St Johnstone manager Callum Davidson expressed his relief after a difficult second season in charge ended with a 4-0 win over Inverness to seal top-flight survival.
Saints’ season came down to the final 45 minutes with the aggregate score in their cinch Premiership play-off final against Inverness tied at 2-2 following a goalless first half in Perth.
Inverness were the better team in the opening period but half-time substitute Stevie May took less than 60 seconds to score from close range and Cammy MacPherson netted a deflected effort seven minutes later.
Inverness had chances to get back in the game but Callum Hendry and Shaun Rooney netted breakaway goals in the final three minutes to allow the fans to celebrate early.
“It is relief,” said Davidson, who won the Scottish Cup and League Cup in his debut campaign as a manager. “It’s been a hard, hard graft since November.
“I think we struggled, then we got players in, we fought, we battled. Some of the performances weren’t good. But we got there in the end and we’re still in the Premiership.”
Davidson was without nine players including Jamie McCart and lost Glenn Middleton to a hamstring injury at half-time.
“First half we were garbage,” he said. “I can’t repeat what I said at half-time.
“I thought we’d played it too slowly first half and we were too obvious and too slow with the balls played forward. We had to be quicker and set a tempo second half.
“Goals change games…and it changed it for us.”
Davidson expects to lose Zander Clark and McCart in the summer but hopes to hold on to other players.
“I think Zander’s a definite no, and Jamie,” he said. “But Shaun’s definitely one we’ll be fighting to keep, Callum Hendry, Murray Davidson.”
Inverness manager Billy Dodds was “proud and disappointed all at the same time”.
He said: “I thought we got where we wanted in the first half, my team were exceptional. We had the better chances. And if we just kept that shape and belief I thought we would have got something.
“But we lose that first goal, we were a wee bit out of position, and the deflection kills us and we had to chase the game, and then they score another two.
“We had a great chance in between but it was just a step too far – not through fitness, just through getting caught with the goals at the wrong times.”