St Johnstone emphatically sealed top-flight football for a 14th successive season against Inverness Caledonian Thistle in the Scottish Premiership play-off final.
With the sides tied 2-2 following Friday’s first leg, Stevie May came off the bench to put the hosts in front 51 seconds into the second half.
Cammy MacPherson’s first St Johnstone goal gave Callum Davidson’s side some breathing space before Callum Hendry and Shaun Rooney made sure of victory with identical chips.
Inverness had been the better side in the first half but remain in the Championship for a sixth campaign in a row.
With much for St Johnstone to lose, their play was hurried early on. MacPherson was booked for taking out Kirk Broadfoot and Dan Cleary’s rushed pass back sliced wide by goalkeeper Zander Clark.
Inverness midfielder David Carson followed MacPherson into the book after catching James Brown late as the opening half became ever more scrappy.
Brown nodded clear Wallace Duffy’s dangerous header and a further chance came the visitors’ way when Billy Mckay released Austin Samuels into the box, Clark saving well.
Saints could not find space in behind the Caley Thistle defence as they had in the first leg and a chance that fell Hendry’s way was snuffed out before the break.
Then, the pivotal change. Glenn Middleton was withdrawn injured by at half-time, heralding May’s arrival.
And Saints’ three-time domestic cup winner made his mark on the final with the opening goal, pouncing on the rebound to strike after Melker Hallberg’s header was saved.
The visitors had most of the second half to respond but soon found themselves two down. MacPherson collected Brown’s pass on the edge of the box and his powerful drive took a nick off a defender past Mark Ridgers.
Inverness had to replicate their feat of coming back from two down in the first leg and Samuels tested Clark before Aaron Doran swiped an excellent chance wide.
And Reece McAlear, who scored twice on Friday, found his way to goal blocked by desperate St Johnstone defending.
While the visitors threw players forward, Hendry peeled off to receive Hallberg’s pass and stay onside. The forward had a clear run at goal and lifted the ball past Ridgers.
St Johnstone were not finished there and Rooney, who scored the opening goal of the play-off final, took Cleary’s pass and produced a carbon copy of Hendry’s finish just two minutes later to secure a resounding victory.
Man of the match – Melker Hallberg
What did we learn?
St Johnstone’s season started juggling domestic and European matches following the previous term’s domestic cup double. It has ended with a close shave with relegation.
While a handful of Premiership managers have lost their jobs in recent months, Davidson has emerged as the obvious argument for keeping faith with an incumbent, his animated celebrations at full-time exuding both joy and relief.
The last thing he or anyone else associated with the Perth club will want is another relegation fight next term.
Inverness had defied the odds time and again in their three play-off ties – coming from behind to oust Partick Thistle, beating Arbroath on penalties after having two players sent off and scoring twice to peg back St Johnstone on Friday.
But getting a win at McDiarmid Park proved to be a bridge too far for Billy Dodds’ side.
They will start the next campaign as one of the favourites to win the second tier but will have at least one major obstacle in newly relegated Dundee.
More to follow.
- 18MacPhersonBooked at 5mins
- 14MiddletonSubstituted forMayat 45′minutes
- 15BroadfootBooked at 71mins
- 6DevineSubstituted forHardyat 82′minutes
- 8CarsonBooked at 20minsSubstituted forHarperat 74′minutes
- 4WelshSubstituted forAllardiceat 81′minutes
- 17ChalmersSubstituted forDoranat 65′minutes
Match ends, St. Johnstone 4, Inverness CT 0.
Second Half ends, St. Johnstone 4, Inverness CT 0.
Attempt missed. Austin Samuels (Inverness CT) right footed shot from outside the box is high and wide to the right. Assisted by Joseph Hardy.
Corner, Inverness CT. Conceded by Daniel Cleary.
Aaron Doran (Inverness CT) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Cameron MacPherson (St. Johnstone).
Goal! St. Johnstone 4, Inverness CT 0. Shaun Rooney (St. Johnstone) right footed shot from the right side of the box to the centre of the goal. Assisted by Daniel Cleary.
Offside, St. Johnstone. Melker Hallberg tries a through ball, but Stevie May is caught offside.
Goal! St. Johnstone 3, Inverness CT 0. Callum Hendry (St. Johnstone) right footed shot from the centre of the box to the bottom left corner. Assisted by Melker Hallberg with a through ball following a fast break.
Robbie Deas (Inverness CT) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Callum Hendry (St. Johnstone).
Attempt blocked. Reece McAlear (Inverness CT) left footed shot from the left side of the box is blocked.
Substitution, Inverness CT. Joseph Hardy replaces Danny Devine.
Substitution, Inverness CT. Scott Allardice replaces Sean Welsh.
Hand ball by Stevie May (St. Johnstone).
Offside, St. Johnstone. Liam Gordon tries a through ball, but Stevie May is caught offside.
Murray Davidson (St. Johnstone) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Austin Samuels (Inverness CT).
Attempt missed. Melker Hallberg (St. Johnstone) left footed shot from the right side of the box misses to the right.
Corner, St. Johnstone. Conceded by Austin Samuels.