St Mirren didn’t save themselves but they did all they could to ensure that they will at least carry some momentum into their all-or-nothing play-off with Dundee United.
Unbeaten since the split and having suffered just one defeat in their last eight league fixtures, they had left themselves with too much to do and while they did everything possible on the final day to sway things, Hamilton’s victory over St Johnstone rendered it an irrelevance.
But given that they had been bottom of the table and favourites for automatic relegation in March, the Paisley boss, Oran Kearney, who had inherited a mess few believed he could get the club out of, said he would have accepted the current situation back then.
“I would have bitten your arm off for it then and we said that to the players at half-time. We didn’t want to go out with a whimper and if somebody had said even two or three months ago that we would be standing within 45 minutes of something happening then we would have thought they were crazy.
“But there was a good sign of character again. We have had a lot of those signs in the last month to six weeks. There has been signs of some resilience in recent weeks and that will help us in the next two games.”
Asked if he thought his team are an improvement on the side ousted from the Scottish Cup by the Tannadice outfit, he was emphatic. “I know we are a better side. The facts don’t lie.”
Having won just three league games up until that cup tussle in February, they have lost just three games since then, imbuing them with the kind of positivity they will require when they face up to Robbie Neilson’s Championship challengers in the first leg on Thursday.
But the relentless need for results appeared to have taken its toll in the opening spell of this game. Looking lethargic and leggy, St Mirren lacked early impetus and rightly trailed their hosts at half-time.
Dundee’s fate had already been sealed and the only talking point was whether there would be enough of an improvement under interim manager James McPake, pictured, to galvanise his chances of landing the role permanently.
Throwing in 16-year-old Fin Robertson, who gave a performance and demonstrated attributes that belied his youthfulness, the club’s Under-18 coach demonstrated a fresh approach and gained a bright response from the players.
They took the lead courtesy of Cammy Kerr’s angled strike in the 15th minute and it was a double blow to the large travelling support who had just learned that Hamilton had gone ahead in the other game.
But they were thrown a lifeline when Dundee’s Darren O’Dea, playing his last game before turning his hand to coaching, was sent off after a heavy touch left him desperate. His trip on Brad Lyons left the ref no option but to flash a red card.
“It was the right call,” admitted the defender. “I thought I had more time because the boy had been off the pitch [for treatment] but I’ve made a bad decision and the ref’s made the right one. He’s not bothered about the emotion of it for me.”
He left the pitch to an ovation from the home support and the delight of the visiting fans, who were willing to grasp any advantage with both hands.
It certainly helped St Mirren. They came out after half-time with more purpose and more energy and sent on Cody Cooke in place of Mateo Muzek. It was to prove a wise switch as he produced a hat-trick. A powerful header in the 52nd minute ignited the fightback and was followed by a low shot under Jack Hamilton for the second.
There was a blow for Dundee when Genserix Kasunga had to hobble off after a nothing challenge with Cooke. With all the subs used, it left the home side with nine men, but they still had some bite and surprised Saints with a 73rd-minute equaliser when Scott Wright ran on to a lovely long ball and slammed in his shot.
Three minutes later the Paisley side regained the lead as Cooke wrapped up his treble. It was a moment to treasure but news from Hamilton meant the win was nothing but a fillip and they will head back to Tayside on Thursday with a job still to do.