As a weary home support trudged out of St Mirren Park at 4.50 there was a small child crying, and his dad asked him what was wrong. The child’s reply was out of earshot, however “Don’t make me go back” would have been an appropriate response given the horror show of the previous 90 minutes. The 1-0 defeat to Hibernian was an assault on both the eyes and the beautiful game of football in general. Each side outplayed the other in terms of incompetence, and although a defeat was harsh there can be no complaints that Saints deserved nothing out of this encounter.
David van Zanten made his 300th appearance for the club as Saints lined up in a 4-4-2 formation, seemingly with Goncalves and Thompson starting up front, while Paul McGowan was used in a right-midfield role following Gary Teale’s withdrawal through a groin strain.
The game started as it meant to go on; flat, turgid football was displayed by both teams with little movement and even fewer ideas. The simplest of passes were often under or over-hit and possession was gifted away like sweeties at a pantomime. Then repeat for 90 minutes.
Hibs offered the greater attacking threat in the first half, with Matt Done and Leigh Griffiths posing the trickiest in particular with some decent link-up play. Griffiths had scored all four of his club’s goals versus St Mirren prior to this match and he looked eager to prolong that statistic. The striker’s header looped just over the bar from Done’s cross to reaffirm his predatory status, however he nearly succeeded after weaving past two opposing defenders from the right-hand side before crashing a shot off the inside of Craig Samson’s near post. One or two fans suspected a fingertip save from Samson, however the award of the resulting Saints throw-in placed doubt in that particular idea.
The hosts nearly replied in ideal fashion after a great chance from Paul Dummett. Paul McGowan’s inside pass to Conor Newton sprung a first-time curled cross to set up his Geordie counterpart at the back post, but Dummett couldn’t direct his header into the net as the ball bounced agonisingly across the face of goal.
Those fans who had wished for an improvement would be left bitterly disappointed. The second half would make the opening 45 minutes seem like Mardi Gras as a sluggish Saints stumbled through the rest of the match. Their Edinburgh adversaries however almost made an instant impact. Done’s cross just eluded Paul Cairney at the back post as Hibs came inches away from opening this afternoon’s tally.
The width Teale normally provides was desperately missed. The resultant play consigned to central areas in a packed defensive zone left St Mirren bereft of ideas. Any attempted through ball was thumped beyond its intended target, or else casually intercepted by the Easter Road outfit’s back line. Some players were looking extremely jaded leading to weakened performance. A welcome double substitution introduced Lewis Guy and John McGinn for Kenny McLean and Graham Carey respectively; Goncalves was placed back to his more comfortable left-wing position, leaving Guy to partner a helpless Steven Thompson. In a week where grappling and jostling are the buzz-words on the lips of an oppressed Glasgow football manager, Thompson was on the receiving end of some sumo-like manhandling that often went unpunished by Collum.
Aside from a Griffiths free kick held by Samson, it is quite telling of the match’s value that the next chance would occur after the 70 minute-mark. As the ball swung into the visiting penalty area, Done appeared to be upended by Jim Goodwin’s push, leaving Willie Collum with an easy task of awarding the penalty. It looked a clear-cut decision, however spectators closer to the incident indicated an accentuated fall from the English winger. Who else would take the kick but Griffiths; the self-confessed Hibee nonchalantly rolled the ball past the legs of Samson, who had dived the other way.
The same people hoping for an improved second half were the same naive souls who had hoped the goal would provide the proverbial rocket for a lacklustre home team’s ascent to equality. It didn’t. Dougie Imrie’s introduction for Newton had promised a spark of creativity that failed to ignite a revival. A couple of half-chances that failed to trouble Williams aside, Saints failed to create any significant chances. Clumsy forward play was easy pickings for the Hibs defence, as the match wore down to its sorry conclusion.