Late Steelmen show sinks Saints

Saturday’s success increased Well’s hopes of securing European

football for next season. Scotland Under-21 striker Jamie Murphy

continued his recent fine form when he put the visitors ahead in

the 12th minute but St Johnstone responded well to the setback and

recalled striker Steven Milne breached Motherwell’s mean defence to

equalise from close range in the 26th minute. However home keeper

Graeme Smith spilled substitute Lukas Jutkiewicz’s shot with five

minutes remaining and Sutton made no mistake from three yards out.

Milne’s goal was just the second Craig Brown’s side have conceded

in the last 10 games as they have moved into a comfortable position

in the top six as a result of their long unbeaten run. And Sutton’s

late strike is a significant boost to their bid to catch Hibernian

in fourth – but is a real blow to St Johnstone as they seek a

second successive season in the SPL. Derek McInnes’ men are eight

points clear of basement side Falkirk, who face Celtic at Sunday

lunchtime, before the Bairns and St Johnstone meet in the Falkirk

Stadium next weekend. McInnes made two changes from the side which

drew with Hibs. Graham Gartland returned after recovering from a

chest infection at the expense of Danny Grainger and former Dundee

striker Milne replaced Cillian Sheridan. Brown was forced into one

alteration to the team which defeated Kilmarnock. Jim O’Brien –

having recovered from illness – replaced Jutkiewicz, whose knee

injury restricted him to a place on the bench. The in-form visitors

were straight on the front foot, Chris Humphrey tearing past Steven

Anderson down the right and swinging in a decent cross towards

Sutton in the first minute. Although the former St Mirren striker

was eased off the ball by Dave Mackay, the move signalled

Motherwell and Sutton’s early intent. Humphreys was in sparkling

form in the first 10 minutes, beating Anderson for pace on three

occasions and supplying dangerous crosses into the box. And in the

12th minute Motherwell’s superiority was rewarded when Murphy put

his side ahead as he beat the offside trap, rounded keeper Smith –

who had ill-advisedly rushed from his line – and slotted home at

the second attempt after Gartland had blocked his first effort. St

Johnstone almost hit straight back when Stephen Craigan was

penalised for a push on the edge of his own box and visiting keeper

John Ruddy had to handle Liam Craig’s free-kick cleanly with Milne

waiting to pounce on any mistakes. The home side then twice came

close to an equaliser in the 21st minute when Ruddy saved well from

Deuchar. From the corner Michael Duberry fired wide from 10 yards

out. St Johnstone were threatening an equaliser and it was no great

surprise when Motherwell’s run of three games without conceding a

goal came to an end in the 26th minute as Milne rolled the ball

beyond Ruddy following a clever flick from Murray Davidson caught

out Craigan. McInnes made a substitution two minutes later when he

brought Grainger on for Anderson, who may have picked up an injury

but who had in any case endured a torrid time against Humphrey.

Milne almost scored a second just after the half-hour mark when a

terrific block from Mark Reynolds fell into his path and his shot

was deflected narrowly over the bar by Craigan. The half began with

good crosses for both teams which deserved a better end product.

First, Deuchar worked an opening down the right but saw Milne fail

to connect with his square pass, then O’Brien and Murphy combined

nicely on Motherwell’s left but Sutton mis-timed his challenge for

the latter’s cross. The visitors almost regained their lead 12

minutes into the second period when Murphy latched on to Keith

Lasley’s quickly taken free-kick and although his scuffed shot beat

St Johnstone keeper Smith, Duberry raced back to hack the ball off

his own line. Brown’s side were the more fluent at this stage

without creating any clear-cut opportunities and in a bid to change

the pattern of the game, McInnes introduced former Chelsea

midfielder Jody Morris in place of Davidson 20 minutes into the

half. Brown responded three minutes later by bringing Ross Forbes

on at the expense of O’Brien while Lasley was replaced by Giles

Coke. Brown played final card with 10 minutes remaining when he

brought on on-loan Everton striker Jutkiewicz for Murphy. The

changes helped to inject some urgency into the away side and

Jutkiewicz’s shot in the 85th minute was spilled by Smith with

Sutton was on hand to tap home from three yards out. McInnes threw

on Filipe Morais for Craig immediately after the goal but it was

all in vain for the home side as Jutkiewicz could afford to waste a

terrific chance to make the game safe in injury time as Brown’s

side collected all three points.