The image to frame the day came at full-time of the victory that moved St Mirren six points clear at the top of the Championship. It was waves all-round from Jack Ross as he left the field to rapturous applause from the home supporters and with new Celtic signing Lewis Morgan by his side. In that scene, the renaissance engineered by Ross at the Paisley club over the past 12 months was captured.
The St Mirren manager has spoken this week of his wading into the crowd on the first Saturday of 2017 in the bitter aftermath of a 3-0 thumping by Queen of the South that had the St Mirren fans in ferment over the possibility of the club dropping to the third tier.
Now, St Mirren can sell their prize asset to the Scottish champions and boast a bigger lead in league than at any stage of this campaign. Granted, second-placed Dundee United have a game in hand. But after the Tannadice men’s 6-1 tousing in Falkirk yesterday, St Mirren would be entitled to feel emboldened. To his credit, Ross effectively admitted they did on an afternoon Gavin Reilly claimed full points with his 20th goal of the campaign.
An afternoon in which, bizarrely, assistant Sean Carr was involved in another ball-crossing-the-line-not-given incident to follow his failure to spot Oli Shaw’s effort bouncing over in the recent Edinburgh derby.
Yesterday, a miscued cross by Inverness’s Liam Polworth seemed to clip the inside of the upright and travel across the line before being being clawed out by keeper Craig Samson after 51 minutes.
Ross admitted his side might have enjoyed a “break” with the goalline controversy. Meanwhile he dares to believe the title race could be breaking his team’s way after Falkirk’s dismantling of United as Reilly provided St Mirren victory courtesy of smart control and lashed-in finish from close in midway through first period.
“United still have the game in hand but even when you take into account goal difference there’s a wee shift in that today,” said the Paisley side’s manager, who admitted to “surprise” not so much at United losing but at doing so in such emphatic fashion. “It’s encouraging for the players. I think psychologically they will enjoy that. Long way to go. I would say that, but equally you can’t over-estimate the fact that can grow belief. Every time you win a game or pick up points it’s another fixture down to the end of the season. That’s 16 to go now.”
In an encounter dominated by the home team in the first period before a rousing response from their Highland opponents in the second, Morgan, now on loan from Celtic following his £300,000 move on Friday, produced some sleek runs and dainty interventions. Testament to the player’s focus after what could only have been an emotionally-draining week. It demonstrated to Ross his focus is still on St Mirren’s promotion charge and that the only effect of the move is to have imbued him with a growing stature.
“There was probably a period of about five weeks, when he was going through the decision-making process and we’d allowed him to go and meet other clubs, where I thought it did affect him a little bit which I can understand,” Ross said. “Since he made his decision about a month ago, he’s been back to his best because he was very settled in his own head. Today there was no real difference because he’s probably known for a month where he’s going. What it has done is given him a bit of confidence. There’s a little bit of arrogance about his play now, controlled arrogance.”
Humility and a real graciousness, meanwhile, was stitched through the admirable response from Inverness manager John Robertson to the possibility his side were on the wrong end of another goalline call by official Carr. “It looked like it [was in],” he said. ”Our players are convinced it is over the line but I asked the assistant, and he was honest and said he wasn’t sure: ‘It might have been, might not have been, but I can’t guess’. He has to be applauded for that, as much as we are disappointed.
“It summed up our luck in the second half and we are disappointed even more so that George Oakley didn’t knock in the rebound.”