St Johnstone do their top-six hopes a power of good, seeing off Aberdeen to move within three points of Hearts.
A Cillian Sheridan goal — which means they’ve now netted in each of their last 12 SPL outings — was enough to settle things at McDiarmid Park.
But Saints — enjoying a dream first season back in the top flight following a seven-year absence — could and should have won this by a far greater margin, so far ahead of Aberdeen were they.
Watched by a travelling support of just 880 fans, the Dons’ hopes of qualifying for the top six for the sixth season running disappeared as Sheridan’s first-half strike extended their winless run to 10 games.
Boss Mark McGhee had labelled this a must-win match if the Dons were to rescue anything from a desperate first season under him but that clearly hadn’t got through to his players.
After a reasonable start they faded completely and finished up comprehensively beaten.
The result was hailed by Saints boss Derek McInnes.
“That was a good night’s work,” said McInnes. “The players treated the game the way it had to be treated. Our application was first class.
“We were relentless in our pressing, trying to force errors and matched that with some good play.
“That’s us taken maximum points from three of the games we had in hand, which the players deserve enormous credit for.
“And now we’ll look to keep our foot on the pedal and see where that takes us.
“We’ve been looking over our shoulder since coming up but now we’ll see if we can get above Hearts.
“We are, however, having a helluva time with injuries. We went into this match with 10 players out.
“Now Kevin Moon has picked up a medial ligament strain and Cillian Sheridan is ineligible to face Celtic on Saturday.”
McGhee accepted his side would finish the season in the bottom half of the table but he insisted he can sort out the very obvious problems there are with the group of players currently at his disposal.
“I don’t think we played well and the result was probably about right,” he confessed.
“That’s the top six gone for us but we still have pride to play for over the remaining games and I will be trying to improve things through to the summer when there will be a lot of changes at the club.
“I’m not staying awake at night worrying about my job.
“The criticism I’ve had has steeled me to do everything I can to turn things around.
“It disappoints me that people have doubts over my ability to do that. But I have proven myself to be successful elsewhere and I don’t see why I won’t achieve what I am trying to here.”
Aberdeen nearly picked Saints off on the break when Danny Grainger had a shot blocked and Steven McLean found Michael Paton on the half-way line.
Paton lobbed the ball over Gary Irvine and sprinted for goal. But with Chris Millar applying a degree of pressure on the youngster, his shot across Graeme Smith was a yard wide.
Midway through the first period the Dons fell behind after Jerel Ifil inexplicably allowed the ball to run out for a corner when he could have cleared it upfield. Liam Craig’s delivery found Grainger whose low drilled effort was parried by Jamie Langfield but only into the path of Sheridan who poked home from close range.
Only a fantastic save from Langfield — keeping out Dave Mackay’s netbound header from a Grainger corner — prevented Saints from stretching clear before the interval.
And he again rescued Aberdeen early in the second period, blocking from Kenny Deuchar when the big striker looked like stroking in Irvine’s low cross.
The Dons had lost Gary MacDonald to a first-half hamstring pull and needed to replace Jim Paterson immediately following the break.
Saints too suffered a blow when the luckless Moon had to be stretchered off after coming off worst in tackling Mark Kerr.
But the Perth side remained on top with Craig and Sheridan both passing up chances to put the issue beyond any doubt.
Saints suvived a late scare when a Charlie Mulgrew shot took a deflection off Mackay and Smith was finally called into action having to change direction in order to smother the ball under pressure from Steven McLean.
The home side’s Michael Duberry and Aberdeen sub Darren Mackie were both booked.
St Johnstone: Smith, Irvine, Grainger, Duberry, Mackay, Millar, Moon (Morais 57), Morris, Craig, Deuchar, Sheridan (Reynolds 82). Subs not used: Main, Connolly, Sheerin, Swankie, May.
Aberdeen: Langfield, Mulgrew, Foster, McDonald(Mackie 35), Diamond, Paterson(Aluko 51), Fyvie, Kerr, McLean, Paton, Ifil. Subs not used: Nelson, Young, Duff, Grassi, Marshall.
Referee: Charlie Richmond.