ANYONE considering an expanded SPL should have taken a look at this game.
• St Mirren 3: Thompson 31, 72; Imrie 87
• Dundee 1: Conroy 64 pen
Referee: W Collum.
The fact that there was so much at stake at the wrong end of the table, with a win for bottom club Dundee enough for them to leapfrog their hosts, lent it an urgency and passion which from the outset looked likely to produce a fizzing encounter of relentless action and no little goalmouth drama.
That this largely one-sided basement encounter didn’t become the dogfight its early exchanges promised was due primarily to the
sending-off of Dundee’s Colin Nish in the 26th minute for a studs-up tackle on Paul Dummet after the ball had run away from the striker and he allowed frustration to get the
better of him.
From that point onwards, the game became almost a siege of the visitors’ goal by a St Mirren team on a dismal run of results but which never looked short on confidence.
In attack they passed the ball beautifully and with purpose; when they didn’t have the ball they pressed so quickly that Dundee rarely had any space, the Buddies snapping into 50-50 challenges with a determination that usually saw them come away with the ball.
Indeed, the lack of service and space was probably the cause of the frustration which led to Nish’s dismissal.
As St Mirren manager Danny Lennon said: “The level of performance was great; throughout the past six weeks the commitment and desire has always been there, and this just shows how fine the margins are. Hopefully we can kick on from here.”
Dundee, however, cannot lay this defeat at the feet of their lanky striker. Even before Nish’s dismissal, St Mirren were in the ascendant. Kenny McLean laid down a marker in the first ten minutes with a rasping long-range shot and from there the home team displayed a willingness to shoot on sight, with Steven Thompson and the impressive Gary Teale both unleashing good shots from the edge of the penalty box.
Their most potent path to goal, however, was down the left where McLean’s slide-rule passes to Lewis Guy had already unlocked the Dundee defence twice before Nish’s departure.
This was to prove a profitable seam, and minutes after Nish’s defence, with Dundee trying to shut up shop, St Mirren made the breakthrough when McLean’s through ball put Guy in on goal, with the Buddy skipping around the onrushing Rab Douglas and then pushing a weak shot towards the empty goalmouth where, despite the arrival of two Dundee defenders, Thompson was able to ram it home from close range.
From there on it was one-way traffic. McLean played Guy in again only for the St Mirren midfielder to fail to control it, but the shots rained in from the home side. Jim Goodwin was just wide twice, John McGinn’s deft chip was only kept out by Douglas’s fingertip save, Gary Teale was inches wide twice with two efforts, McLean had a dab himself, and only another superb diving save from Douglas kept out a close-range Thompson header.
Ten-man Dundee, by contrast, appeared to have little to offer except sweat; they had come to battle, but particularly during the first half, were completely overwhelmed by their hosts.
Their main outlet was the hyperactive Nicky Riley on the right flank, a winger whose lack of raw pace is more than made up for by his guile, balance and an ability to strike the ball well with either foot. What few chances came their way were
provided by him, with Steven Milne squandering an excellent first-half chance by taking one touch too many in front of goal.
Yet St Mirren’s inability to score the crucial second goal was always a potential banana skin, and on 63 minutes they fell flat on their behinds when Milne picked up a speculative long-ball and tried to hook it into the area, only for it to hit the onrushing Goodwin’s upraised hands in front of the Dundee fans. It took the intervention of a asistant referee before Ryan Conroy was free to drive the penalty low to Craig Samson’s left to spark delirium amongst the away fans behind the goal.
Their joy was not to last long though. St Mirren continued to dominate and within ten minutes they were back in front, Thompson craning his neck to direct Teale’s free-kick from the left inside the post and past Douglas’s despairing dive. This time St Mirren learned their lesson, piling on the pressure until substitute Dougie Imrie’s excellent driven low shot from an acute angle on the right put the result beyond doubt with just three minutes left to play.
St Mirren ended the match in total control and by virtually every yardstick – except perhaps the ability to make life difficult for yourself, a contest they won comfortably – were the better side.
Yet despite his side being still rooted to the bottom of the SPL, Dundee manager Barry Smith was not downhearted. “There’s character in this side,” said Smith. “We could have given up when we went down to ten men but we never laid down and died, we never gave up.”