Winning is no longer a luxury for St Mirren. It has inexplicably, and quite wonderfully, become the norm.
In quite an extraordinary week there have been three wins, three hoodoos banished to the archives of history and seven goals scored in the process. Also needless to say, in quite some style too. It has been an unexpected series of fortunate events for Buddies everywhere as the week was rounded off with a Scottish Cup quarter final place following a flourishing 2-0 victory at home to St Johnstone. Several supporters have drawn comparison between the flair of Tom Hendrie’s 1999/2000 title winning side. Although I’m quite sure the current crop wish to carve their own unique identity for future squads to aspire to.
Kenny McLean dropped out of the team for John McGinn in just the one switch from Wednesday’s victory versus Inverness Caledonian Thistle. The match endured a cagey start void of any real chances. It was Saints who once again took the game to their opponents in hair-raising fashion. Marauding runs from unstoppable Esmael Goncalves posed serious problems to St Johnstone’s back line. It was an extremely tight first half in which the visitors closed-down any potential space for Saints for exploit.
Conor Newton sent a curling effort towards goal that was comfortably held by Alan Mannus, in what constituted his side’s first chance of the match 20-odd minutes in. Steven Thompson went even closer soon after following great play from Gary Teale. Teale’s near post ball was flicked just wide of the left-hand post as the net remained disappointingly unmoved. Graham Carey fired a long-range free-kick towards goal; however a deflection extracted the sting from the beastly strike as Mannus gathered. Former Buddie Patrick Cregg was enlisted as midfield “enforcer” for the visitors, and was eventually booked after staking his claim to play in this Sunday night’s Superbowl following some exceedingly rough tackling.
After displaying minimal threat in the opening half hour, St Johnstone worked their way back into this knock-out encounter. A mixture of profligate finishing and sublime Samson goalkeeping would thwart the Saintees before the interval. Michael Doughty ghosted behind the defence to header Liam Craig’s free kick over the bar in firm warning of the further danger to follow. Samson then blocked with his legs at point-blank range from Steven McLean as he diverted Rowan Vine’s shot towards goal. Samson defied belief once more, leaping left to tip Vine’s powerful header clear from David McKay’s teasing cross. Even the miraculous Samson was helpless to deny Steven McLean just before the break...as thankfully the midfielder created his own downfall. After Newton was robbed of possession by McKay, Gregory Tadé burst towards goal before playing in McLean for an easy finish. Only he will know how the ball spurned wildly over the bar with the travelling support on their feet, united in disbelief at a quite incredible opportunity missed.
The half time whistle couldn’t come quickly enough as St Johnstone could quite conceivably have won the game in a suddenly dominant 10 minute spell before the interval. It was difficult to select a superior team. A far more entertaining and technically gifted Paisley Saints were trumped by their Perth counterparts in terms of chances created. All things considered it was a tight but interesting encounter. It would need more than “interesting” to warm up the home support.
n three games he has made his debut in all three major domestic competitions – and has scored in every single one. Even that stat doesn’t do the midfielder justice. Every touch oozes class as he saunters through Scotland’s top teams. Craig Thomson’s half time whistle was the perfect catalyst for second half authority, as barring a miscued Tadé header the next 25 minutes would fall in favour of the Paisley Saints. Teale fired a shot just wide of goal from the edge of the box, before Goncalves tried to emulate last Sunday’s strike; the Portugese just couldn’t connect cleanly enough with Carey’s deep cross and Mannus gathered.
Just seven minutes after his opener, “Isma” doubled his side’s lead in laudable style. Steven Thompson’s header into the area was chested down by Goncalves, ignored three triangulating St Johnstone defenders, shrugged off David McCracken before sweeping the ball into the same unreachable corner. Players with Esmael’s class just don’t play for St Mirren, therefore it’s not surprising the home crowd were savouring every touch, pass, and move from the man of the moment.
Therefore the West Bank expectantly rose in unison as he nearly bagged his hat-trick. After receiving the ball inside the St Johnstone half he delicately turned his man, surged towards goal, evaded McKay’s tackle, left Frazer Wright for dead; however curled his effort agonisingly wide as the stunning skill and effort warranted higher reward.
In the aftermath of St Mirren’s second goal, the barrage of abuse and dissent from the stands meant only one thing – the introduction of former Buddie Nigel Hasselbaink for Tadé. The lad faced a torrid second half. Every touch was met with a chorus of boos, catcalls and miscellaneous taunting; even shouts to the visitors to pass it to Nigel in an attempt to resume the somewhat mischievous teasing. Hasselbaink remains arguably the most resounding panto villain since The Pavillion’s 2003 rendition of Cinderella. And all the more captivating.
Paul Dummett was welcomed back to the club with a second half introduction for Paul McGowan, moving Carey from left back to left midfield as Carey’s crossing foxed his opponents.
The chances just kept on coming. Teale engineered another cross from the fruitful right-hand side that evaded Goncalves, leaving a surprised Thompson to instantly snap his shot wide of goal. Teale’s free kick then screamed just wide of the goalkeeper’s right-hand post from 25 yards, before Goncalves was sent clean through on goal from Goodwin’s powerful clearance. It was an easier chance than two converted previously yet he dragged the ball inches wide as he teased the hungry crowd with a hat-trick, and an indisputable game-sealer.
St Johnstone mounted a tepid resurgent spell as luck had ultimately deserted them throughout the game. Liam Craig’s volley was superbly tipped wide by Samson, before Hasselbaink’s afternoon was delightfully summed by firing straight at Samson from six yards as the game petered to its fair conclusion.
A 2-0 score-line perhaps wasn’t the best reflection on the game. St Mirren could have easily quadrupled that figure, whilst it misrepresents St Johnstone’s opportunities to seal the game by half time. All in all it’s another deserved victory for one of the most affluent teams I have ever seen in the black and white. Although we can only dream of retaining Goncalves, the mere fact that the club can now attract players of his stature is testament to the on and off-field endeavours of all involved at the club. Given the poverty of certain players from Lennon’s first season in charge, Goncalves is symbolic of the club’s steady growth, and with it an entertainment value that is at an all time high. Can they achieve four wins from four at a stagnant Aberdeen side next Saturday? Why not? If ever there was a time for ripping up the statistics book, a rare league win at Pittodrie would send a clear message (if not sent already) that this side is top six-bound. St Mirren are closer to second place than they are to relegation-threatened Dundee. Anything could happen.
Why not indeed.