St Mirren were held by Kilmarnock this afternoon in a gritty 1-1 draw in Paisley. In a match of two penalties, Liam Kelly lashed home from the spot just minutes into this (traditionally) Ne’erday clash, before Paul McGowan at long last converted from twelve yards midway through the second half after a whole host of chances went a begging in the first.
Danny Lennon made just one change from the terrific 4-3 win at Tannadice on Sunday. It was a change of the Davids as goal hero van Zanten made way for Barron at right back as the manager quested to continue the sumptuous festive form of the past fortnight.
The performances that had accumulated the seven points from a possible nine were not in evident in the early stages of this match. The swirling wind and rain made distribution difficult to read in the air, and difficult to chase on the ground as the ball zipped along on slippery conditions underfoot. Kilmarnock took the game to their hosts inside the opening few minutes, and it was from their first real foray towards goal that the Ayrshire men scored. Inside the first five minutes James Dayton, a player who loves a game against the Saints, engineered a way into the penalty area, and the Englishman’s trickery drew a mistimed tackle from Jon Robertson. The fall was limp and the subsequent penalty award from Brian Colvin was soft; but the penalty from Liam Kelly was anything but as the midfielder slammed his kick into Samson’s left hand corner after the keeper had guessed the correct way.
Killie looked the more dangerous side in the period succeeding their opener as Dayton and Kelly looked fearless in attack, alongside a solid Cillian Sheridan who offered excellent support to his midfield. In contrast Saints looked disjointed as a resolute opposing midfield held onto their lead tightly and restricted space in the centre of the park. However as the half wore on it was St Mirren who would be shaking their heads at the break, confused at how they had failed to score after creating a basket of chances.
McGowan looked ever more the player he was before his injury with a wonderful midfield display. His limited fitness at this stage prevents large bouts of running, yet his link up play is still exceptional. “Gowser” created his own space to gather momentum, and fired a powerful long range shot that was comfortably grabbed by Killie keeper Cammy Bell who would have one of the best games of his career as he denied Saints at almost every opportunity.
From this point it was all Saints. Following another hopeful attack the chance appeared to have been cleared towards the corner flag. Yet an unremitting combination of Teale and Thompson won back possession and kept the chance alive. Thompson found space and curled a delicious strike up and over Bell but was tipped over by the keeper’s fingertips as Saints settled for a corner kick.
Danny Lennon appeared to sacrifice a delicate passing game for a pure battle of strength as the conditions worsened. The game needed it, and was almost just as pleasing on the eye as Thompson won header after header. Even Lewis Guy was getting involved, and his knock down from a long ball went just beyond Thompson. Yet the big striker wrapped his leg around the ball at the back post and just managed to knock the ball back across goal. But on this occasion the angle was too tight to score and there were no men in stripes to convert. The hosts were admirably not afraid to shoot as efforts from Robertson and McGinn sailed over the bar, before Robertson fired a shot safely into the grateful arms of Bell. The half time whistle blew and Saints were extremely unfortunate that a harsh penalty award was all that separated the teams at the break.
The home support knew there were still goals to come from this team who had scored eight in their last three games. Yet none would be scored by John McGinn who looked slightly jaded from his recent excellent exploits, and was replaced “like-for-like” on the left wing by Dougie Imrie. The Buddies had looked dangerous, and Killie looked happy to handle the onslaught. The second half continued much the same, with Saints dominating the early proceedings and Bell making a ridiculous save from Paul Dummett in the opening stages. A previously quiet Gary Teale eventually brushed aside his man and chipped an inviting ball to the back post, where an onrushing Dummett cannoned his header goal-bound from point-blank range. Yet again the palms of Bell would deny the Buddies as the home support held their heads in their hands, but grew in hope of equity. Teale’s resulting corner fell to Marc McAusland twelve yards out but his snap-shot was superbly blocked and the visitors’ one goal cushion remained intact. Just.
As dominant as Saints now were, the inevitable feeling of “It’s just not our day” was creeping into the minds of the home support as Bell tipped over another strike from distance, this time from David Barron. Perhaps two months ago it might not have been, however we have grown to see a tougher St Mirren side whose skill and goals are matched by a marvellous reserve tank of determination. The defiance to yield was fully rewarded when Colvin awarded his second penalty of the match.
Following another episode in the opposing penalty area, Imrie shielded the ball from Killie substitute Mark O’Hara just inside the left edge of the penalty area. The 17 year-old’s inexperience showed as he needlessly threw himself into a tackle which caught the winger’s ankle. The referee pointed to the spot as the relief from the stands was only matched by the worry over the conversion of the kick, especially given Bell’s flawless performance this afternoon. In truth the penalty looked a soft award, yet it would not have been right if Kilmarnock’s penalty had been awarded and St Mirren’s not. 67 minutes had elapsed when Paul McGowan stepped up to send Bell the wrong way, and the eruption of elation inside St Mirren Park spurred the team quickly back to the half way line. This game, and with it the possibility of a home win, was well and truly on.
As the long ball tactic was fundamental in Saints’ dominance of the match, Lewis Guy was substituted for the muscle and height of Sam Parkin in the equaliser aftermath. The possession was largely retained by St Mirren as they strived for a winner. Flick-ons from Steven Thompson set up Imrie down the left hand side as well as teeing up his central midfield colleagues, as Thompson remained a constant pillar of opportunity up front. After Saints won a free kick on the edge of the box, Gary Teale stepped a fair few yards back from the ball to allow a substantial run-up. His sole job was to hammer it in Bell’s direction and hope for a rebound, and his objective almost succeeded as the ball spun hazardously from Bell’s midriff to the left hand post area, as Rory McKeown slid the ball out of play for a corner as he beat Thompson to the ball by a mere fraction of a second.
Teale had a more eventful second half but given his recent successful spell in the side he earned the unwanted honour of having two defenders on his case which inevitably increased the winger’s workload. Yet he still carved out space to cut inside from the right and flashed an effort in on goal that was comfortably held by Bell.
As the match drew to a close, Kilmarnock earned some territory in the St Mirren danger area and forced corners into the bargain. Following a predominantly black and white second half it would have been unthinkable if Killie had somehow snatched a late winner. Yet the 4,000+ Buddies in the home end knew to expect such injustice. However a solid defensive line held firm once more, and as Dougie Imrie broke away from one such corner he didn’t have the presence of mind to square the ball to Teale who was in space down the right hand side whilst bearing down on goal and the chance vanished. However the drama did not stop there. With the three minutes of stoppage time drawing to a close, the last home attack almost harboured the astonishing. David Barron had displayed an outstanding performance at right back, and surged forward once more in search of a winner. As Saints fired another ball into the box the ball bounced towards Barron, and he unleashed an unstoppable half volley that screamed just wide of Bell’s right hand post. The keeper almost certainly would not have saved that had it been on target.