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.”
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