Saints suffer as Nicholas pounces

St Johnstone 2 Motherwell 3
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Caretaker managers produce carefree football, it seems, though that will be of little consolation to St Johnstone, who were 11 minutes away from their first win of the season until the meeting of the Scottish Premier League's bottom two clubs produced a sting in the tail.

The sacking of Sandy Clark five days earlier seemed poised to produce a reward for his stand-in, Billy Kirkwood, until equally managerless Motherwell's fightback was sealed by Stuart Elliott and Stephen Nicholas.

Motherwell, of course, had already won the sack race, dismissing Billy Davies 10 days ago, which prompted the habitual response from a failing team ­ a victory over Hearts.

St Johnstone's players seemed infused with the same vigour yesterday, with Nick Dasovic rifling a shot just over before Paddy Connolly missed a glaring chance after only eight minutes. Connolly atoned in style three minutes later. Keigan Parker was the creator, with a cross was clipped in by Connolly's angled left-foot shot.

However, the whole atmosphere around McDiarmid Park soon changed. Kevin Twaddle and Alan Main were both carried off ­ the Scotland squad keeper with a broken leg ­ after the Motherwell striker slid in on Main, causing a seven-minute delay.

The disruption halted St Johnstone in their tracks. Stephen Nicholas, Twaddle's replacement, equalised in first-half stoppage time, controlling Stuart Elliott's pass with his thigh and lashing a volley past the substitute keeper Kevin Cuthbert.

St Johnstone crafted a fine goal to go back in front after 55 minutes. Connolly skipped past two tackles and drew the defence before slipping the ball to the left of the box, where Peter MacDonald took one touch to control it and another to bury a low left-foot shot beyond Mark Brown.

Connolly was denied another goal after he controlled MacDonald's lob with his chest and curved a shot beyond Brown, only for Steven Hammell to clear off the line. The value of that rescue act was underlined with 11 minutes left when Motherwell equalised. Elliott was left unattended at the back post to collect Scott Leitch's pass and the Northern Ireland international drilled a shot through Cuthbert's legs.

St Johnstone tried to retrieve matters, but that was their downfall. In injury-time, Hammell hooked clear from his own area, Elliott raced clear of the lone defender, Ross Forsyth and, though his shot was parried by Cuthbert, Nicholas pounced to steer in the rebound.

St Johnstone 2

Connolly 13, MacDonald 55

Motherwell 3

Nicholas 45, 90, Elliott 79

Half-time: 1-1 Attendance: 3,269