St Johnstone snatched a place in the Scottish Premiership’s top six in dramatic style after Glenn Middleton’s late winner against Ross County.
The Perth side had not been in the top half of the division since September.
But Middleton’s goal, coupled with Kyle Munro’s late equaliser for Hamilton Academical at home to St Mirren, means the Perth men will finish in the top six for the second year in a row.
County are now just two points above bottom-of-the-table Hamilton.
And John Hughes’ men are just a point clear of the play-off spot after Kilmarnock’s win over Motherwell.
Nothing less than a win would do if St Johnstone were to leapfrog St Mirren and their determination was clear from the beginning.
Ali McCann had a shot tipped wide, Shaun Rooney’s flashing effort was deflected past, and Chris Kane latched on to a through ball but had his route to goal blocked by goalkeeper Ross Laidlaw.
The home side also delivered seven first-half corners into the box, but the Highlanders defended gallantly to keep themselves level at the break.
Laidlaw got his body behind Liam Craig’s shot as St Johnstone continued to be the aggressors in the second half, though Coll Donaldson scooped a promising opportunity over the bar for the visitors.
St Johnstone kept coming, though. They had strong claims for a penalty when a cross hit the arm of Alex Iacovitti and, a minute later, Middleton got ahead of the defence but poked his effort wide.
But finally they broke the deadlock when substitute May burrowed into the box and cut back for Middleton, who turned and swept home from close range.
May had a free-kick pushed away as time ticked away with Callum Davidson’s side still set to miss out on a place in the top six. But then news filtered though of that late goal at Hamilton.
Man of the match – Liam Craig
What did we learn?
St Johnstone lacked a cutting edge for much of the game, with 13 corners also not delivering them much joy. But Middleton showed showed a real bit of quality to break the deadlock.
County offered little as an attacking threat, but had defended resolutely and looked like earning a vital point before their resistance finally broke.
What did they say?
St Johnstone manager Callum Davidson: “We played on the front foot and dominated most of the game. We had three glorious chances to score before we did and it got a bit nervy. Once the news came through it was 1-1 [at Hamilton], it got a big edgy.
“We were bottom of the league at one point but the lads have been terrific since the end of December. The players deserve this, they’ve worked unbelievably hard and have been a credit.”
Ross County manager John Hughes: “That’s the worst we’ve been, there’s no point in sugar-coating it. But they hung in, that’s the only credit I could give them.
“We were second best all over the pitch. Had we got anything it would have been an injustice on St Johnstone.”
Both sides await their post-split fixtures, with the first of their games to be on Saturday 10 April.
The week before that, St Johnstone are at Dundee in the third round of the Scottish Cup, while Ross County will be at home to either Buckie Thistle or Inverness Caledonian Thistle.
- 24BoothSubstituted forTanserat 75′minutes
- 17MelamedSubstituted forMiddletonat 75′minutes
- 9KaneSubstituted forMayat 64′minutes
- 25DonaldsonBooked at 83minsSubstituted forHyltonat 90′minutes
- 24PatonSubstituted forShawat 87′minutes
- 22TillsonBooked at 81mins
- 19LakinSubstituted forGardyneat 63′minutes
- 9MckaySubstituted forVigursat 63′minutesBooked at 89mins
Match ends, St. Johnstone 1, Ross County 0.
Second Half ends, St. Johnstone 1, Ross County 0.
Corner, Ross County. Conceded by Liam Craig.
Attempt blocked. Jason Naismith (Ross County) right footed shot from the right side of the box is blocked. Assisted by Jermaine Hylton.
Foul by Stevie May (St. Johnstone).
Iain Vigurs (Ross County) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
David Wotherspoon (St. Johnstone) wins a free kick on the left wing.
Foul by Jordan Tillson (Ross County).
Foul by Stevie May (St. Johnstone).
Jason Naismith (Ross County) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Jason Kerr (St. Johnstone) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Jordan White (Ross County).
Substitution, Ross County. Jermaine Hylton replaces Coll Donaldson.
Attempt saved. Stevie May (St. Johnstone) right footed shot from outside the box is saved in the centre of the goal.
Iain Vigurs (Ross County) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Alistair McCann (St. Johnstone) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Foul by Iain Vigurs (Ross County).
Substitution, Ross County. Oli Shaw replaces Harrison Paton.
Goal! St. Johnstone 1, Ross County 0. Glenn Middleton (St. Johnstone) right footed shot from the centre of the box to the centre of the goal. Assisted by Stevie May.
Corner, St. Johnstone. Conceded by Leo Fuhr Hjelde.