Jim Goodwin, the Dundee United manager, joked that this was a game that would come last in the weekend TV highlights packages, but there was little for the Irishman to smile about after this one.

Liam Gordon netted the only goal of the game minutes before the break with the defender’s striker giving St Johnstone the spoils. It came after a catalogue of mistakes in United’s box as Charlie Mulgrew’s sclaffed clearance fell to Stevie May who aimed a fresh air swipe at the ball. It broke to Gordon on the edge of the box who drilled a low effort into the bottom corner.

In truth there was not much between the teams but the league table would tell a slightly different story. St Johnstone’s first home win since early November means they can breathe a little easier going into the final four games of the season with a five point cushion over United and Kilmarnock and a six-point gap over Ross County.

The bottom triumvirate have just a point between them with the next few weeks requiring strong stomachs all round. Goodwin remains confident that his side have the mettle for it although next Saturday’s game as they host the Highlanders will offer a compelling indication of whether he is correct.

They will go into the one without the influence of veteran defender Mulgrew. Dismissed just after the hour mark for a swipe at Melker Hallberg as the Swede looked to escape his clutches down the channel, he will be suspended for the game against Ross County. Certainly, Goodwin’s post-match comments would not appear to point to any appeal of a decision that was checked by VAR.

“I haven’t had the chance to watch it back so I’ll wait and see, and sit with the analyst,” said the United manager. “Charlie has been a very important player. We’ll have a look back at the situation. Was there a covering defender? Was it a clear goalscoring opportunity? And we’ll assess that on Monday morning and decide what way we want to go. If

he does miss out then it’s an opportunity for someone else to step in and we’ve got good quality. Ryan Edwards is club captain and knows what it takes.”

St Johnstone might have made the game more comfortable had Theo Bair not scudded an effort high over the bar after Zak Rudden had played the ball into his path although the woodwork also prevented two points slipping from St Johnstone’s grasp; in the frantic final seconds of this encounter Steven Fletcher cannoned a volley off the frame of the goal from Rory MacLeod’s dipping cross.

“If Fletcher’s effort at the end goes in then, over the piece, a draw would have been a fair outcome,” said Goodwin. “I don’t think it was a particularly good game of football and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s the last game on the highlights show tomorrow night!”

United had actually started the game looking the more menacing of the teams with Jamie McGrath influential in those opening exchanges.

It was indicative of just how jittery St Johnstone were that a routine passback from James Brown to keeper Remi Matthews was overhit to gift Dundee United a corner. It came to nothing but it served as a reminder of the weight of the game and the nervousness around it.

St Johnstone slowly found their feet but United will rue Ian Harkes weak header straight into the arms of Matthews as well as an effort from Ilmari Niskanen that was deflected over the bar by Matthews.

It was a sign of St Johnstone’s growing belief in the game that Graham Carey whipped a free-kick over the bar at the other end while Adam Montgomery also drew a smart save from Mark Birighitti after cutting inside.

Carey produced the best move of the game when he beat Aziz Behich with his effort bringing out a one-handed save from Birighitti who palmed the effort over the bar before Gordon broke the deadlock.

“It’s one result but it’s a big one,” said interim Saints manager Steven MacLean. “But we’re not going to settle for one win against Dundee United. We’ve got to look at the next four games but I’m only looking at Motherwell now and we’ve got to go and beat them.

“It’s massive but it’s only a cushion. I think it was deserved.

I thought we played well.

“I want to keep winning. I’m

not just about one or two games.

I want to go on a run and I want to make this team better like I know they can be.”

Yet to have any discussions about his long-term position at the club, he will know that the best audition is a winning team.

“I spoke to him [the chairman] on Thursday,” said MacLean. “He was good. He asked me how it had been and I thank him for giving me the opportunity. Hopefully he can sleep well now.”