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St Johnstone 2 Hibernian 0: Split decision goes to hosts

TWO goals separated these teams yesterday but they will be more emphatically divided by the SPFL Premiership split next month.

Defeat in Perth ended Hibernian's hopes of finishing in the top six, while confirming St Johnstone's place in the upper half of the table.

The afternoon started on a high note when curlers Eve Muirhead and Vicki Adams showed off the bronze medals won at the Winter Olympics in Sochi but there was nothing for Terry Butcher to celebrate at the end of it.

"What disappointed me most?" asked the Hibs manager. "A lot of things. We made six changes to the team and one of these was after I got a text from [first-choice goalkeeper] Ben Williams to say his wife was going to give birth so he couldn't play. I think he got a Hearts midwife. The baby was probably born at 3 o'clock this afternoon ... I'm joking, of course."

The Englishman has retained vivacity under questioning but the prospect of colourful copy has often been challenged by black and white statistics since his arrival at Easter Road from Inverness in November.

These are laid out conveniently in the league table and a list of Hibs results since the turn of the year, which shows they have won just once since January 2, at home to Ross County.

The prospect of contesting a match with the Dingwall side was greeted lustily by Butcher while he was in charge at Caley Thistle but facing another meeting with them now offers only a reminder of Hibs' failings this term albeit their foundations had been laid under predecessor Pat Fenlon.

Their chances of salvaging a top-six place were dented when Steven MacLean put St Johnstone ahead in the first half and fatally damaged when they went 2-0 behind and then a man down within two second-half minutes.

The red card can be recounted first since it left the greatest impression. Unfortunately said impression was on the midriff of David Wotherspoon after he was stamped on by Hibs' Danny Haynes. It was the most dangerous the on-loan Notts County forward had been to St Johnstone since sending a low shot past a post early in the game. That had caused a rare moment of alarm for the home side, goalkeeper Alan Mannus able to doze through much of the afternoon, albeit after he had clawed an errant header from Frazer Wright out from under his own crossbar.

"We were powder-puff in front of goal again," Butcher said.

Hibs goalkeeper Sean Murdoch, on the other hand, was beaten after 17 minutes of a busy afternoon. He saved MacLean's header from a corner kick but the striker recovered to force the rebound over the line.

St Johnstone's lead was doubled by Ryan McGivern's own goal after 54 minutes. Michael O'Halloran had burrowed his way into the penalty area and the Hibs full-back turned the cutback into his own net.

It was a moment of calamity which was nearly repeated when fellow defender Michael Nelson deflected a pass from Wotherspoon against a post.

Headers from Stevie May, Wotherspoon and May again were stopped only by the agility of Murdoch. He may be second-choice goalkeeper at Hibs but yesterday he played the role of the Little Dutch Boy.

Another wall will be put up between these teams when the league splits. "That's three times in a row we've been in the top six," said St Johnstone's assistant manager Callum Davidson, the St Johnstone manager, in charge while Tommy Wright recovers from gallbladder surgery. "The budget had to be cut again this year but we've managed to get there again."

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