Craig Levein believes Nicky Clark’s late equaliser against Livingston could be looked back on as a crucial moment in St Johnstone’s season.

Saints jumped to ninth in the cinch Premiership after Clark nodded home with three minutes remaining to cancel out Andrew Shinnie’s opener.

The McDiarmid Park boss admitted it was a game that was unlikely to live long in the memory but insisted the end result could be significant in his side’s quest to avoid the drop.

“I think in the end it will be a good point,” Levein said.

“Two teams sitting at the bottom of the table who are obviously concerned about their league positions and who realise if it comes down to a scrap then they have to roll their sleeves up and really have a go.

“I think what you saw was the outcome of that pressure, there wasn’t much good football or calm thinking going on and it was a real fight.”

Levein was delighted for Clark, who came up with his sixth goal of the season to drag St Johnstone level.

It was the striker’s third game in the space of a week – his most consistent run of matches in what has been an injury-plagued season.

“Playing Nicky was a big one for me because I was really concerned about him breaking down,” Levein added.

“But if we can get quality balls into the box he’ll score goals.

“We had a lot of crosses but they were poor until Graham Carey put a great one in and then you wouldn’t want anyone else on the end of it other than Nicky.

“That’s what he does, he scores goals, he’s done it his whole career.”

David Martindale is adamant his Livingston team has what it takes to survive the drop, despite being denied the chance to move within four points of nearest rivals Ross County.

It was a familiar tale for Livi, who have now conceded important goals in each of their last three away league fixtures.

“It’s difficult, the players are fighting tooth-and-nail and anyone can see how much the players are putting into the games,” Martindale said.

“I’d never question their heart and their spirit, from matchday one to where we are just now, I think that has been there in abundance.

“The players are gutted in there, they’ve been gutted most games when they don’t pick three points up.

“But I’m trying to explain – and I’m not trying to come over delusional – if you’re 1-0 down and you score the late goal then it changes the narrative to a great point.”

St Johnstone denied Livingston a crucial win at McDiarmid Park as Nicky Clark’s late goal snatched them a 1-1 draw in a game littered with stoppages.

It looked as if the visitors were set to emerge victorious following Andrew Shinnie’s first-half opener, but Clark glanced home with three minutes left to give Saints a share of the spoils.

There was 20 minutes of stoppage time across the course of the match, with injuries preventing the game from having any sort of rhythm.

The hosts moved ahead of Aberdeen and up to ninth in the table, while the Lions remain bottom, though they have cut the gap between themselves and Ross County to six points.

Adama Sidibeh made a welcome return to the St Johnstone bench following a spell in hospital after collapsing on the pitch at the end of the 2-0 defeat to St Mirren a week ago.

There was little in the way of goalmouth action in a scrappy opening to proceedings and it took until the 25th minute for the first chance.

A loose pass from Dan Phillips was seized upon by Dan MacKay, but the Saints defence recovered just as the winger looked to get his shot away.

The visitors went close when Shinnie’s header from Sean Kelly’s free-kick dropped narrowly wide of the target.

Livingston were rewarded for their pressure when they broke the deadlock eight minutes before half-time.

Kelly’s corner was glanced on by Michael Devlin and Shinnie was on hand to brilliantly hook the ball beyond goalkeeper Dimitar Mitov from six yards.

Given the stop-start nature of the opening 45 minutes, it was little surprise when the fourth official indicated there would be eight minutes of added time – and that pattern was to continue as Diallang Jaiyesimi limped off to be replaced by Graham Carey.

St Johnstone finally mustered their first attempt on target in the final minute of stoppage time. Matt Smith picked out Clark who nodded weakly into the grateful arms of Shamal George when he really should have found the net.

It was Livi who began the second half the brighter, with Mitov twice called into action in the early stages.

The Bulgarian pulled off a brilliant stop to keep out MacKay’s swerving effort before diving low to grasp Cristian Montano’s shot.

David Keltjens’ cross narrowly evaded Stevie May as Saints chased a way back into the match, but their momentum continued to be interrupted by stoppages.

Kurtis Guthrie passed up a glorious opportunity to put the game out of reach of their hosts when he picked the pocket of Andy Considine and then raced clear on goal, only to then drag his angled drive past a post.

It was a moment the visitors would come to rue as Clark came up with a late leveller – nodding home Carey’s pinpoint delivery.

A further 10 minutes of time added on at the end of the second half presented both sides with an opportunity to claim victory, but Guthrie was hesitant at a crucial moment before laying the ball to Jason Holt who blazed over.

Aberdeen interim boss Neil Warnock admits he cannot be confident his side will avoid being drawn into a cinch Premiership relegation battle if they continue to concede “stupid” goals.

Warnock is still without a win in five league matches in charge – with Aberdeen winless in nine in total – and the Dons fell behind to a first-half Nicky Clark penalty after Richard Jensen’s handball.

Benjamin Kimpioka added a second late in the game and the Dons fans turned on their side and the clubs’ board.

Warnock confessed he understands their anger, saying: “You can understand that. They see the goals we’re conceding. We’ve had some good opportunities tonight, couldn’t score and we lose sloppy goals.

“It’s disheartening. The lads have to stop feeling sorry for themselves and we’ve got to get on with it. I’ve never experienced anything like it.

“Looking at the goals we’re conceding, do you see us winning another game? I can’t remember having a team concede goals like we are.

“You can’t legislate for the goals we’re conceding. We have quality but we still concede stupid goals.

“When you look at those goals, I don’t think anybody could be confident [of escaping a relegation battle]. It needs some experience here to look at what we’ve got and find a way to get something out of the games we have coming up”.

Saints boss Craig Levein hailed the character his side showed in bouncing back from a poor performance at St Mirren at the weekend, to add to Aberdeen’s misery.

He said: “On Saturday we didn’t turn up ready to fight which gave the opposition the advantage.

“The big question today was whether we could go out and deliver what we didn’t last week and I’m so proud of the performance today. We stood up to be counted in every single area of the pitch. It was a real team performance and a real fillip for us.

“We recognised that at Aberdeen the expectations are high and if the players and team don’t achieve what the supporters are looking for it can be quite tough.

“I’m only focusing on Saturday now and we’ll need to bring that type of performance. If we do, we’ll have a chance of taking something from the game”.

Aberdeen remain at risk of being drawn into a cinch Premiership relegation battle after the toothless Dons sank to defeat against St Johnstone.

Nicky Clark’s penalty late in the first half opened the scoring and Benjamin Kimpioka netted a second 13 minutes from time.

The win moves Craig Levein’s Saints level on points with the Dons as the two sides seemingly head on opposite trajectories.

Both sides rang the changes after weekend defeats, Aberdeen showing four changes after their 2-0 defeat to Kilmarnock, while Levein brought in five fresh players after defeat to St Mirren.

Neither side fashioned a clear view on goal in the opening period before a Matt Smith cross after 17 minutes found the experienced Clark, who tried to chest the ball home from close range, Kelle Roos saving comfortably.

Aberdeen were finding it hard to provide any service for lone striker Bojan Miovski and their best opportunities in the first half came from midfielders, Jamie McGrath forcing a fingertip save from Dimitar Mitov from a 25-yard free-kick, while Graeme Shinnie saw a shot from distance blocked by Liam Gordon.

The visitors were also shot-shy but they took the lead two minutes from the interval when Clark found the bottom left corner from the penalty spot after Richard Jensen’s handball.

The home side finally worked an opening for Miovski immediately afterwards but his subtle flick was easy for Mitov to hold.

A change of system at the interval saw Aberdeen become a more regular threat and Leighton Clarkson really should have levelled when he ran onto Roos’ long clearance but shot straight at Mitov.

Jonny Hayes flashed an effort wide and Clarkson hit over as the Dons searched for a leveller but the biggest threat to Levein’s side would be their own goalkeeper.

Mitov dropped a Connor Barron corner he looked to have full control of and his defenders scrambled to partially clear the ball before Miovski’s eventual shot was deflected over.

Two minutes later there was another scramble in front of goal, Mitov this time doing well to hold Stefan Gartenmann’s powerful header.

While Aberdeen may have had the volume of chances, the visitors looked sharp on the break with Kimpioka having the run of Gartenmann in particular and that would lead to the second goal.

Diallang Jaiyesimi’s ball over the top gave the striker something to chase and he drew Roos off his line before clipping home an angled shot to double his side’s lead.

Aberdeen huffed and puffed but as shouts of “sack the board” echoed round a rapidly emptying Pittodrie, Mitov in truth was rarely troubled.

New St Johnstone boss Craig Levein feels there is plenty of room for optimism despite the disappointment of seeing his side squander a two-goal lead against Motherwell.

Goals from Nicky Clark and Andy Considine had Saints in control at McDiarmid Park, though they would have to settle for a share of the spoils after conceding twice in the space of six second-half minutes.

It means Levein’s side remain bottom of the cinch Premiership table, though have moved within two points of Livingston in 11th.

“It’s obvious disappointment to be two-zero in front, have a fairly firm grip on the match – no manager would sit here and say he’s pleased with losing two goals in the second half,” he said.

“There were a lot of good things that I saw, we played some good football, created chances, scored two goals, and it was always the case that Motherwell would come into the game at some point, we just got spooked by it.

“The pleasing thing for me was at two each we started to grow again and we might have won it at the death. I’m disappointed, but not bitterly disappointed.”

Levein returned to the dugout for a Premiership match for the first time since October 2019, having taken up the managerial reins at Saints on Sunday.

It was the second time he has seen his new team in action and although he admitted to not enjoying being back in the dugout, the former Hearts and Dundee United boss believes he can help guide his new club to safety.

“I don’t know if it’s ever enjoyment, it’s just in the blood and a craving for torture,” he added.

“That’s two games I’ve watched, the Kilmarnock game and this game.

“There’s things that we can do better defensively for sure, the midfield looks pretty promising and we’ve got three good strikers as well.

“If I can keep everybody fit and keep working on the way we want to play then things will improve.”

Stuart Kettlewell praised the fighting spirting of his Motherwell side, though he insists it is time they stop giving themselves a mountain to climb.

Shane Blaney headed in with 22 minutes left before Mika Biereth turned home to complete the comeback for the Steelmen, who were booed off by the travelling fans at half-time.

“Disappointment is probably an understatement, it was sheer anger at half-time – it was anger from the players but especially myself and the staff,” Kettlewell said.

“We let ourselves down with two corners into our box, we don’t defend them properly.

“I think the players dragged themselves in by making better decisions and being much better on the front foot.

“I have to commend the players, I could sit here and continually be negative because it’s not what I want – I didn’t want to come here and get a point, I wanted to come and try to get three, as did the players and the supporters.

“I think in terms of the chances we created, I think we certainly at least deserved to get out of here with a point but I hate being in that position where you are fighting against the tide and having to show that much character to try drag ourselves back into the game.”

St Johnstone caretaker manager Alec Cleland hailed the reaction of his squad as they defeated Kilmarnock 2-1 in the first match since manager Steven MacLean was sacked.

Nicky Clark scored a double in the first 10 minutes and, although Kyle Vassell pulled a goal back and Dara Costelloe was sent off for the hosts, they held on to secure their first league win at the 10th attempt.

Cleland said: “I’m absolutely delighted because we had to dig deep in the end. Let’s not underestimate Kilmarnock. They pegged us back but we got off to a really good start.

“The fans started getting behind us and we started to get confidence to actually go and play so that was good.

“It was an entertaining game. We had to hang on in the end but we got the three points.

“I was asked to come in and take it for a game and that’s happened. I got a great response from the players and the staff as well who have helped massively.

“It was a joint effort from everybody and the reaction we got off the players and the fans was important as well.

“The league position doesn’t lie but there’s lots of points to play for and we have got a good squad in there so hopefully that can give them the confidence.”

The Saints caretaker also singled out striker Clark for praise after his first goals since last November got the Perth side off to a flying start.

He added: “Nicky (Clark) getting the two goals was brilliant and I think you saw the lift that gave the fans as well.

“Over Nicky’s career, with the clubs he’s been at, you’ve seen that he gets you goals. He’s a threat in the box, he’s got good hold up play and the problem with Nicky was just his niggly injuries.

“Now hopefully the strikers can stay fit and we can get Nicky especially a run in the team.”

Killie boss Derek McInnes bemoaned his side’s slow start as they failed to recover from the two early Clark strikes as they slipped down to fifth in the league.

McInnes said: “We played the ultimate price for such a slow start which is so unusual and unlike us. We’ve had a lot of praise recently for our defensive play and our competitiveness.

“We’ve been really aggressive from the outset. We’ve started games really well and we didn’t.

“St Johnstone have been in a poor place of late. They didn’t need any encouragement. You don’t want to give them a leg up.

“We played the majority of the game in their half but St Johnstone showed good spirit. Particularly when they went down to 10 men.

“I don’t think that particularly helped us because it kept them hemmed in and they defended their box well.

“We kept trying to play through them rather than going around them.

“We didn’t work the goalkeeper enough and we paid the ultimate price for a poor start. From 10 minutes into the game, we were the better team but it doesn’t count for anything because St Johnstone got their goals in that period and they did enough to win the game.”

Managerless St Johnstone finally ended their wait for a first league win of the season as they secured a hard-fought 2-1 victory over Kilmarnock at McDiarmid Park.

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.

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 Ryan 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.

© 2023 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.