Flying start sets St Johnstone on way to victory over Kilmarnock
Ash Taylor’s early own goal from a Stevie May shot proved the difference as St Johnstone edged out Kilmarnock 1-0 at McDiarmid Park.
Kilmarnock thought they had equalised in the second half, but Liam Donnelly’s goal was disallowed by referee Craig Napier as the Saints held on to secure back-to-back cinch Premiership victories for the first time this season.
Referee Napier also showed a red card to St Johnstone’s James Brown in a dramatic second half, only to reverse his decision after an extended check on the pitchside monitor.
The victory moves Callum Davidson’s side up to seventh in the table, while Kilmarnock’s first defeat in five games sees them remain 10th.
St Johnstone made just two changes from their comeback victory against Hibernian last weekend, with Easter Road match-winner May coming into the starting line-up alongside Graham Carey.
Kilmarnock boss Derek McInnes also made two alterations as Chris Stokes and Rory McKenzie came in for Ryan Alebiosu and Ben Chrisene.
The Saints were clearly buoyed by their win over Hibs and came flying out of the traps to take the lead with the first attack of the match in the fourth minute.
The tireless May latched on to Brown’s headed pass before driving a left-footed shot at goal, with the unfortunate Taylor unable to sort his feet out as he deflected the ball past goalkeeper Zach Hemming and into the net.
Kilmarnock were stunned but grew into the game as first Innes Cameron headed over in the 22nd minute before Kerr McInroy curled a fine left-footed effort just wide from almost 30 yards moments later.
May was brimming with confidence and he came close to getting on the scoresheet just before half-time as he found space in the box, but his shot was too close to Hemming.
Both sides were struggling to create clear-cut openings and Cameron could only shoot straight at Remi Matthews from just outside the box as the first half came to a close.
The away side had the first chance of the second period as McInroy had another effort from range, but Matthews once again was able to make the block and the keeper then made an even better save to keep out a Donnelly header.
A pivotal moment came on the hour mark as referee Napier brandished a red card in the direction of Brown for a foul on Donnelly before being sent to the monitor by VAR Euan Anderson to review the decision.
After an extended consultation of the monitor, Napier chose to instead show a yellow card to the St Johnstone wing-back for the challenge which appeared to be high on the midfielder’s foot.
Saints then came close to extending their lead as May carried the ball upfield before freeing substitute Connor McLennan, whose fizzing shot was saved by Hemming.
May had impressed for the hosts but should have made the points safe in the 74th minute as he headed narrowly wide from a Drey Wright cross.
Despite not creating much in the second half, Kilmarnock believed they had levelled in the 77th minute as Donnelly tapped in after Matthews had spilled Daniel Armstrong’s deep inswinging corner.
But referee Napier had spotted a foul on May at the front post and his decision was backed up by VAR to the frustration of visiting manager McInnes.
Kilmarnock were unable to create any more openings and it was the hosts who almost extended their lead in the dying seconds through substitute Theo Bair as they saw out the match in relative comfort to secure the three points.