A STRAIGHT red card for John Rankin came too late to affect this goalless draw which will be filed by nobody in the box marked memorable. United are now unbeaten in five and St Mirren’s point meant they did not lose any ground to Dundee at the bottom.
St Mirren manager Danny Lennon admitted afterwards that his players have been distracted by the forthcoming Scottish Communities League Cup final a week from today, but at times it seemed as if members of both teams had their minds elsewhere.
With places to earn in that final, the St Mirren players started with greater intent, even if their early efforts were entirely fruitless.
Referee John Beaton showed he was a “no nonsense” sort, booking both Conor Newton and Graham Carey of St Mirren in the opening nine minutes for fouls on Richie Ryan and Gary Mackay-Steven respectively.
Neither side created a clear chance in the first half hour, though if Steven Thompson’s header from David van Zanten’s cross had found the target, we might have had a different match.
Esmael Goncalves burst into the box after 34 minutes but the United defence cleared his tame effort, while Radoslaw Czierniak in the United goal was not at all troubled by an equally tame effort from Paul McGowan shortly afterwards.
It was mystifyingly poor fare from two sides who are not short on quality players, though to be fair, both were trying to play passing football. It was just that passes went astray far too often and thus the match became disjointed.
Both defences were also pretty solid, with Marc McAusland marshalling the home rearguard who were given most trouble by Mackay-Steven. Gary Teale’s attacks down the right were St Mirren’s best hope, United left-back Barry Douglas not enjoying himself, but neither of the St Mirren front men were able to connect properly with Teale’s service.
United were operating with just debutant Rory Boulding up front, but the pace of Mackay-Steven and captain Willo Flood meant reinforcements were quick to arrive. Boulding did not need them just before half time when he spun and fired in a fierce shot which Craig Samson held well. It was United’s only shot on target of the half.
Boulding did a similar turn and shot early in the second half but his attempt was well wide. At the other end, a clever run by Paul McGowan set up Goncalves for a 25-yard shot, but it was straight at Czierniak.
A slip by substitute John Robertson looked to have allowed Mackay-Steven a clear run on goal, but Marc McAusland got back brilliantly to clear as the United player was in the act of shooting. Mackay-Steven also flashed a shot across goal shortly afterwards but it was always going wide.
Swedish defender Markus Tornstrand made his United debut when coming on for the injured Brian McLean, before manager Jackie McNamara sent on Michael Gardyne and debutant Robert Thomson for Boulding and Ryan.
United were rejuvenated by their substitutions and with Flood becoming increasingly influential in midfield where Stuart Armstrong had a fine match, it was United who dominated the final third of the game. Gardyne turned the defence and shot only narrowly past before Saints’ substitute Douglas Imrie blasted a half-volley across goal.
McAusland was to the fore as United piled on the pressure, one header out of the six-yard box being particularly impressive.
From a United corner after 80 minutes, a goalmouth melee ended with Gardyne’s snap shot that was superbly blocked by Samson. Then Keith Watson’s cross was headed over by Armstrong who would have done better to leave the ball to the waiting Thomson.
St Mirren rallied late on and in the dying minutes of what had otherwise been a clean game, John Rankin was sent off for a dangerous tackle on John McGinn. St Mirren only enjoyed the one-man advantage for three minutes, which wasn’t enough. McNamara said afterwards he would consider appealing against the red card but would need to see a replay first.
For Danny Lennon and his men, the next week is all about hard work before Hampden. “With no more games after a hard couple of weeks, I am delighted that we can totally focus on the week ahead,” he said.