HAMILTON Academical have come a long way in a week.
Beaten on the opening day of the season by Inverness, Alex Neil's side were already being written off as relegation certainties.
Two wins and six points later life looks a lot rosier for the newcomers and few would say they did not fully merit their latest success, despite its small margin. It was only in the closing stages, having failed to convert a string of chances, that they were put under any sustained pressure by St Johnstone.
Neil, forced to sit out the match after aggravating an injury during the warm-up, was suitably upbeat if somewhat cautious about making fanciful proclamations. "After the first game people had written us off and it was all doom and gloom," he said. "But I think we've shown we're better than that. We know we won't win every game but if we play like that we'll upset a few more teams."
Neil had originally selected the same side that had beaten St Mirren but was forced to draft in youngster Stephen Hendrie as his replacement. The switch may have been partially responsible for an early lapse which allowed Michael O'Halloran to run deep into Hamilton territory but the St Johnstone man failed to find the unmarked Adam Morgan.
Hamilton found their feet quickest and looked the more dangerous side especially when Danny Redmond found space on the left, the winger whipping over a cross which found Mickael Antoine-Curier rising above the visiting defence. However, his header was deflected inches wide.
The Perth side responded with Tam Scobbie's glancing effort which flashed wide following David Wotherspoon's cross.
It was Hamilton, though, who deservedly went ahead with a beautifully worked goal, started and finished by Darian Mackinnon. The midfielder found Ali Crawford who sent Antoine-Curier free on the right. While Crawford was screaming for the return, Antoine-Curier awaited the arrival of Mackinnon, who stabbed his shot goalward.
His effort may have taken a deflection and the finish lacked the quality of the build-up but then aesthetics are rarely debated in the aftermath of a goal.
St Johnstone were almost level instantly when a shot by the former Hamilton defender Brian Easton was deflected for a corner and, from Wotherspoon's corner, Scobbie's header was hacked off the line by Ziggy Gordon.
Hamilton were on top, though, and they almost had a second to emphasise their superiority when Crawford's half-volley drew a fine save from Alan Mannus.
Hendrie, on the overlap, then received Redmond's neat pass before his angled drive was blocked on the line by Steven Anderson. Hamilton had a scare on the restart when Michael McGovern rushed from his box in the hope of reaching a through ball ahead of Lee Croft only to lose the race to the St Johnstone substitute, who duly wasted the chance. The incident hardly sparked an onslaught from the visitors as chances dried up at both ends.
But they eventually woke from their slumber midway through the second period, Wotherspoon's cross found Anderson and he rattled the crossbar. The former then made space for a shot which curled inches wide.
The visitors should have levelled near the end when Steven MacLean found himself with the goal at his mercy but Martin Canning, a rock in the defence, made a superb clearance.
In a frantic end, MacLean struck the woodwork before St Johnstone had a penalty claim turned down for handball against Jesus Garcia Tena but an equaliser would have been harsh, a point conceded by St Johnstone manager Tommy Wright.
"If we learned anything today it's that you don't start a game at half-time," Wright said. "That's what we did and we paid the price. It was better in the second half and we maybe deserved a goal with the chances we created. But we were lucky to be only 1-0 [down] at half-time."