It’s been a funny old week for St Mirren. Perhaps it contributed to this game featuring one of the most crazy opening 25 minutes anyone at the Tony Macaroni Arena yesterday is likely to witness all season. If retaining the services of Jack Ross as manager after an approach from Barnsley was perhaps the Buddies biggest result of the campaign, this bumpy ride at the hands of an immaculately organised Livingston side was a reminder that in the words of Ross himself ‘there is still work to do’ at the Paisley club.
This defeat is hardly likely to blow them off course from capturing the title, but it will have sent a surge of belief through the Livingston ranks that they can be the best of the rest and gain a crucial advantage in terms of play-off places shakedown.
A thunderous burst of three quick first half goals after they had gone into arrears in just 120 seconds left David Hopkins’ side in a commanding position with the icing on the cake applied by a fourth with virtually the last kick of the ball.
Afterwards Ross was at pains to dismiss that the events of the previous few days had had any bearing on the outcome. “We knew it was going to be a difficult game against a side who are second in the league,” he insisted. “It’s sore, it’s disappointing, but we lost to the better team today.
“Nothing changed in terms of our preparation or my workload or presence. I think if you spoke to any of my players none of them would use what happened as an excuse.”
Few could have imagined what was about to unfold when Ryan Flynn knocked the ball home to put St Mirren on course for what seemed like another three points after just two minutes. But this almost indecently early setback didn’t distract the home side from what was a clearly a well thought out and well drilled game plan. They harried the league leaders and subjected their rearguard to a forensic examination of the kind they probably haven’t experienced all season – and they didn’t half buckle under it.
Before 10 minutes were up Livingston were level and the exposure of the visitors’ aerial vulnerability had begun. What a horror show it was too for the Saints. A punt right down the middle of the park saw a complete communication breakdown between Craig Samson and Jack Baird they made a lot more contact with each other than they did with the ball with Ryan Hardie rolling it into the empty net in the manner of a gleeful schoolkid.
The shock of the goal’s execution was still reverberating when exhibit two of the Buddies’ inability to deal with the hosts’ physical and aerial presence came along. A long throw from Alan Lithgow was flicked on by Declan Gallagher and Hardie was on to it in an instant to nod it past Samson. A third soon followed for the hosts and there was no disputing its quality, with the much-travelled Lee Miller latching on to a back post header to send it into the net courtesy of a sublime bicycle kick.
The league leaders survived several more scares to hobble in at the interval with no further damage sustained. The door may have been slightly ajar for them but it was obvious that Livingston would dig in and try to hit on the break while they had to go for it. Although a battle of attrition unfolded it was still pretty engrossing. As the game entered its dying moments there was one final and painful twist for the visitors however as Scott Robinson adeptly lobbed Samson after another defensive mix-up.
“I think the players deserve great credit,” reflected the contented Hopkin. “It’s only three points – but it’s great for the club. We’ve all stuck together to get where we are.”