at Fir Park
Interim Motherwell boss Steven Hammell had made two changes from last weekend’s win over St Mirren, with Stephen O’Donnell and Bevis Mugabi replacing the suspended Jake Carroll and Ricki Lamie.
St Johnstone manager Callum Davidson opted to stay with largely the same side that started the season with a loss to Hibs last time out, with Cammy MacPherson replacing the suspended Murray Davidson in the only trade.
Kevin van Veen netted the first shot on goal in the third minute, but his free-kick sailed harmlessly over the Saints crossbar.
MacPherson then had the first try for the visitors in the 11th minute as he won the ball and moved forward, but his low shot was blocked well.
St Johnstone had a great chance to take the lead in the 26th minute as Theo Bair went through one-on-one with Kelly, but the Motherwell keeper saved easily.
They didn’t have to wait long for another chance, however, and two minutes later they broke the deadlock as Murphy latched on to a touch from Bair and deftly fired a clean finish over Kelly and into the bottom corner.
The home side responded well though and they were inches away from a leveler in the 32nd minute as Connor Shields pivoted just outside the Saints penalty box but his effort returned from the left post.
Paul McGinn then produced a goal clearance to stop Andy Considine from three yards out, before Van Veen fired for the hosts with the final kick of the opening period.
Motherwell improved a lot after the break and Shields closed in shortly after the hour mark, falsifying a deflected effort just over the bar when Adam Montgomery was caught napping at the far post .
St Johnstone remained a threat on the counter and only a crucial Solholm touch prevented the away team from doubling their lead as Bair waited for a tap.
Home fans were left infuriated with 10 minutes to go as Ross Tierney slipped behind the Saints defense and went down under McGowan’s challenge, but referee Willie Collum dismissed the protests.
In a frantic spell, Matthews then recovered Goss’ clumsy bouncing volley, before Joseph Efford fell under a resulting corner challenge, with Collum again unmoved.
The hosts kept coming and eventually their pressure kicked in, the ball sinking agonizingly down the Saints line from a deep Goss corner, Solholm appearing to have hit the way.
It seemed to have been the decisive move of the game, before the late spectacle in May, as the Saints substitute clung to McGowan’s head to slip past Kelly for the first time to seal the victory and turn the fans away crazy.
Hammell disappointed with late defeat
Steven Hammell, Acting Director of Motherwell:
“Nothing has changed and that’s the last thing on my mind right now, it’s just a feeling of disappointment,” he said.
“It has nothing to do with me, it’s out of my control and I will let the people who make these decisions do what they think is best.
“It was a game where we were confident that we would put everything into the preparation and get a positive result. It’s never easy, but losing it like we did is hard to take.
“The first goal is a long straight ball, with the second striker running so it’s the most basic movement and we struggled with that.
“The second, again, is a long ball and we make an absolute mess of it which results in a corner kick and we’re still looking to go on and win the game.
“In the second phase we disconnect, which cannot happen and the two goals we lose are mediocre.”
Davidson: I’m just happy we got this win today
St Johnstone manager Callum Davidson:
“I like that every year people write you off,” he said. “In the previous season we had a lot of expectations on our shoulders – this season nobody thinks we can do anything.
“I think I have a very good group of players there – it’s a tougher league, it’s as simple as that. It’s such a small league and last year was so tight, so it’s important that we start well and give ourselves the opportunity to stay in the league.
“It’s positive that the spirit is there, I have a lot of players who have played in the league before who know the game and I can see in the dressing room that I have a good understanding.
“It’s important to get that first win of the season, it’s going to be a really tough league this season, you look at the teams above us and obviously the bigger teams are spending money.
“Getting points is really important and for me, I’m just happy to have won this victory today.”
Motherwell will travel to face Aberdeen in their next Scottish Premiership game on Saturday August 13.
St Johnstone left for Rangers on the same day. Kick-off for both matches at 3 p.m.
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