Confidence is a commodity as fragile as it is valuable, and the belief which coursed through the St Mirren players’ veins as they held champions Celtic in manager Oran Kearney’s first match in charge nine days ago visibly evaporated here as the afternoon wore on.
A false alarm forced spectators to evacuate the stadium half an hour before this game was due to start and many of those home fans who made their way back into the ground must have spent the tame opening half hour wondering whether their afternoon might not have been better spent heading for the nearby Sainsbury’s or Morrisons instead.
However, it was the Paisley punters who would ultimately have questioned whether their journey was really necessary as their side was well and truly put to the sword, and Kearney did not attempt to mask his disappointment at his players’ efforts.
“Goals change games and I suppose there are a few scars from what went on earlier in the season in relation to losing goals in that manner,” he said. “From the players’ point of view today, it really looked like that.
“At half-time I wanted us to stay in the game for as long as possible at 2-0 and see if we could create something to get that goal that would get us back in it.
“Without the ball today we weren’t good but with the ball I thought we were probably worse and, particularly in the second half, that was the most disappointing aspect. The desire to do the graft and the ugly side of the game were the things that were really missing today.”
However, while the hosts eventually found their feet, Saints couldn’t get started at all. They lost central defender Jack Baird prior to the kick-off when he sustained an injury during the warm-up and midfielder Hayden Coulson lasted just over half an hour, having picked up a knock in a challenge from Darian MacKinnon, who earned a caution.
There was little fluency from either side, though, until Hamilton hit the visitors on the break. Mickel Miller released former Hibs midfielder Scott Martin on the right and, although goalkeeper Craig Samson managed to beat away his angled drive, Norwegian striker Fredrik Brustad followed up to open his account for the Lanarkshire club by firing home the loose ball.
Just three minutes later a rash challenge by Jordan Kirkpatrick (who had come on for Coulson) on Dougie Imrie presented Hamilton with a penalty, which Miller emphatically converted.
The hosts could afford the luxury of removing MacKinnon from the fray to ensure the captain’s availability for the crunch match against bottom club Dundee on Saturday. Saints were wretched and fell further behind when the impressive Miller fired in a shot from 20 yards which ricocheted off both posts before trundling over the line.
It could have been worse for the Paisley side; Steven Boyd cracked a rising drive against the bar and several promising breakaways came to nought.
Understandably, though, manager Martin Canning was in a forgiving mood.
“I didn’t enjoy last Saturday when we lost to Livingston and I just wanted to come and enjoy a game of football,” he said. “I wanted them to enjoy playing, too, but I did say: ‘You can’t just turn up; you have to win the battle.’ I thought the balance between us winning first and second balls and us playing football was very good.
“We had the quality and composure to go and play when we won the ball. It was a good day all round. We’ve got to try and build on it now but we probably could’ve scored more goals.”