St Mirren suffered an unfortunate 2-1 defeat away to St Johnstone in Perth. Saints took a big travelling support to Perth in the hope of another 9-goal thriller (the 540 fans reported by the McDiarmid administration was met by a collective snort of derision), but were left disappointed by goals from former Buddie Nigel Hasselbaink and Murray Davidson which were enough to render Lewis Guy’s goal a mere consolation. Steven Thompson, Sam Parkin and Lewis Guy all started in a very attack-minded team from Danny Lennon. All references below to the “Saints” are of course all referring to the true Saints of Paisley.
Saints started the brighter, with some nice crisp passing and good vision down the left hand side especially. Kenny McLean offered a threat from the right hand side of midfield also, and he went close with a flashing cross across the face of goal early on, followed by a curling shot which unfortunately sailed wide. Referee Alan Muir made Saints’ midfield battle a lot harder by booking Jim Goodwin for a mistimed tackle on Gregory Tadé. It was an incredibly harsh decision as it was Jim’s first offence, and worse tackles went unpunished by the haphazard official. Poor Jim can’t seem to catch a break at the moment with cautions, it does seem that his card is marked so to speak, and referees are just waiting for the slightest slip from the big Irishman.
The game suddenly became rather flat, much like the ball that the referee felt deserved replacing. St Mirren’s lowered tempo and slack passing allowed the hosts to exert their dominance on the game. Murray Davidson showed the first signs of that after volleying wide of goal. A weak Steven Thompson shot was sandwiched by a more glaring St Johnstone chance minutes later. Nigel Hasselbaink was a thorn in his former employer’s side all afternoon and set up Gary Miller for a simple tap in. However the goal bound effort was superbly blocked by Newcastle United loanee Paul Dummett. The visitors did not heed the warning as it was Hasselbaink who inevitably scored after 22 minutes. The youngster picked up the ball outside the penalty area, ghosted past an invisible Lee Mair before slipping the ball past Craig Samson for the opening goal. You felt it was coming, yet the Dutchman’s deft finish seemed harsh on Saints at the same time.
Saints passed up two great chances to level. Sam Parkin headed wildly over from a Thompson flick-on, whilst Graham Carey spurned a great chance after St Johnstone keeper Alan Mannus had gifted the ball to him unchallenged in the penalty area. The Irishman had time to shoot, but fired straight at the Perth keeper who did well to beat the ball clear.
If the first goal was harsh on the visitors, then the second was just cruel. It was that man Hasselbaink again displaying a great run across the 25 yard line completely unchallenged once more. He laid the ball to the right to Gary Miller, whose swerving cross was parried by Samson only for Murray Davidson to poke the ball home on 38 minutes to leave Saints deflated.
The only difference at the break was that cutting edge that Saints sorely lacked. The hosts were quicker with their decision making, and bullied Saints in the midfield following Goodwin’s early booking. The system sadly wasn’t working, and an unfortunate Sam Parkin was substituted to leave a straightforward Thompson-Guy partnership with Dougie Imrie introduced to offer some much needed width. A sharper second period was in order, and we certainly saw that just 3 minutes after the restart.
Imrie showed a little of what attracted Danny Lennon to him in his time at Hamilton by cutting inside from the right, but Mannus successfully pushed away his powerful near post shot. A goalmouth scramble followed soon after, and it seemed the entire 22 players were in the home penalty area. However after much pinball wizardry, Steven Thompson’s shot was blocked to add to the visitors’ frustration. Thomas Reilly was introduced in place of Kenny McLean in the hope of another last minute equaliser from the 17 year-old. He came close when he headed wide minutes from time. However Saints were denied what appeared to be a glorious penalty claim in stoppage time. A newly introduced Jon Robertson broke into the penalty box, laid the ball to his right before he was scythed down by Tam Scobbie. Alan Muir, who had a characteristically poor game reeking of inconsistency for both teams, did not want to know and it was the Perth Saints who went home with all three points. In further acts of desperation the referee booked Mair and Thompson for dissent presumably, as his decisions became further erratic.
The frustrating fact of the matter was that the hosts had the game won by half time. A mixture of weak physical play and zero cutting edge proved the Buddies’ downfall. There was no shortage of effort however, although undeniably were beaten pound for pound by a hungrier St Johnstone side. But yet still a draw would have been a far fairer reflection on St Mirren’s authority over their hosts in the second half. My Star Saint was Marc McAusland. In a near flawless performance he was the sole preventer of any St Johnstone breakaway, and put in another excellent display which is slowly but surely proving his doubters wrong. Special mentions go to a wonderful performance from David van Zanten, and more intelligent movement from Lewis Guy who capped a decent performance with a goal. The absent Paul McGowan’s midfield creativity was sorely missed; however Saints go into the international break with extra time to prepare for the next match against a stuttering Celtic side on October 20th.