If it was unseasonably warm at St Mirren Park yesterday it was nothing compared to what was unfolding on the pitch – this was quite simply a scorcher. In the second half in particular the goals and incidents were coming along at such a breathtaking rate that it became almost dizzying.
SCORERS: St Mirren - McLean 8, 76, McGowan 60, Thompson 89; St Johnstone - MacLean 17, Hasselbaink 61, Fallon 84
After the dust and commotion had settled, St Mirren had picked up from where they left off before the international break and thanks to Steven Thompson’s late winner posted back-to-back league wins for the first time in two seasons. As the scoreline suggests, however, it was anything but plain sailing for Danny Lennon and the Paisley club’s angst-ridden supporters. Only by finding the net at the death did Thompson finally slam the door on the Perth Saints’ dogged resistance.
A case of ‘crisis, what crisis’ for Lennon as they lengthen their advantage over Hearts and start to look upwards in the Premiership. “I would have paid to watch that myself,” enthused the St Mirren manager. “The players showed great character to overcome a St Johnstone side that never give up. Myself and my staff have never changed our philosophy even in difficult times, but something has dropped in the dressing-room – there’s a great unity there and not just the XI on the pitch.”
It helps that some of Lennon’s genuine match winners, such as Paul McGowan, have rediscovered their verve and self-belief. The little number 10 helped himself to a well-taken goal and won his side one of two penalties that helped in the end to swing matters their way.
The Paisley side started this game as if their crucial win at Tynecastle had happened yesterday. They had a swagger about them and were sweeping the ball around with real purpose, so much so that when Kenny McLean planted a precision drive past Alan Mannus after only eight minutes, it was no less than they deserved. We were soon to learn that nothing would be what it seemed for long in this match. Up popped Nigel Hasselbaink for the visitors, clearly relishing this encounter with his former club. An incisive one-two with Stevie May on the edge of the St Mirren box allowed him to square the ball for Steven MacLean to restore level the scores with just over quarter on an hour gone.
What happened after the break can only be described as a goal-scoring frenzy as another five came along with the hosts prevailing in what was akin to a shootout. Regardless of the outcome, both managers will probably want to undertake a bit of a post-mortem as both rearguards buckled at crucial times.
McGowan, needless to say, kicked it all off in the second half with an accurate finish from a peach of a through ball from Lee Mair. Hasselbaink then got his moment to rub his tormentors noses among the St Mirren support in it by belting home a cut-back from Chris Miller only two minutes later. Moments after that hosts missed a great chance to take the lead for the third time when Gary McDonald downed Kenny McLean in the box. Jim Goodwin struck the spot kick powerfully, but Mannus pulled off a wonderful save to beat it away.
Ten minutes later, however, the Northern Irishman was picking the ball out of the net after another penalty taken by Kenny McLean got the better of him. Frazer Wright was ruled to have bundled over the effervescent McGowan for the award and it was a straight red for the St Johnstone defender, who had already picked up a yellow. His namesake Tommy was not impressed by the award. “It seems you can’t use physical strength to win the ball any more. It’s the assistant referee rather than Willie Collum that’s given it which is disappointing,” he said.
Game over with the Perth side in arrears again and down to ten men? Not a bit of it. Along came substitute Rory Fallon to restore parity for the third time. The home supporters’ despair at their side’s inability to hold on to lead turned into lasting jubilation as Steven Thompson latched on to a knock-down and hammered it home for what was to be the winner.