ONE latecomer to the pitch triggered the early exit of many from the stands at Fir Park yesterday.

The monotony of 86 minutes of poor passes, blocked shots and midfield scraps was shattered by a debut goal for Brian Graham, the on-loan Dundee United striker making his mark just 11 minutes into his year-long stay with St Johnstone.

As he wheeled away towards the pocket of fans rattling about in the away stand, the majority of Motherwell supporters were making their way to the exits. With five minutes plus injury time still to play, they had seen enough.

Loading article content

Last season, Stuart McCall saw his team put six goals past the Perth side on their visits to Lanarkshire, recording 4-0 and 2-1 wins. What he would have given yesterday for just one. In the latter stages McCall threw caution to the wind in an attempt to help his side find the net for the first time since the opening day of the SPFL Premiership.

He sent Lee Erwin and Bob McHugh on to join Henrik Ojamaa and John Sutton up front, but his act of courage went unrewarded in front of an emptying Fir Park.

McCall, who revealed he was without Stuart Carswell due to the midfielder being rushed to hospital on Friday night with a suspected allergic reaction, said: "There's no doubt it's a little bit of a struggle at the moment. There are a lot of players under-performing, but hopefully they just need a goal or something to kick-start their season."

It was a first half of little significance for either side. For the hosts, midfielder Paul Lawson, starting his first game since December due to injury, trundled a couple of shots straight at Alan Mannus before firing over from distance.

At the other end Dan Twardzik's main task was to comfortably catch a Scott Brown fizzer from 30 yards.

After the break there was a slight improvement, particularly from the hosts, and Sutton had two chances early on, the best of which Mannus saved brilliantly, the goalkeeper's outstretched leg diverting the forward's point-blank header off the line.

Josh Law should have done better than to blast just over after dispossessing Steven Anderson on the edge of the area minutes later.

For St Johnstone, a wayward cross from substitute Michael O'Halloran struck a post midway through the second half, while Gary McDonald squandered a free header inside the box.

But then came the sucker punch Motherwell fans have learned to fear in recent weeks to extend their losing streak to four games.

Slack defending on the right flank allowed McDonald time to whip a swinging cross on to the head of Graham, who thundered his header into the net with Twardzik stranded.

"It was a good team performance," said St Johnstone manager Tommy Wright. "The one bit of quality we produced was the cross from McDonald and a great header from Brian. He is a good goalscorer and appears a confident lad in training. He looks like a good acquisition for us."