As the saying goes, there’s always two sides to every story. Friends they may be away from the dugout, but opposing managers Tommy Wright and Stephen Robinson could hardly have had more starkly different takes on events at McDiarmid Park on Saturday afternoon as a chaotic second half ended with the three points remaining in Perth.
St Johnstone’s home patch is a difficult enough place to go, let alone when you finish the game with eight men, but that’s what happened to Motherwell as they shipped four goals and three players to fall to their second defeat from two in the league.
Goalkeeper Trevor Carson, captain Carl McHugh and defender Charles Dunne all saw red, Dunne for the second time in three days. Of those dismissals, perhaps only McHugh can’t have too much cause for complaint, and it is safe to say that referee Craig Thomson shouldn’t wait by the letterbox this Christmas for any seasonal greetings from Fir Park.
Carson was judged to have handled outside the area as David Wotherspoon closed in on him, McHugh picked up two yellow cards – the second of which for a two-footed lunge on Brian Easton that probably merited a yellow despite the midfielder winning the ball – and Dunne seemed to foul Graham Cummins in the act of shooting solely through the use of some Jedi mind trick, such was the lack of contact to the naked eye. Motherwell are considering appeals over the reds shown to Carson and Dunne.
“I think to say the first red card changes the game is obvious because we were dominating the game,” said Motherwell manager Stephen Robinson, who’s entire post-match press conference had to be carefully deciphered through his incredulous laughter.
“At 2-1 we were taking the game to them, having chance after chance, but the decision totally changes the game. I believe the linesman gave it, he doesn’t have to put his flag up, so it takes pressure off them. It is on the line and for the third one Charles doesn’t touch him. He says he has moved out of the way so I don’t know how that’s a red card.
“If you look at their first goal it is a handball by Murray Davidson but he gets the free kick. I can’t control the decision making from the referee but I can make our defending better.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Robinson’s opposite number vehemently disagreed with his countryman’s assessment, and it was hard not to feel a little sorry for Saints, who will be denied due credit for their victory.
That has been a sore point around these parts of late, and not to risk Wright’s wrath, this win had almost as much to do with a typically resolute performance from his side, capped off by clinical finishing and moments of magic from O’Halloran, as it did with the interventions the referee.
Wright said: “I’m going to have a different opinion than Stephen and that’s always the way it is.
“If the referee makes those three decisions in three different games, there probably wouldn’t be a big hullabaloo about it, but there will be because it’s three in the one game.
“It will take away from our result, but we’ll wake up tomorrow morning with three points, and that’s the most important thing.”
It is a particular shame for tje excellent O’Halloran that his two goals were overshadowed by the controversy over Motherwell’s dismissals.
St Johnstone now have two wins in their opening two fixtures, and they looked to be cruising here with a typically predatory goal from Steven MacLean and O’Halloran’s first strike after a mazy run within the first 20 minutes, despite Motherwell having the better of the general play.
Andy Rose headed ‘Well back into contention from a McHugh free-kick and they looked good for an equaliser before the cards started flying like confetti in their direction.
O’Halloran scored yet another fine solo effort drifting in off the left with ‘Well down to 10, before he blew the chance of a hat-trick from the spot after Dunne’s dismissal, substitute keeper Russell Griffiths pulling off a decent save.
With Motherwell down to eight late on and with St Johnstone having more space to work in than an astronaut aboard ISS, there was still time for Murray Davidson to put the tin lid on a miserable day for the Steelmen, finishing from a Ricky Foster cutback.
As the fur was flying, O’Halloran’s manager made sure to pick out the returning hero for praise.
“The relationship that I have with him and he has with the other players and the fans here, it was a no-brainer,” Wright added. “He’s come back and I think he’s even better.
“To score three goals already is an incredible start for him, and they are three quality goals.
“He will be disappointed with the penalty because he’s a perfectionist, he’s the ultimate professional, and it would have been nice for him to get a hat-trick.
“We now know that when it’s 0-0, he’ll not be taking them!”
St Johnstone: Mannus; Foster, Shaughnessy, Anderson, Easton; Scougall (Cummins, 70’), Davidson, Paton, Wotherspoon (Alston, 75’), O’Halloran; MacLean (Hendry, 81’).
Scorers: MacLean (8’), O’Halloran (18’, 74′), Davidson (92′)
Motherwell: Carson; Tait (Tanner, 70’), Kipre, Heneghan, Dunne; Cadden, Bigirimana (Griffiths, 64′), McHugh, Rose; Bowman (Moult, 57’), Fisher.
Scorers: Rose (28’)
Sent off: Carson, McHugh, Dunne