Jan 22 2013 by Maurice Coyne, Perthshire Advertiser
Rowan Vine in action against Motherwell
Persistent problems in the art of finishing are undermining St Johnstone’s prospects of duelling with the likes of Inverness and Motherwell for the runners-up slot behind Celtic.
The stats might have been banked heavily in favour of the Perth club at Fir Park but home striker Michael Higdon bagged a hat-trick as rivals enjoying more opportunities proved wasteful and hesitant.
Whereas the big Englishman (below) pulled the trigger instinctively three times, his opposite numbers seemed reluctant to take a leaf from his book, despite seeing Well build a 3-0 lead before Saints almost pulled off a stirring fightback, with two in a minute from Nigel Hasselbaink and Liam Craig.
Having conceded a brace in the blink of an eye after being flung in from the bench, Well back-up keeper Lee Hollis denied impact substitute Hasselbaink a last-minute equaliser, with Perth players claiming the striker warranted a spot-kick for shrugging off some grappling before forcing a match-winning save.
With Murray Davidson injured, the Saints set-up was anything but conservative, with Peter Pawlett and Gregory Tade, initially, on the flanks and Craig and Chris Millar teamed-up in the engine room.
After Millar ballooned an early chance over, a meagre Perth support was subjected to a perfect view of an eighthminute opener, with Higdon given scope to stroke home Chris Humphrey’s cross from 12 yards.
The Perth defence failed to heed a warning posted in a previous assault when Millar took out Callum Davidson and a penalty-box miscue allowed them off the hook.
In the 15th minute Well relied on back post guard Keith Lasley to nod out a Craig corner which clipped the head of a home defender before more suspect defending was exploited to the full by Higdon.
This time, the muscular striker off Frazer Wright before his usually robust marker tumbled and when the ball broke off Davidson, Higdon reacted first to drill low into the net.
A Tade header rattled a post from a matter of millimetres with the half-hour approaching. An assistant spared the Frenchman’s blushes by deciding that Rowan Vine’s cross had curled out of play.
The enterprising Englishman swept a shot into the keeper’s gloves before the interval and then struck the crossbar with a deflected cross five minutes after the resumption.
But Steven MacLean was lacking judgement rather than luck minutes latter when Dave Mackay picked him out in acres of space.
Instead of immediately letting loose he cut inside and a frustratingly weak shot was plucked out of the air by keeper Darren Randolph.
Any hopes of a comeback seemed to have been extinguished in the 69th minute as Higdon completed his hat-trick. A Tom Hateley corner led to Shaun Hutchinson’s header being blocked and the striker pounced on the rebound.
Another chance went a-begging when Vine surged onto a Tade pass but his low cross was whipped beyond MacLean at the back post.
With Hollis replacing Randolph in the home goal two minutes previously, Saints finally found the target when Hasselbaink took a MacLean lay-off in his stride to finish in style.
Within a minute, Craig brilliantly half-volleyed home to give the 165 Perth fans fresh hope.
Sixty seconds from the end, Hasselbaink wormed his way into another shooting opportunity but this time Hollis blocked his effort.
And with Well in panic mode Dave Mackay set-up a chance for Vine only for the striker to fire wide.