LIKE so many times before, St Mirren’s hero was Steven Thompson.
Scorers: St Mirren - Thompson 41, 87; McLean 86 pen; Motherwell - Anier 16; Sutton 26
The childhood Buddies supporter already had the goal that brought his side back into the match when he gave his fellow fans another memorable moment. Hanging around the six-yard box, he was in the right position to control John McGinn’s deflected shot before keeping his cool on the turn to roll the ball under Gunnar Nielsen, completing an incredible comeback and lifting his side out of the relegation play-off spot.
When the ball hit the back of the net 4,300 people suddenly sounded like 40,000. Amid the bedlam stood 11 stunned Motherwell players, still reeling from the controversial penalty decision that ultimately changed the game. St Mirren’s energy levels ran low towards the end and the match seemed to be petering out to an inevitable conclusion. Then Thompson’s header struck Stephen McManus and Iain Brines pointed to the spot.
“We were in control of the game,” said Motherwell boss Stuart McCall after the game. “Then the ball hits McManus in the eye socket. The linesman, ten yards away, gives nothing. The referee, 30 yards away on the other side of the play, gives a penalty kick.”
St Mirren started the game looking to attack a visiting side missing five first team regulars and were almost ahead inside five minutes when Darren McGregor’s header was excellently repelled by Nielsen.
The home side soon found themselves 1-0 from a goal that came from nowhere. McManus’s routine punt up the park was allowed to drift into the path of the oncoming Lionel Ainsworth and his cutback found Henri Anier to sweep home.
Ten minutes later it was 2-0. After Jim Goodwin had missed a great chance to level, Ainsworth was again allowed to drift in unmarked and his shot-cum-cross found John Sutton free to head in at the back post. In the face of such pressure, Lennon and his players refused to buckle.
“The lads showed great
character today,” said Lennon. “We spoke about it beforehand, that we’ve stayed in with the pack along with four other teams and now it’s a race to the finish. And we’ve just won our first sprint.
“Even at 0-2 I believed we could come back because we’d been playing well. It’s those types of goals we conceded that show why we’re flirting with relegation in the first place.”
Motherwell seemed incapable of dealing with Kenny McLean’s corners and the midfielder found McGregor. This time the defender headed back into the centre where Thompson was able to shoot first time into the corner. It gave the home side the lift required and they spent the opening 15 minutes of the second half camped around the Motherwell penalty area, Thompson and Jason Naismith each having a chance to tie the game.
They continued to press and were lucky not to have their chances killed off when substitute Craig Moore went through on goal before dragging his shot wide, and that luck increased tenfold when Brines made his late decision. Kenny McLean hammered his penalty low and hard under Nielsen, prompting the dramatic finish.