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St Johnstone 1-0 Aberdeen: Saints secure play-off place and relegate Dundee thanks to Callum Hendry winner

Callum Hendry celebrates his goal.
Callum Hendry celebrates his goal.

For one match day in Edinburgh, St Johnstone fans will get to relax.

In a season of unrelenting dread, their team has spared them the ultimate trepidation of going into the last game of the league campaign with the sword of automatic relegation from the Premiership hanging over them.

Mercifully, Dundee’s hopes of a great escape were extinguished within 24 hours of the Dark Blues’ first victory under Mark McGhee.

Saints’ 1-0 win against Aberdeen has finally settled the two issues at the bottom of the top flight – the Perth side are in the play-offs and their Tayside rivals are going straight down.

As has so often been the case over recent months, Callum Hendry was the hero, scoring one of the most important goals of his career and his eighth since returning from Kilmarnock.

Hibs are up next on Sunday and this was a performance Saints will hope to build on and go into the ultimate test of nerve, a two-leg clash with either Arbroath or Inverness Caledonian Thistle, with a bit of momentum.

Callum Davidson made three changes to the team which drew at Livingston on Saturday, with James Brown, Glenn Middleton and Jacob Butterfield all starting.

The Dons line-up was unrecognisable from a few weeks ago but the visitors opened up brightly enough and one of the few regulars, Lewis Ferguson, should have done better with a free back post header from a Connor Barron corner.

Saints’ first decent effort was a 14th minute Middleton 25-yarder that Joe Lewis was able to watch fly past his left hand post.

Hendry had set the on-loan Rangers man up for that strike but the roles were reversed for the opening goal three minutes later.

Middleton’s cross from the right was delivered just where Saints’ top scorer wanted it and it was a lovely first-time guided finish from eight yards that gave Lewis no chance low to his right.

The Saints players celebrate the winning goal.
The Saints players celebrate the winning goal.

You could feel the relief in the stadium now that the hosts had a bit of breathing space in the head-to-head with Dundee and, with confidence up, Middleton forced Lewis into a save from a long-range free-kick moments after.

For the rest of the half Saints did a good job of protecting their lead and the nearest Aberdeen came to equalising was when a Dante Polvara cross was sliced over his own crossbar by Shaun Rooney.

The Perth side finished the first 45 on top and David Bates needed to make a timely clearance after a neat move down the right side of the box.

Saints had an attack of real promise building two minutes after the restart but Hendry put too much weight on a ball through for Melker Hallberg and the Swede wasn’t able to get on the end of it.

Zander Clark switched on

Zander Clark hadn’t been called upon yet to make a save of any note but he needed to be switched on to race out of his box to beat Vicente Besuijen to a long diagonal ball from Connor Barron.

It was a close thing but the Scotland squad goalkeeper just got their first.

Saints nearly put the game – and the play-off battle – to bed when Rooney met a Hallberg corner at the back post.

The man who scored from a similar position at Dens Park a couple of weeks ago saw his downward header bounce over on this occasion.

Then on the hour mark Hendry came just as close with a 20-yard curling shot that just failed to dip enough to find the top corner.

Saints had a bit of defending to do in the last 10 minutes but they were pretty comfortable a cross to the near post cut out by Jamie McCart was as fraught as it got.

Going into the play-offs, with their Premiership place on the line, is no cause for celebration.

But this was a job well done on the night.

St Johnstone midfielder Craig Bryson suffers another injury ‘setback’ as chances of comeback this season fade

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