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St Johnstone beat Inverness 4-0 in Premiership play-off to secure top flight status

Stevie May makes it 1-0.
Stevie May makes it 1-0.

It’s not how you start that’s important, it’s how you finish, they say.

After a tortuous season that defied belief at times given the one that preceded it, St Johnstone have come good when it really matters.

The last 45 minutes of their 2021/22 campaign was their best, with four second half goals securing the Perth club’s Premiership status.

That doesn’t mean all the things that went wrong last summer should get forgotten about.

But learning lessons as a top flight outfit is a good deal more palatable than as a Championship one.

The post-mortem into how Saints were teetering on the brink of relegation going into the final game begins – actually it has already begun.

But the fact that the Perth side were in deep, deep trouble of their own making shouldn’t deny the players and management who got the play-off job done the right to feel a sense of end-of-season achievement and pride.

The pressure was as weighty on this team over the last few days – probably the last few weeks – as on any of the sides who have played football for St Johnstone in this 13-season big league era.

They have ensured it will be 14 and counting.

It was fitting that Stevie May sent them on their way – the local hero who has won three trophies and seen so many great times at McDiarmid Park.

Cammy MacPherson, Callum Hendry and Shaun Rooney were the other scorers on a night that had started worryingly and finished in a party and a lap of honour.

Typically for a season like this Callum Davidson had to deal with a big pre-match injury blow.

Jamie McCart was ruled out as a result of delayed concussion from the head knock he sustained in the Highlands.

In came John Mahon to make just his second start since signing for Saints in January.

With Theo Bair, Jacob Butterfield, Callum Booth and Ali Crawford also missing out, the bench was two men lighter than on Friday.

Billy Dodds made four changes to his starting line-up.

And it was a bold selection.

The two wide forwards who made a telling impact in the first leg comeback, Austin Samuels and Logan Chalmers, joined the duo returning from suspension, Danny Devine and Wallace Duffy, in the 11.

And it was Chalmers who had the first shot of the game with only seconds on the clock – thankfully for Saints, straight at Zander Clark.

The visitors made a much better start to this contest than the last – not that it would be hard – and Devine got his head to a Sean Welsh free-kick.

Again, though, Clark wasn’t tested.

He shouldn’t have been tested by a Dan Cleary back-pass on nine minutes either but his left foot attempt at a first-time clearance came off the top of the Scotland keeper’s boot and nearly ended up in the back of his net.

Saints gradually started to enjoy a bit of territory and possession and Cleary would have been disappointed not to hit the target with a header from a Melker Hallberg corner.

You would still say that Caley Thistle were carrying the greater first half goal threat, however.

And on 23 minutes it took James Brown and then Clark to mop up a Chalmers corner after Kirk Broadfoot directed his header goalward.

Then just before the half-hour, Clark made a superb save at his near post to deny Samuels.

It was all looking extremely concerning going into half-time, with the only positive being Caley Thistle hadn’t scored the goal their dominance merited.

Better was needed from Saints after the break. Much better.

Game of two halves

The players were sent out early for the second half, with Liam Craig going round his team-mates to give some last words of encouragement.

Stevie May was among them – a replacement for Middleton.

A minute after he came on, with his first touch, May smashed home the opening goal, reacting first to a Hallberg header that Mark Ridgers had saved.

Of all the goals he’s scored for Saints, this went right to the top of the most important list.

In a play-off double-header of huge momentum swings, here was another.

And just as Caley Thistle had scored two in seven minutes on Friday, now it was Saints’ turn.

MacPherson doubled their lead when his 25-yard shot took a big deflection off Welsh past a helpless Ridgers.

Saints knew better than to think this was done and dusted and Clark had to get down to his right to thwart Samuels who had let fly from just inside the box on 62 minutes.

Dodds’ men were throwing everything at getting back into the tie and Mahon was throwing himself in front of Duffy to block a goal-bound shot.

This proved to be their last big push, however.

And when Hendry was put through by Hallberg with two minutes left the celebrations could begin without fear of another comeback when Saints’ top goalscorer chipped Ridgers.

Incredibly, there was another carbon copy goal left in this match, with Rooney putting the icing on the play-off cake.

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