Jan 31 2012 by Gordon Bannerman, Perthshire Advertiser Tuesday
Motherwell 3 St Johnstone 2
AS so often during his four years with the club, St Johnstone captain Jody Morris was the beating heart of everything, on and off the field.
Inadvertently, the all-action midfielder had a bit role in two of Motherwell’s goals, he netted the most memorable strike of his stay in Scotland and summed-up frustration felt in Perth ranks by turning vigilante in the closing seconds, when a showboating rival’s Ali shuffle ended abruptly in a crumpled heap on the Fir Park canvas.
And when the dust settled, he had to tip-toe delicately round questions prompted by speculation linking him with interest from former manager, admirer and close friend Derek McInnes in the West Country.
He managed to bodyswerve that as smartly as any earlier challenge.
His debut was marked by a goal and a defeat in Dundee and if this proves to be a swansong, there was a sense of deja vu about proceedings.
Once again, he posted a midfield masterclass topped by his first goal of the season and his best in St Johnstone blue.
While Morris, now 33, may lack inches there’s been no denying his giant stature in the Perth dressing room, where a Champions League CV from Chelsea days alone commands utter respect.
Like Sergei Baltacha before him, grateful fans and cynical journalists have found it hard to believe his career path has included an extended stay at McDiarmid Park.
Make no mistake, Morris has been hugely influential in the club’s upward mobility under McInnes and now Steve Lomas.
Hard on the heels of figuring in a five-goal thriller off Leith Walk, Saints were at it again in Lanarkshire but for just the second time this season they were left licking their wounds on the road.
A glance at the league table confirms this result dealt a painful dunt to aspirations of clawing into third position in the SPL, with ‘Well extending the gap to six points. But in terms of performance, Saints didn’t deserve to come home with nothing to show for their efforts.
They were undone by a home side which exploited their pace on the counter attack in a second-half dominated by a Lomas team tweaked after being second best for much of the first period.
The Perth team sheet had been photocopied from Easter Road and while Morris fired wide and Marcus Haber powered a header over the bar, the home side surged ahead in the 22nd minute and Saints were on the ropes for a spell.
New signing Henrik Ojamaa exploited space in a Perth defensive channel to ram home the opener.
Within a minute, Steven Anderson was first in the book for a challenge designed to examine the Estonian’s appetite for the fray.
Hammell clattered the crossbar from 25 yards and Liam Craig emulated his strike at the other end with a free-kick after Fran Sandaza had been whacked by Clancy, with a swipe which tested the protective powers of shinguards.
Then the Spaniard was booked for instant retribution after the keeper denied Lee Croft.
But after going 4-5-1, Morris levelled before the interval with a glorious 20-yard stretching left footer.
The midfielder won possession with deft footwork at the half-way line before his combination with Croft unlocked the defence.
Saints looked likely to surge ahead as Murray Davidson and then Croft tested the keeper but in the 65th minute Morris slipped in the box and Ojamaa cashed-in with a 16-yard ground shot swept into the far corner.
And they were dealt a hammer blow eight minutes later when Lasley surged forward after winning a defensive tackle and his 25-yarder clipped Morris to soar and dip over a helpless Peter Enckelman.
With tricky Jack Compton again catching the eye from the bench, Saints went in pursuit of a point. The winger’s cross was returned into the central area by Croft and when Murray Davidson was barged Sandaza calmly rammed the spot-kick down the middle.
Another replacement, Cillian Sheridan, had a half chance to complete the salvage job but ‘Well held out to seize the initiative in the chase for third place.
With seconds left Daley took the ball for a run down the line and Morris was riled by the striker’s shuffle, dispensing rough justice to sign-off with a caution.
MOTHERWELL: Randolph, Hammell, Law, Hately, Jennings, Murphy (Humphrey 84), Lasley, Hutchinson, Daley, Clancy and Ojamma. Subs not used: Bradley, McHugh, Forbes, Page, Lawless and Carswell.
SAINTS: Enckelman, Mackay, C.Davidson, Morris, Anderson, M. Davidson, Croft, Craig (Sheridan 77), McCracken, Sandaza and Haber (Compton 68). Subs not used: Mannus, Millar, Moffat, Stewart and Gray.
REFEREE: Calum Murray.