WHAT a match, what a winner. Few games get the climax they deserve, but this extraordinary match was capped with a remarkable overhead kick from the outstanding Steven Thompson on exactly 90 minutes.
St Mirren - Thompson 39, 90; Guy 54; Parkin 59 McLean 64
Ross County - Vigurs 11; Munro 45; Quinn 79, 80
It was an almost incredible end to 50 minutes of memorable drama which followed a first 40 minutes of forgettable stalemate.
“What an emotional rollercoaster,” said St Mirren manager Danny Lennon. “We won it twice, lost it, then won it again. This wasn’t a wonderful performance, it was all about character. I’m drained.”
That initial phoney war period had been characterised by shoddy passing, a dearth of ambition and an increasingly restive crowd. And no wonder they weren’t happy, because that first 40 minutes featured just one attempt on or off target, a spectacular Ian Vigurs goal from 30 yards after just ten minutes, when he picked up the ball ten yards outside the St Mirren box before ghosting inside Lee Mair and unleashing a shot that flew to keeper Craig Samson’s right and just inside the post.
That goal was the only spark of interest in an opening 40 minutes dominated by the visitors, but when the floodgates opened, they remained stuck there. The spark was Thompson, who rose unchallenged at the front post to head in Jim Goodwin’s corner five minutes before half-time, only to see County’s Grant Munro rise equally unfettered at the back post to head County back in front from Vigurs’ free kick seconds before the break.
If a first half which ended with County leading 2-1 featured precious few shots, then the second started at breakneck pace and never let up. Thompson was again the catalyst shortly after the break, bringing the home side back on to equal terms when he span and shot in the box, with Fraser parrying the ball and then Scott Boyd upending Lewis Guy. Referee Steven McLean pointed to the spot and Guy slammed home to make it 2-2.
Seconds later, home cheers turned to jeers when Lennon substituted both goalscorer Guy and Jon Robertson, which promptly turned back to cheers seconds later when Sam Parkin scored with his first touch, beating Fraser to David van Zanten’s cross. Minutes later, Lennon’s vindication was complete when his other sub, Kenny McLean, picked up the ball outside the box and fired into the corner of Fraser’s goal from 30 yards. That made it 4-2, and apart from a Vigurs free-kick saved smartly by Samson, it was one-way traffic. Thompson and McAusland almost extended the lead with headers that went wide, and the only question seemed to be how many St Mirren would win by.
But then, without any warning, Rocco Quinn scored two identikit goals within a minute just ten minutes before full-time. Twice the ball was crossed from the left to the back right corner, where the Ross County man smacked a low shot back across Samson. Suddenly, from a damage limitation exercise, the visitors were level.
By now the little stadium was in uproar. St Mirren flooded forward, throwing everything into one last charge. Parkin managed to get his head to a Gary Teale cross, only to see the ball go wide, and Thompson was a constant threat. But no-one could have dreamed of the way in which this match would be setttled, with Graham Carey crossing the ball into the danger area and Thompson fashioning an unforgettable finish to win it.
It was, said a deeply disappointed Ross County manager Derek Adams afterwards, a deeply flawed match. He had, he said, managed to find a silver lining though. “You can’t concede five goals, and we haven’t done that since Hamilton,” he said. “Mind you, after that we went on a 40-match unbeaten run, so maybe it’s an omen...”