Goals by Kris Boyd and strike-partner Lee Erwin aided Kilmarnock as they leapfrogged Heart of Midlothian into 5th spot in the SPFL Ladbrokes Premiership, with a game in-hand over the Capital club.
The hosts came into the game looking to make it 8 matches unbeaten while St Johnstone looked to add to their four points which they have picked up in the top-tier since returning from the winter break.
Lee Erwin had the first chance of the match inside the opening 60 seconds but his header flashed past the post following an Aaron Tshibola delivery from the right. Then, moments later it was the Saints turn to have a pop at goal as Blair Alston tried his luck from outside the area, but his attempt went high and wide of Jamie MacDonald’s goal.
Jordan Jones shot straight at Alan Mannus while David Wotherspoon curled his effort off-target at the other end as the match swung from end-to-end inside the opening 15 minutes of this re-arranged encounter.
Murray Davidson and on-loan Fulham winger George Williams saw their attemots blocked as Tommy Wright’s men started to assert some dominance on their Ayrshire opponents, despite MacDonald not yet having to make a save in the Killie goal.
A left-footed Kris Boyd attempt was wide of Mannus’ goal before Chris Kane fired high over the bar at the other end. Neither keeper was seriously tested in the opening 25 minutes of this match, but the opening goal wasn’t far away.
Jones showed good footwork to make his way into the penalty box on the left and the Northern Irishman won a penalty as Aaron Comrie dived in and fouled the tricky winger. The full-back complained to referee Willie Collum that he had won the ball but the match official would not be swayed as he pointed to the spot.
Captain Boyd stepped up on the half-hour mark to sink his spot-kick into the back of the next, sending Mannus the wrong way, as Steve Clarke’s side took the lead at Rugby Park in front of the small band of visiting supporters from Perth.
The first-half seemed to be petering out to a close following the deadlock being broken, with neither side creating anything of note. However, three minutes before the interval, Chris Millar was caught in possession 30-yards from his own goal by Jones who raced towards the penalty area; youngster Jason Kerr slid in to try and deal with the danger but the former East Fife loanee was given his marching orders by Collum who sent the defender off for his foul on the wide-man 22-yards out.
The resultant free-kick was blasted over by Boyd before Wright switched things up prior to the interval as another young centre-back was brought on. Liam Gordon replaced striker Kane, as St Johnstone looked to keep the back door shut, to allow them to try and salvage something from this league clash.
The substitution didn’t make an instant impact as Jones fired in a right-footed effort which Mannus saved low to the right before Erwin hit the post from close-range right on the stroke of half-time. It looked as though Killie’s lead was doubled as Tshibola fired home from outside the area on the rebound but Boyd was adjudged to have unsighted Mannus from an offside position and the goal was disallowed, to the relief of the away side.
The Perth club made a second change at the break, as Welsh international Williams was replaced by Denny Johnstone in attack. However, this didn’t help the cause of the visitors as Clarke’s men continued to pile on the misery for Tommy Wright.
Boyd had a header go wide in the opening stages of the second period before Erwin’s shot went high and didn’t trouble Northern Irish goalkeeper Mannus. Another chance fell to the ex-Motherwell forward before he finally found the net on 58 minutes.
After good play in the middle of the park by Alan Power, Erwin received the ball on the right before cutting in-field; the left-footed curling effort flew past Mannus to increase Kilmarnock’s advantage with just over half-an-hour remaining.
Jones looked to confirm the three points with a third goal but his attempt on this occasion was off-target as St Johnstone got their first opportunity of the second-half at the other end: after Stuart Findlay conceded a corner, Gordon got his head on the delivery which forced MacDonald into his only save of the evening.
Boyd headed over the bar from inside the penalty area before Kyle McClean came on for Millar in the centre of the park, in the final change of the evening by the Saintees.
Eamonn Brophy was also brought on, for Kilmarnock, as Boyd took a seat on the bench, earning a well-deserved rest. Fresh impetus in attack was the idea by Clarke as he looked to increase his men’s goal-difference against a tiring 10-man St Johnstone.
Brophy saw an attempt blocked on 71 minutes before Tshibola headed over the bar minutes later. Jones tried his luck from distance from a direct free-kick but that effort sailed harmlessly off-target.
However, soon after the creative playmaker was substituted due to injury, being replaced by Adam Frizzell for the final 10 or so minutes remaining in the match. Brophy came close to scoring a third for the home side but his effort went narrowly wide of the top right-hand corner before right-back Stephen O’Donnell came even closer, forcing Mannus into a terrific low stop to deny the former Luton Town player.
Lee Erwin followed up on this attempt but his left-footed effort was dragged past the post as Aaron Simpson, on-loan from Hull City, replaced Greg Taylor for the final few moments as the game came towards a close. O’Donnell tried again to get his name on the scoresheet, in the final act of the match, but his right-footed effort was unable to add further salt into the wounds of the visitors, who looked beleaguered as they trudged off the park at the end. In contrast, the 3,500 or so home fans who turned up for the match left in joyous mood, having saw their side hit the 40 point mark, putting them only 8 points behind fourth placed Hibernian and 12 off third spot, which Aberdeen currently occupy.
FULL-TIME: Kilmarnock 2-0 St Johnstone
1. James MacDonald
2. Stephen O’Donnell
17. Stuart Findlay
12. Greg Taylor (Aaron Simpson 84′)
6. Alan Power
8. Gary Dicker
27.. Aaron Tshibola
22. Lee Erwin
9. Kris Boyd (Eamonn Brophy 68′)
11. Jordan Jones (Adam Frizzell 79′)
32. Leo Fasan (GK)
7. Rory McKenzie
16. Scott Boyd
20. Iain Wilson
21. Adam Frizzell
25. Eamonn Brophy
26. Aaron Simpson
1. Alan Mannus
14. Aaron Comrie
15. Jason Kerr
5. Joe Shaughnessy
3. Scott Tanser
4. Blair Alston
7. Chris Millar (Kyle McClean 67′)
8. Murray Davidson
10. David Wotherspoon
25. Chris Kane (Liam Gordon 44′)
11. George Williams (Denny Johnstone 45′)
12. Zander Clark (GK)
17. Denny Johnstone
20. Kyle McClean
23. Liam Gordon
26. Liam Craig
28. Matty Willock
37. Alistair McCann
Referee: Willie Collum