Match ends, St. Johnstone 2, Motherwell 1.
Tam Scobbie's late header returned St Johnstone to the top six and left Motherwell reeling in their bid to escape the bottom of the Premiership.
Louis Moult put the visitors in front when he was left unmarked in the middle of the box and headed into the net.
David Wotherspoon drew Saints level when he cut inside and hit a sweet strike off the inside of the near post.
Liam Craig and Graham Cummins both went close before Scobbie headed in a late winner for Tommy Wright's men.
There was little between the sides, with both seeming tense and conservative with so much at stake at this stage in the season.
There was a grim fascination to the way that these two sides - both containing players capable of imagination and verve - so assiduously subdued each other. The industry was relentless, but it seldom flowed with confidence or aplomb.
Motherwell endured a set-back even before kick-off, when Scott McDonald was ruled out after being named in the starting line-up. He was replaced by Wes Fletcher, and the visitors were denied the darting, and often cantankerous, menace that McDonald provides up front.
Even so, through sheer diligence alone they carved out the opening goal. It came from a corner kick, which had always seemed their most likely route to a breakthrough on a bobbly, often unpredictable playing surface.
James McFadden was entrusted with the deliveries, although he failed to keep one corner kick in play and swung his fist at the corner flag in frustration. His next attempt was accurate enough, though, as his ball into the six-yard box was met by Moult's leap, and the striker steered his header into the net.
St Johnstone were roused by the goal, and perhaps also by the growing sense of discontent from the home fans, with the team having failed to win in seven league games. Craig ought to have equalised, but sent his first-time effort from Wotherspoon's cross high over the bar.
Moments later, Wotherspoon took responsibility himself. From a throw-in, the ball was worked to him and he skelped a shot at goal that swerved in mid-air to wrong-foot the Motherwell goalkeeper Connor Ripley.
Mark McGhee switched from the 3-4-1-2 formation that he started with to a back four at half-time, bringing Stevie Hammell off the bench. It did not greatly alter the nature of the game, although the visitors were the first to threaten after the break when Hammell's free-kick was headed over by Moult.
Tommy Wright used his substitutions to move to having two strikers upfront, bringing Cummins and John Sutton off the bench. That provided some impetus, and Murray Davidson ran into the space behind them only to hit a tame effort at Ripley. Moments later, Craig met Wotherspoon's delivery but sent his effort across goal and wide.
The game seemed destined to finish 1-1, but there was still time for Scobbie to deliver a decisive blow,
- 22FisherBooked at 60mins
- 3ScobbieBooked at 84mins
- 26CraigSubstituted forLappinat 80'minutes
- 27ThomsonSubstituted forCumminsat 65'minutes
- 9MacLeanSubstituted forSuttonat 71'minutes
- 32HallBooked at 90mins
- 17GomisSubstituted forPearsonat 64'minutes
- 9FletcherSubstituted forAinsworthat 79'minutes
- 24McFaddenSubstituted forHammellat 45'minutes
- Bobby Madden
- Shots on Target
Second Half ends, St. Johnstone 2, Motherwell 1.
Corner, St. Johnstone. Conceded by Ben Hall.
Steven Anderson (St. Johnstone) wins a free kick on the left wing.
Foul by Marvin Johnson (Motherwell).
Goal! St. Johnstone 2, Motherwell 1. Tam Scobbie (St. Johnstone) header from the centre of the box to the high centre of the goal. Assisted by Simon Lappin following a set piece situation.
Ben Hall (Motherwell) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
John Sutton (St. Johnstone) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Ben Hall (Motherwell).
Foul by Graham Cummins (St. Johnstone).
Stephen McManus (Motherwell) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Darnell Fisher (St. Johnstone) wins a free kick on the left wing.
Foul by Louis Moult (Motherwell).
Tam Scobbie (St. Johnstone) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Foul by Tam Scobbie (St. Johnstone).
Chris Cadden (Motherwell) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Attempt saved. Graham Cummins (St. Johnstone) right footed shot from outside the box is saved in the top centre of the goal.
Foul by Murray Davidson (St. Johnstone).
Louis Laing (Motherwell) wins a free kick on the left wing.
Substitution, St. Johnstone. Simon Lappin replaces Liam Craig.