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Liam Craig winner against Hibernian keeps St Johnstone’s top-six hopes alive

St Johnstone v Celtic – Ladbrokes Scottish Premiership – McDiarmid Park
(Image credit: Jeff Holmes)

Liam Craig’s first-half strike gave St Johnstone a narrow 1-0 home win over Hibernian to keep their Scottish Premiership top-six hopes alive.

The 34-year-old midfielder provided the highlight of the game in the 16th minute with a fine curling finish from distance.

Jack Ross’ visitors improved markedly after the break and put the home side under severe pressure at times but Saints defended resolutely to earn three valuable points.

With one game remaining before the split, the seventh-placed Perth side moved to within two points of St Mirren, who were beaten by champions-elect Rangers at Ibrox.

Third-placed Hibs are now three points ahead of Aberdeen with a game in hand over the Dons as the season enters the business end.

There was little finesse about the early stages of the match as the ball took a battering.

Both sides expended maximum energy with minimum return before a fine demonstration of technique brought the breakthrough.

Craig’s goal came after wing-back Callum Booth’s deep cross from the left meant for Ali McCann was cleared out only to the former Hibs player 25 yards from goal.

With time and space available he took a touch and placed a shot into the bottom corner of the net for his first goal since the opening day of the season.

The match then lapsed back into attrition.

In the 39th minute a Hibs move ended with Joe Newell taking a pass from fellow midfielder Jackson Irvine at the edge of the box but his left-footed drive fizzed past the far post.

The visitors started the second half with some zeal and Irvine headed a Martin Boyle corner past a post, albeit he appeared to know little about it.

As Hibs kept up the pressure, captain Paul Hanlon headed a Boyle cross over from six yards.

In the 58th minute, a last-man tackle by Craig on Kevin Nisbet which left the Hibs striker prostrate was deemed fair by referee David Dickinson but the Easter Road contingent were not convinced.

Then Saints keeper Zander Clark palmed a shot from substitute Christian Doidge, on for Chris Cadden, over the bar but again the home side survived the corner.

Hibs kept going and in the 78th minute defender Josh Doig flashed a shot from 20 yards over the bar before firing just wide of the target with a powerful drive and Saints breathed their relief again.

The hosts held out for four added minutes in which their defender Jamie McCart made a terrific last-gasp block, after Ross picked up a yellow card for venting his frustration on the sideline.