Hibernian 2 - 3 St Johnstone: Sandaza strike seals win for Saints

Leigh Griffiths scores from the penalty spot for Hibernian. Picture: SNS
Leigh Griffiths scores from the penalty spot for Hibernian. Picture: SNS
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HIBS were at the centre of a five-goal thriller for the third match in succession, but having beaten Cowdenbeath and Dunfermline, Pat Fenlon’s side were on the wrong end this time as St Johnstone claimed the points.

And combined with Dunfermline’s win at Kilmarnock, the Easter Road side find themselves just one point off bottom in the SPL table - with the Pars enjoying a game in hand.

Lee Croft drills St Johnstone in front on his debut. Picture: SNS

Lee Croft drills St Johnstone in front on his debut. Picture: SNS

Lee Croft and Liam Craig twice had the Saints ahead only to be pegged back by goals from Leigh Griffiths, via the penalty spot, and Callum Booth, before Fran Sandaza settled matters once and for all three minutes from time.

Hibs had the ball in the net within nine minutes, Garry O’Connor getting on the end of Griffiths’ cross only to find the offside flag raised against him.

Saints hit back, winning a corner on the left, Murray Davidson rising to meet new boy Lee Croft’s cross only to see his header hit the back of team-mate Sandaza, the ball falling for O’Connor to clear.

Griffiths’ movement from flank to flank was causing the visiting defence problems and the on-loan Wolves striker brilliantly took down a long ball from Callum Booth before drilling in a low cross to meet O’Connor’s near post run but his team-mate was unable to connect.

Another clearance from Booth found O’Connor in space in the inside left channel but Saints goalkeeper Peter Enckelman got his angles right, managing to get his body in the way.

But it was the Perth club which took the lead on the half-hour mark, Croft’s initial shot blocked by Paul Hanlon but with the Hibs defender on the deck, the former Derby County player found the way to goal opening up for him and he needed no second invitation, drilling the ball into the corner of the net.

Hibs should possibly have equalised six minutes later when Griffiths superbly turned Steven Anderson on the halfway line before sprinting away with O’Connor in support. Griffiths, however, elected to go it alone rather than lay in his team-mate and his low shot zipped wide.

Enckelman was tested again with a powerful effort from Ivan Sproule, but again the big Finn was up to the task, making sure he got the ball off target.

But it was Hibs goalkeeper Mark Brown who twice came to his side’s rescue within the space of seconds, pushing a Dave Mackay free-kick round the post and from the resulting corner producing a great fingertip save to prevent the same player’s header finding the net.

A terrific ball from Michael Hart presented Lewis Stevenson with a glorious opportunity to equalise 11 minutes into the second half, finding the little midfielder running between the centre-backs. Stevenson’s first touch appeared perfect but he all but threw himself off his feet trying to get his shot away.

Again Hibs looked fragile at the back, goalkeeper Brown getting down to put a strong hand on Marcus Haber’s shot before Murray Davidson nodded a Liam Craig cross just wide.

Brown was again Hibs hero 64 minutes, in blocking Sandaza’s effort after the Rangers target had been allowed to run some 50 yards unchallenged into his penalty area.

But Hibs survived those scares to equalise from the penalty spot in the 69th minute, referee Euan Norris having no hesitation in pointing to the spot as Anderson held Griffiths who stepped up to send Enckelman the wrong way.

Hibs, though, were behind again within a minute, the cheers of the home fans choking in their throats as a long ball forward found Craig who homed in to slide the ball wide of Brown, the home side once more guilty of slack defending.

Griffiths, though, went close to claiming another equaliser, beating the onrushing Enckelman to ball only to see his header clip the top the bar.

The Hibs fans were back on their feet six minutes from time when that second goal did come, Booth charging into the Saints penalty area once more to guide a lowe curling shot into the far corner of the net.

Again, though, Hibs celebrations were cut short as Sandaza was allowed to wheel and fire home a terrific shot from 18 yards to restore Saints lead once again.

Hibs: Brown; Hart, Stephens, Hanlon, Booth; Francomb (Wotherspoon 56), Osbourne, Stevenson, Sproule (Galbraith 65); O’Connor (Doyle 65), Griffiths. Substitutes not used: Stack, O’Hanlon, Towell, Smith.

St Johnstone: Enckelman; Mackay, McCracken, Anderson, C Davidson; Croft (Compton 74), Morris, M Davidson, Craig; Sandaza, Haber (Sheridan 83). Substitutes not used: Mannus, Maybury, Moffat, Stewart, Gray.

Referee: Euan Norris.