IN CUP ties it is all about doing enough and St Mirren prevailed in their fifth-round replay against Queen of the South because they they did that and not a whole lot more.
Scorers: St Mirren - Harkins (19), Thompson (74), Kelly (87)
The night was capped for Danny Lennon’s side with a corking top-corner hit in the closing minutes from substitute Sean Kelly. But the Paisley team set up a first week in February trip east to face Dundee United because they could boast tie-
settling goals by Gary Harkins and Steven Thompson that owed more than a little to the breaks being with them. Queen of the South manager Jim
McIntyre, whose team gave it a real go in the second-half, might have feared fortune was not going to favour his men.
On radio beforehand, you could actually hear him squirm when it was jokingly stated that St Mirren simply could not work out how to beat his team. The
assertion was offered not merely on the back of the replay in
Paisley last night being required because Danny Lennon’s side had escaped – and no more – with a 2-2 draw in Palmerston a week and a half ago. The Premiership side proved mighty fortunate then to avoid suffering a cup double against Championship opponents that had brought the defence of the League Cup to an abrupt halt. For good measure, a third meeting between the sides was thrown into the mix, with Queens having thumped St Mirren in pre-season.
The early stages of confrontation No 4 had absolutely no embellishment from anything that might be described as constructive football. Then, on the quarter hour mark, a move involving Thompson and John McGinn that ended with Kenny McLean smacking in a low shot that keeper Zander Clark had to turn round the post, seemed to bring the home side to life. Inside three minutes they were ahead, with the identity of the scorer carrying significance.
The St Mirren cause appeared to have been dealt a hefty blow with news earlier in the day that they could potentially be without their central schemer Paul McGowan for three months after the player was sent for scans on a suspected metatarsal injury. The prognosis will be known today but the absence of McGowan – a key figure in a revival that has seen the club lose only once in their past seven games – meant a first game in three months for Harkins.
While there is no doubting the experienced playmaker’s talent, Harkins has frankly appeared the wrong guy in the wrong movie since his move from Dundee in the summer. In the moment that brought the first goal last night, perhaps his lot changed. Certainly, he was smiled on from above when Thompson headed a ball into his path, with the goal open and four yards in front of him. Harkins made a hash of clipping the ball into the net but no-one in a static Queens’ defence sought to deny him a second try, which he despatched untidily.
The goal seemed like a luck-turning moment and from there Harkins showed the impudent craft that has marked his game out, almost lobbing the keeper from 40 yards and sending a deft flick just behind. St Mirren, who also had a McGinn header saved, had full control of the tie but the fact a chance wouldn’t drop for them caused a certain anxiety in the home stands.
Deprived of Michael Paton – scorer in the first leg - and Derek Young, McIntyre’s side could not make an imprint on the encounter for much of the opening period. Their manager’s team talk must have hit the right spots because the Dumfries team exhibited far more oomph following the interval. If nothing else, they pressed higher and better up the pitch, and squeezed the ball into advanced areas in a manner that had earlier proved beyond them.
Pretty soon, they had St Mirren camped in their own defensive third and an Iain Russell effort from 20 yards drew gasps from a jaunty away support after it skiffed Marc McAusland and then scraped the crossbar. The St Mirren defence wobbled as they were asked to deal with a series of diagonal balls slung in from deep, and Ian McShane came mighty close to turning in one of these crosses after running into space at the back post.
The character of a Queens’ side that have disappointed in the second tier could only but be admired and they must have felt heartened by the grumbles that ever-more-frequently started to be directed towards the St Mirren technical area. The punters sought personnel changes. Instead, a slice of good fortune served them just as well, the decisive second arriving 17 minutes from time when a McAusland scuffed shot ricocheted off Kevin Holt and into the path of Thompson, who tucked it away for his 41st goal in his 101st appearance for his boyhood club.
St Mirren: Kello; Van Zanten, McGregor, McAusland, Grainger; Newton, Goodwin, McLean, McGinn (Kelly 77); Harkins (Brady 87); Thompson (Reilly 84). Subs not used: Dilo, Mair, Naismith, Caprice.
Queen Of The South: Clark; Mitchell, Durnan, Higgins, Holt; Burns, McKenna, McShane, Lyle; Carmichael, Russell. Subs: Aitkinson, McGuffie, Dowie, Dzierszawski, Orsi, Slattery, Smith.