St Mirren prosper on emotional day at Hampden
When skies are grey, men of Paisley prosper. Danny Lennon will have drawn back the curtains on cup final morning, and let out a yelp of delight, for outside it was dark, dank and cheerless. ‘Game on,’ he must have whispered, with relish.
History has proved that these are optimal conditions for St Mirren, who only ever lift trophies, it seems, beneath a canopy of battle-ship grey clouds. This is how it was in 1987, when St Mirren triumphed against Dundee United to win the Scottish Cup, and, going further back, this is how it was in 1959, when the Paisley side defeated Aberdeen 3-1 to lift the same trophy, again in the glorious gloom. Hampden in the sun? As far as St Mirren fans are concerned, you can keep it.
President Joyce Banda of Malawi may not have been of the same opinion. Her Excellency was invited to present the trophy in her shivering hands to Jim Goodwin, the winning captain, in a fantastically left-field marking of the 200th anniversary of the birth of David Livingstone. Usually, the great explorer himself would have struggled to find fans of the losing team in the stadium and its environs within minutes of the final whistle.
Credit must been given to the Hearts fans, a decent number of whom remained to applaud as their dejected – and, in many cases, youthful - heroes traipsed up the steps to receive their medals.
These supporters recognised that their team had ended the final in the same high-tempo manner as they had begun it, in an entertaining bid to retrieve the situation. It was the middle part of the match where the problems had accumulated, helping rob Hearts of the chance to make history, while ensuring that St Mirren re-wrote the record books with a first League Cup victory.
The floodlights were on at Hampden by the time St Mirren were anxiously running the ball into the corner, in a bid to protect a lead that had been halved, after the second of Ryan Stevenson’s high-quality brace of goals. In these last, fraught minutes, as the same player saw a shot hit a post, the thought struck: this is as good as cup finals get at Hampden Park. It was invigorating.
Those goosebumps in the St Mirren end were not brought on by the cold. Instead, they were inspired by the efforts of those in black and white, who recovered after the loss of an early goal to clinch victory with three well-taken strikes. Goals from Esmael Goncalves and Conor Newton bookended a fine finish from Steven Thompson, this genuine Buddie. When the striker was replaced after 75 minutes to rousing acclaim from St Mirren fans, few non-Hearts devotees could fail to feel delight for him. What a way to wind-down a career - scoring a goal in a cup-final for the team you grew up supporting.
For Gary Locke, it was also emotional, though not in a good way. What a topsy-turvy start to his managerial career. He must have felt as through he had won a cup final and then lost it again, all within 90 minutes. Usually, we are told, is more beneficial for managers to have done the graft in the lower divisions before stepping into roles with a top division club. This, however, has not been Locke’s fate. Here he looked quite the thing in his tailored suit. Just ten minutes into his first appointment as permanent Hearts manager, his team led 1-0 in a cup final, and looked as comfortable as it is possible to be on what are meant to be nervy occasions.
Of course, the sight of Locke in a suit normally has happy connotations for Hearts supporters, who recall the injured skipper being invited to lift the Scottish Cup in 1998, on the occasion of the Tynecastle club’s first major trophy success in 36 years. Lately, of course, such triumphs have become second nature. If it’s cup final day, then there must be maroon on the M8. Has it really been only nine months since the last time we all gathered here?
Hearts fans paid heed to the official title of the tournament in which they were competing by thinking of other communities, specifically one fringed by a port, on this special day. All the obvious songs got an airing, including the one about the Hearts all having a party, while the Hibs are in their bed. At just after 3pm on a Sunday, it’s more likely that fans of Hearts’ rivals were cowering behind a sofa as Locke’s side threatened to take command of the final. It looked entirely possible that they might hit another five goals. Having scored after only ten minutes, the Edinburgh side passed up several chances to build on this lead. As you suspected might happen, they then paid for this profligacy. St Mirren re-connected with the Hampden vibe that saw them over-power Celtic in the semi-final, again by the odd goal in five.
A penny for John McGlynn’s thoughts. Admirably, the man who so did much to get Hearts to Hampden felt able to attend, despite being relieved of his managerial duties just a few weeks ago. A penny, too, for the thoughts of those St Mirren fans, who missed their side going in front in the second-half because they were, ahem, spending a penny in the toilets downstairs. Thompson struck just seconds after the re-start, while fans were still drifting back to their seats.
Another protagonist on this day of high drama was Vladimir Romanov. The man with the itchy trigger finger has become the invisible man of late. The prospect of silverware will always be more appealing than a grubby winding-up order, hence the owner’s sudden re-appearance on an afternoon that held the potential for some reflected glory. In the end, it was not to be. Still, there are more critical issues for the Hearts owner to resolve. There comes a time when the partying has to stop, though this moment will seem a long way off in Paisley.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Wednesday 19 June 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 18 C
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