FOR long enough, Tommy Craig has complained that St Mirren have been better than their results suggest, lacking only goals to show for their considerable efforts.
St Johnstone - 1
St Mirren - 2
Naismith 28; Drury 85
At McDiarmid Park yesterday, when they converted both of their only scoring opportunities, his team were nothing if not ruthless.
At the end of a desperately poor first half, they led – just about deservedly – through Jason Naismith’s goal, but when Steven Anderson equalised for St Johnstone – who gave James McFadden his debut in the second half – few would have laid money on a winner for the visitors.
That, though, was to ignore the impact of their substitutes, Ross Caldwell and Adam Drury, who combined to produce the sucker punch five minutes from the end. By inflicting on the Perth side their fourth consecutive league defeat, St Mirren moved up to tenth spot, seven points clear of bottom-placed Ross County.
After their draw at Pittodrie in midweek, it looks as though St Mirren might just be finding their feet. “We have had a terrible start to the season but we can see a wee bit of light,” said Craig. “We still haven’t turned the corner, but we are going some way towards that. They are showing a real desire and belief in what we are trying to do. To go to Aberdeen and get a point, and then three points today… it tells me they are up for the fight.”
Craig was anxious to point out that, of the 18 players stripped, 15 are under 22, including Drury, the 19-year-old on loan from Manchester City, whose late winner arrived against the run of play. “It came when we were under a bit of pressure,” said Craig. “At that point, if there was a goal going to be scored, it looked like it would be them, but we hit them on the break.”
St Mirren had taken the lead after an opening half hour that was devoid of incident and inspiration. When Michael O’Halloran was caught in possession, Sean Kelly cut a low ball across the box with such power that it travelled all the way to Naismith 25 yards out. Striding on to it, the full-back hit it first time and it flew into the far corner.
As so often happens, the unexpected breakthrough prompted an unexpected response, although St Johnstone wasted the opportunity that came their way just a few seconds later. After exchanging passes with Scott Brown, O’Halloran had only the goalkeeper to beat, but he slapped his shot high over the bar.
There was a marginal improvement in the product as half-time approached, but not enough to encourage Tommy Wright, the St Johnstone manager, who was so frustrated that he buried his head in his hands. First, a “goal” was disallowed because Brian Graham fouled the goalkeeper before David Wotherspoon bundled it over the line, then O’Halloran failed to pick out Murray Davidson in a goalscoring position.
It had not been the best of afternoons for O’Halloran, who was substituted at the start of the second half. McFadden took his place up front, but it was the introduction of Lee Croft, for Wotherspoon, that gave St Johnstone much-needed urgency. Within seconds of his arrival, the Englishman was buzzing about in the box, having a shot deflected wide and setting up Graham at the front post.
Suddenly, St Johnstone had much more of the ball, although their equaliser was the kind of simple, straightforward set-piece that should have been prevented. Brown swung his corner into the six-yard box, Anderson converted with a header from all of two paces and Marian Kello, the goalkeeper, tried – rather unconvincingly – to blame his team-mates.
Thereafter, it looked as though St Johnstone were the only possible winners. They were in total control of the match when McFadden’s sweeping ball led to a cross by Simon Lappin and a smart finish by Graham, but he was ruled offside.
Encouraged by their dominance, St Johnstone pressed for a winner, only to be exposed with five minutes left. Caldwell picked up the ball in the middle of the pitch and laid it wide to Drury, who calmly planted it beyond Alan Mannus. It was a sore one for Wright, who said that the referee had been wrong to disallow two St Johnstone goals. Anderson, he insisted, had not fouled the goalkeeper, and Graham had not been offside, but neither of those injustices disguised the home side’s growing problems at the back.
“We didn’t get the rub of the green with decisions, but I’m not using that as an excuse,” said Wright. “With the experience we have, we should not be getting caught like that. We totally dominated the second half. At worst, we should have come away with a point, but we didn’t because we committed too many men forward. The [second St Mirren] goal is criminal at this level of football. We are gifting teams too many goals at the minute.”
MAN OF THE MATCH: Jim Goodwin (St Mirren) Provided stability in central defence.
TALKING POINT: Manager Tommy Wright claimed that St Johnstone had two “goals” wrongly disallowed
Referee: D Robertson. Attendance: 3,400