Rugby Park has been the proverbial fortress for Kilmarnock recently and it certainly proved to be an impregnable venue for St Johnstone as they slumped to a disappointing defeat.
Kris Boyd opened the scoring for the home side in the first half with Tommy Wright’s side being reduced to 10 men before the break when Jason Kerr was sent for an early bath by referee Willie Collum.
Lee Erwin doubled the home side’s advantage 13 minutes after the restart with Killie comfortably seeing out the rest of the game.
Wright made three changes from the side that was beaten 4-1 by Rangers at McDiarmid Park last week with Scott Tanser, Chris Millar and David Wotherspoon coming in for Steven Anderson – who dropped out altogether – Liam Craig and Matt Willock.
As ever with a game played on an artificial surface, there was no place in the St Johnstone squad for Steven MacLean.
Killie manager Steve Clarke picked a familiar-looking line-up including veteran striker, 34-year-old Boyd who prior to kick-off already had 17 goals to his name this season.
And the front man came close to making it a dream start for the home side with just 30 seconds on the clock. Aaron Tshibola sent a cross in from the left towards Boyd lurking at the St Johnstone back post with the former Scotland man just inches away from connecting for what would have been a tap in.
Saints had an early half chance of their own when Blair Alston tried his luck with a shot from the edge of the Killie box but it flew well over keeper Jamie MacDonald’s bar.
Killie’s Jordan Jones then embarked on a mazy run from just inside the Saints half before hitting a 20-yard strike but it was straight at Alan Mannus who made a comfortable save.
St Johnstone were presented with a decent opportunity in the 15th minute when Chris Kane was fouled on the edge of the home penalty area but Wotherspoon hit his central free-kick straight at the defensive wall.
Shortly after, Jones pounced on a loose Saints pass before playing in Boyd with the striker flashing a 22-yard shot just wide of Mannus’s left-hand post.
However, Boyd made no mistake in the 30th minute from the penalty spot.
Winger Jones was brought down by Aaron Comrie in the Saints box with referee Willie Collum having no hesitation in awarding a spot kick. Boyd stepped up and emphatically blasted the penalty past the helpless Mannus to give Killie the lead.
Tempers were threatening to boil over with Wright spoken to by Collum after Comrie was booked for another foul.
St Johnstone’s task then became immeasurably harder when they were reduced to 10 men in the 42nd minute. Jones raced through on the Saints goal and was brought down by Kerr with Mr Collum deciding to flash a straight red card.
Boyd hit the resultant free-kick just wide before Mannus produced an outstanding diving save from Jones.
The home side had a Tshibola “goal” chalked off in stoppage time with Saints no doubt glad to head down the tunnel just one goal in arrears.
Just seconds after the restart, Boyd again came close with a header that flashed just wide of Mannus’s left-hand post with Killie looking keen to give themselves a two-goal cushion as soon as possible.
They did come close to doing exactly that in the 56th minute when Alan Power had a shot blocked with the ball falling to Erwin who blasted well wide when he should have at least hit the target.
However, the striker certainly made amends just two minutes later when he cut in from the right before despatching an unstoppable low shot past the despairing dive of Mannus and into the back of the net.
Saints were well and truly on the ropes and came close to conceding a third when Jones shot just wide.
There was then a lull in the game with Killie looking like they had decided their work was done for the night and all three points were wrapped up while Wright’s men struggled to make any impact.
Clarke withdrew Boyd and Jones with both receiving standing ovations.
One of the subs, Eamon Brophy tried to his luck with a snap shot in the 82nd minute but it was well off target.
Erwin then teed up Stephen O’Donnell but Mannus came to the rescue to keep out his close-range shot.
Attendance – 3,807.
Kilmarnock – MacDonald, O’Donnell, Findlay, Broadfoot, Taylor (Simpson,84), Power, Dicker, Tshibola, Jones (Frizell, 79), Erwin, K. Boyd (Brophy, 68).
Subs not used – Fasan, McKenzie, Wilson, S. Boyd.
St Johnstone – Mannus, Tanser, Alston, Shaughnessy, Millar (McClean, 67), Davidson, Wotherspoon, Williams (Johnstone, 45), Comrie, Kerr, Kane (Gordon, 42).
Subs not used – Clark, Craig, Willock, McCann.
Referee – Willie Collum.