St MIRREN survived a second-half onslaught here to earn a replay and a reprieve for manager Tommy Craig, who has yet to see his side win a home game against top-flight opponents.
Scorers: St Mirren - McAusland 17; Inverness CT - Meekings 63
Another defeat – a fourth in succession – might have been the final straw for the directors of the Paisley club, who will nonetheless have been concerned that yesterday’s attendance was their lowest of a disappointing campaign.
Yet, for 45 minutes at least, they gave a good account of themselves and offered enough fleeting glimpses to suggest that Premiership survival (if not Scottish Cup glory) is not beyond them.
As expected, Craig, in what may have been a last throw of the dice, brought Steven Thompson straight back into his starting line-up after three months on the sidelines with a persistent groin problem.
It was asking a great deal of the 36-year-old to instantly solve all of the problems the hosts have had to contend with during his absence, but his inclusion was justified when he, somewhat fortuitously, played a key role when his side opened the scoring.
David Raven, who had come close at the other end minutes earlier, opened the door with a wayward header back to goalkeeper Dean Brill which made up in power what it lacked in direction.
Having conceded the corner, Inverness then failed to defend it properly. Kenny McLean’s outswinger fell perfectly for Thompson but he sliced his first-time shot.
Full-back Jason Naismith refused to give up on it, though, not only keeping the ball in play but turning it back for Marc McAusland to divert it behind the helpless Brill.
With confidence now coursing through the home team, McLean also went close with a well-struck effort from distance but the Highlanders could not find a suitable response, unless you count the petulant lunge by Ross Draper on John McGinn, which earned the former a well-merited caution.
Thompson was presented with the chance to score his first goal since April by another fine cutback from Naismith but his half-hit shot was easily saved by Brill.
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“You could see the difference it made to us having them back in the side,” said Craig. “I just monitored their progress as the game went on but we’re happy to have another chance, although it’s a difficult place to go to.”
Almost imperceptibly, though, Inverness began to grow into the game and Saints found that they were no longer dictating the tempo of the play.
Josh Meekings was their unlikely goal hero, firing home at the third attempt after Draper had shot against a post and a Ryan Christie effort had been blocked on the goal-line.
Inverness had the better of things for the final third of the contest but could not supply the final touch to some impressive build-up play, much to the annoyance of manager John Hughes.
“I felt that we did enough to win it throughout the match,” he said. “We totally dominated the first half but we just weren’t slick enough or quick enough up front.
“That’s probably down to them defending their 1-0 lead. We just had to speed it up a little in the second half, but we definitely deserved to win it.
“But the most important thing is that we are still in the cup and we’ll have another go on Tuesday. It wasn’t so much bad decision-making that cost us as a lack of quality when it came to our passing in the final third.
“We need to be more ruthless and gamble a bit more. But we’re grateful to have another crack at it.”
The one moment of controversy came 12 minutes from time when Draper clattered into Isaac Osbourne.
The home players surrounded referee Calum Murray, demanding that the official take action, but he decided that no further punishment was necessary.
“I thought that it should have been another booking for the foul on him,” said McAusland. “I said that to the referee at the time and he’ll see it better on TV tonight.
“We don’t want fellow pros to be sent off but I definitely thought that was worth another yellow card.”
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