St Johnstone 1-3 Motherwell

St Johnstone missed the chance to go top of the league after slumping to defeat against a sharp Motherwell side.

The visitors took the lead after only a minute when Jamie Murphy tucked the ball home and the forward doubled his tally with curling shot.

As Saints pressed for a lifeline Nicky Law picked up on a loose ball to flick the ball over goalkeeper Alan Mannus..

David Robertson found the net for Saints, firing home from 12 yards, but it was nothing more than a consolation.

Both sides were looking to recover from heavy defeats in their last outings, but it was Motherwell who took the lead through a simple early goal.

Law's low cross from the left was deflected into the path of Murphy by Steven Anderson and the Motherwell man coolly slotted the ball under Mannus from 12 yards.

Jamie Murphy
Murphy's first-half double put Motherwell in command

'Well should have been two ahead moments later. Henrik Ojamaa picked up a slack back pass by Frazer Wright and rounded Mannus before blazing his shot over the bar.

The opening stages were incredibly open and Saints had a chance to level when Gary Miller swung a deep cross into the visitors' box where Gregory Tade headed just wide at the back post.

Then, some slack defending by Anderson let Motherwell in again as he fluffed a headed clearance straight to Michael Higdon 20 yards out.

The burly striker steadied himself and let a rasping volley fly just past Mannus' left-hand post.

Another chance for the visitors came the lively Chris Humphrey cut the ball back across the six-yard box but no Motherwell player could connect cleanly with it and Anderson cleared off the line.

The home side were looking disjointed, and their best moments came from set pieces, with Frazer Wright powering a free header from a Liam Craig free-kick over the bar.

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Interview - Motherwell manager Stuart McCall

Murphy then doubled his tally as he picked up the ball 45 yards from goal, dribbled through the defence until he reached the edge of the box and curled the ball past Mannus and into the net.

Steven MacLean and Murray Davidson both missed chances for the home side as the first half drew to a close and Saints struggled to find a way back.

The second period opened at a much less frenetic pace than the first, with both defences clearly having had words from their respective managers at half-time.

Saints were enjoying much more of the pressure, but found time and again Motherwell defenders on hand to block any attempts on goal.

However, Motherwell carved out the first clear chance of the half when Ojamaa was played through in the inside right channel, Mannus blocking the shot with his feet.

The second period had developed into a tactical chess match, with Saints controlling possession and pressing hard high up the pitch, but 'Well launching fast, direct counter-attacks.

And, from one of these, Ojamaa was able to test Mannus with a low, right-footed drive from the edge of the box.

Nigel Hasselbaink managed to tee up Craig at the edge of the box but, with the penalty area crowded, the midfielder could only blaze his shot over.

And the home defence soon found itself at sixes and sevens after another 'Well attack.

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Interview - St Johnstone manager Steve Lomas

Law picked up the loose ball, ran into the box and flicked the ball into the net from a tight angle.

Motherwell could have piled further misery on the hosts as the game became completely stretched in the final stages, but it was Saints who snatched the next goal, Robertson lashing home Hasselbaink's cutback from around the penalty spot.

But the goal did not ignite a Saints comeback as Motherwell saw out the win which gets them back on track after four straight defeats.

For Saints, it is back to the drawing board with their seven-game unbeaten run in the Scottish Premier League crashing to an end in a week that also featured a 5-0 cup loss to Celtic.

Follow Stevie Miller on Twitter.

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