ON AN afternoon for aesthetes, St Mirren recorded their first home win since Christmas Eve and moved to within two points of their fellow purists in the process.
The ball spent more time on the deck than captains of Italian cruise ships as both teams attempted to pass their way to victory and, while Kilmarnock may have lost out here, both sets of supporters left having been thoroughly entertained.
“Football was the real winner, in terms of the way both sets of players approached the game,” said Saints manager Danny Lennon.
“The fans had great value for their money with some marvellous goals scored and, if you could guarantee that quality every week, Scotland’s football grounds would be full.
“I’ve got to give a lot of credit to Kilmarnock, who came here and played with confidence on the back of their cup success. They got off to a terrific start and we had to work hard to match them.”
The visitors came desperately close to taking the lead inside a minute, courtesy of some uncharacteristically sloppy play from Jim Goodwin.
Deployed as the human shield in front of his back four, the midfielder had his pocket picked by Gary Harkins, who ambled forward before unleashing a shot from 25 yards which beat Craig Samson but rebounded to safety off the goalkeeper’s left-hand post.
Killie’s Belgian striker Dieter van Tornhout has an accomplished first touch for someone built like a traditional British, brutish target man, a fact he underlined with a sublime dragback which left Lee Mair tackling thin air.
That piece of skill set up a half-chance for Harkins which ultimately came to nothing but the League Cup match-winner was soon on target once again. Dean Shiels and Garry Hay conspired to give Van Tornhout a sight of goal on the far corner of the penalty area and he beat Samson with a low angled drive.
When the home side restored parity 11 minutes later it was somewhat against the run of play but there was no doubting the quality of the goal. Marc McAusland was the unlikely architect, his slide-rule pass releasing Steven Thomson and, from his cutback, former Scotland striker Steven Thompson prodded the ball over the line. Cammy Bell got a hand to the ball but couldn’t keep it out. However, he produced a magnificent one-handed save to turn behind a 20-yard curler from Nigel Hasselbaink in the 32nd minute.
Both teams were going for it now and Mair’s goal-saving challenge prevented Harkins from pulling the trigger after the midfielder had dribbled his way into a shooting position.
However, it was St Mirren who finally edged in front on the hour mark when substitute Dougie Imrie crossed from the left and Thomson timed his run perfectly to meet it and send a downward header behind Bell from six yards.
Five minutes later the outcome was put beyond doubt, courtesy of some dilatory defending by Mahamadou Sissoko. The Frenchman, 30 yards from his own posts, wanted too much time while he made up his mind what to do with the ball. Hasselbaink made his mind up for him, brushing him off the ball and then sliding it under Bell as the goalkeeper left his line in an attempt to narrow the angle.
St Mirren’s Darren McGregor returned from a seven-month absence caused by a knee injury in time to watch Thompson dispossess Lewis Toshney 20 yards out and then send a swerving shot in off the far post. Kilmarnock then sent on Liam Kelly for his first taste of action since the League Cup final – his appearance warmly received by both sets of fans – and Shiels put a more realistic reflection on the scoreline with a rising left-foot drive from 18 yards.
“St Mirren haven’t had much luck recently but they certainly had some today,” said Killie manager Kenny Shiels.
MAN OF THE MATCH Nigel Hasselbaink (St Mirren) A thorn in Killie’s side and capped a fine performance with a goal.
TALKING POINT St Mirren are no longer the lowest-scoring side in the SPL.
Referee: B Colvin. Attendance: 4,365