Ryan McGowan played his first game in nearly three months as manager-less St Johnstone finally ended their wait for a first Scottish Premiership win of the season.
Australian veteran and 22-time Socceroo McGowan had not made an appearance since mid-August but the former Sydney FC defender was back in the starting line-up for St Johnstone in their 2-1 win over Kilmarnock on Thursday (AEDT).
In their first match since manager Steven MacLean lost his job, the Saints got off to a dream start with Nicky Clark grabbing a double in the first 10 minutes.
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Kilmarnock grew into the game, though, and Kyle Vassell’s volley got them back into the game just after half-time.
The Perth side had to see out the last 15 minutes with 10 men after Dara Costelloe was red-carded for a late tackle on Matty Kennedy but they held on to move within three points of 11th-placed Livingston.
St Johnstone caretaker boss Alec Cleland had made three changes from the side who were hammered by St Mirren in Paisley on Saturday, with McGowan, Graham Carey and Chris Kane restored to the starting line-up. Meanwhile, Kilmarnock were unchanged from their impressive win over Aberdeen on Sunday.
The Saints had not won in their first nine matches in the cinch Premiership but they flew out of the traps, making the breakthrough after just 42 seconds.
Chris Kane’s initial shot from the edge of the box was saved by Will Dennis but Clark followed up to tap in and give the hosts the lead. The linesman initially chalked the strike off for offside before the decision was reversed following a VAR review.
It soon got even better for the Saints just six minutes later with Clark again on target. It was the simplest of goals, as Carey whipped in an in-swinging free-kick from the left wing that was well met by the head of striker Clark.
Kilmarnock were shell-shocked but they attempted to press forward and Kennedy fired their first effort of note narrowly wide from just outside the box in the 21st minute.
It was St Johnstone who remained on top however and they were inches away from adding a third in the 29th minute through an unlikely source. Captain Liam Gordon advanced forward and unleashed a long-range shot that skimmed the crossbar via a deflection.
The Saints were rampant and Kane was next to try his luck, juggling the ball from the resulting corner before acrobatically volleying onto the roof of the net.
The away side’s next chance didn’t come until the 40th minute as Vassell saw his volley from 10 yards well blocked and Stuart Findlay also came close with a header as a flurry of Kilmarnock corners ended the first half.
Killie had finished the half well and they carried this momentum into the second period, grabbing a lifeline on 47 minutes.
Kennedy delivered a precise cross from the left and Vassell volleyed home from around the penalty spot. Saints keeper Dimitar Mitov got a hand to it but he could only push the ball onto the post and into the net.
After an action-packed first half, the second period was a tighter affair but it was Killie sensing the chance at an equaliser as the game wore on.
Danny Armstrong’s deliveries were causing problems and Joe Wright should have done better with a free header that he steered wide from six yards out in the 71st minute.
St Johnstone’s attempts to see out the game then suffered a blow with 15 minutes remaining as Costelloe was sent off for a reckless late challenge on Kennedy as the winger advanced down the touchline.
Referee Calum Scott initially gave a yellow card before awarding a red after being sent to the screen by VAR Willie Collum.
It looked set up for a grandstand finish but, despite Kilmarnock throwing in a number of crosses, St Johnstone saw out the remainder of the game in relative comfort as they secured a much-needed first league win.