The January blues need no introduction to St Mirren following a disconcerting 4-1 defeat at home to Ross County this afternoon. They came in the form of the dark blue of the visiting Staggies, and a seven minute second half collapse would undo a promising second half revival.
John McGinn and Lewis Guy dropped to the bench whilst Paul Dummett drops out of the squad after rejoining Newcastle United following a fruitful loan spell. On-loan Geordie Conor Newton made his debut, whilst Graham Carey and Sam Parkin rejoined first team affairs after a spell on the sidelines. Grant Adam returned to the substitute’s bench after injury and a loan spell at Airdrie.
Quite why Sky Sports chose to screen this match has puzzled most of us. Perhaps they envisaged a relegation six-pointer, or merely realised an excuse to broadcast Steven Thompson to the nation. What the viewers missed in terms of entertainment was mitigated by five goals. The neutrals saw a united team performance from one team, the St Mirren supporters witnessed a second half demolition in utter disbelief.
It was Thompson who carved out a decent chance five minutes into the game. Conor Newton picked out the striker on the right edge of the penalty box, but couldn’t find enough power on his shot on a tight angle as and Mark Brown saved comfortably with his legs.
County created an identical chance just moments later. Carey gave away possession as Richard Brittain played Ivan Sproule into the area but the his shot was saved by Samson’s legs at the near post. Samson kept the goal chart empty once more as he palmed away a Iain Vigurs free kick after Sproule had rather “cleverly” won his side the foul. Carey picked up a harsh booking as he couldn’t evade the winger’s swan dive into his midriff.
With the match not short of chances Sam Parkin was the next to go close. Teale’s dinked cross from the right was headered into the arms of Brown after the Englishman had jostled past his marker.
Following the half-hour mark St Mirren momentarily looked more like themselves with some intelligent passing and more urgent attacking play. Paul McGowan couldn’t circumvent County’s defensive wall following Parkin’s knock down, as Brown gathered hurriedly. The visitors nearly doubled their lead when Sproule curled an effort across the face of goal, whistling inches past Samson’s right-hand post.
As Thompson suffered numerous injustices from the officials (namely being caught offside while Kovacevic played him at least two yards on), the striker was denied a penalty just before the interval. Thompson waited on the floated high ball as Kovacevic appeared to barge him over. The award would perhaps have appeared in the “soft” category, but I wouldn’t tell him that as Thompson remained incensed at Euan Norris’s decision.
After a rather poor first half, the main highlight was the home support shouting “cheat” at Sproule who had just been clattered by Goodwin. It’s arguably acceptable to hobble slightly after being pole-axed by 200 lbs of Irish muscle. The captain was nowhere near the ball and somehow escaped a yellow card as Norris made another poor call. There weren’t nearly enough chances created in the first 45 minutes, and more urgency would be required to defeat a resolute Dingwall side.
Danny Lennon brought on Dougie Imrie at half time for Conor Newton. The new lad had a decent first half but this second half would require maximum utilisation of pace and width if Thompson and Parkin were to receive adequate supply.
You felt this half was St Mirren’s to chase. An early chance would lift both crowd and team, anything just to signal a resurgent reply; yet Steven Thompson went one better than that five minutes into the second half. Gary Teale picked up the ball on the right hand side and played it inside to Barron. Thompson’s reception of Barron’s pass was aided by Scott Boyd’s slip, gifting him time to pick his spot and blast the ball past Brown with unadulterated power to equalise.
As Thompson extended his impressive form this season, it wasn’t Sam Parkin’s afternoon however. He found no joy in the air or on the ground, and was replaced by Lewis Guy following the goal as Lennon smelled blood.
As Saints looked the more comfortable following the equaliser, Sproule came inches away from restoring the Staggies’ lead yet again. Carey’s poor touch in the penalty area laid the ball to the former Hibernian winger who fired wide of goal.
That was merely the warning as County went for the jugular in a deadly seven minute spell. They restored their lead on 65 minutes following a howler from David Barron. The right-back’s ambitious header back to Samson fell short of the keeper, and newly introduced Sam Morrow remained the pinnacle of composure, slotting low into the left corner.
As the hosts picked up the pieces, County would further twist the knife. Vigurs dispossessed Robertson from a Barron throw-in. Sproule eventually manufactured his own reward as he fired the loose ball across Samson into the bottom right hand corner to leave Saints completely stunned.
The shocking became the astonishing four minutes later as Saints capitulated. From a County corner Britain’s chipped ball was headered as far as Rocco Quinn. Quinn’s strike through a crowd of shirts could not be held by Samson, and Sproule added his second of the afternoon in the simplest of fashions.
2-1 was catchable, 3-1 was manageable; but County’s fourth butchered any remaining contest and secured the three points, irrespective of the 15 remaining minutes. As the players went through the motions, Teale engineered a rare chance for John McGinn. The youngster, previously introduced as a substitute, connected with Teale’s pass first time and his curling shot was pushed wide by Brown.
With the last action of the match, Saints were teased with consolation as Grant Munro allegedly brought down Lewis Guy in the penalty box. Mark Brown nicely summed up the afternoon as Guy’s poor kick effortlessly fired off the keeper’s legs.
And that sadly concluded matters. The second half marked a desperately disappointing anticlimax for the Buddies as Thompson’s equaliser had promised so much. There was little further in terms of chances or recovery, and poor defending undoubtedly cost St Mirren the game. A difference of three goals flattered County hugely, however there’s little question they deserved the three points as the pre-Winter break Saints were not evident this afternoon. Saints passed up the chance to create the greatest unbeaten streak at the new ground, faltered in the quest to gain ground on top-six rivals and ultimately didn’t turn up in front of those who had braved the icy-cold afternoon. Apart from the odd burst of creativity there was just no connectivity between the players. Everyone had an off-day and it showed. It’s perhaps not the ideal result in lieu of the League Cup semi -final next Sunday, however if there was ever a match that needs a reaction then it’s the impending Hampden showdown; where frankly, mediocrity is not an option.