St Mirren manager Jack Ross was left nursing a sense of injustice as he watched his team’s impressive unbeaten run ended in the most controversial of circumstances.
Amid their desperate effort to avoid relegation, the Paisley visitors couldn’t quite believe the manner in which they were partly undone by promotion-chasing Dundee United who triumphed courtesy of Blair Spittal’s final-minute winner.
This was their first league defeat in eight games having climbed off the foot of the table thanks to their recent revival and it meant they dropped back down a place into the play-off spot.
Thomas Mikkelsen, United’s robust Danish striker, celebrated a seventh minute opener which irked Ross most. The Scandinavian clearly went in high on Gary MacKenzie, the Saints centre-back, but was allowed to carry on and finish off with a stunning left-foot volley to leave the entire visiting camp livid.
Saints did recover through MacKenzie’s equaliser as half-time approached before Tony Andreu put the hosts back ahead, only for substitute Josh Todd to look like he’d grabbed his side a share of the spoils with his 86th minute leveller, until Spittal broke their hearts in the final minute.
Ross, whose side face Raith Rovers at home on Saturday ahead of their final-day trip to take on champions Hibs in their quest to stay up, said: “You don’t always get what you deserve in football – this is a classic example of that.
“Dundee United’s first goal was a mistake by the referee. You have to be fair about it, so I watched it back again. I think the officials were the only people in the entire stadium who thought it wasn’t a free-kick.
“The way it happened, it probably helped Mikkelsen with the finish.
“He relaxes, expecting the free-kick to be given, then suddenly decides just to have a smash at it.
“It was just a really poor decision.”
St Mirren equalised in 39 minutes.
Jamie Robson chopped down Lewis Morgan to leave the visitors in a menacing position. Stephen Mallan, known for his dead-ball expertise, whipped over an inviting free-kick which was perfect for MacKenzie who rose unchallenged to direct a powerful downward header into the bottom corner of the net.
But the Taysiders regained the lead in 67 minutes. Stephen McGinn was judged to have played a short pass-back to goalkeeper Billy O’Brien. From the resultant free-kick, Andreu lashed home from Willo Flood’s assist.
Any thought of Saints crumbling was banished when, in 86 minutes, Todd equalised in spectacular style after making space for himself and firing into the far corner.
There was yet more drama to follow in 90 minutes. Spittal struck the winner with a measured low shot past O’Brien after Mikkelsen had set him up.
“We showed a lot of character after conceding two equalisers,” said McKinnon. “It was a fantastic attitude to win the game.”