St Mirren 1-1 Dundee United: Saints salvage point

APPARENTLY, Preston North End are preparing a bid for St Mirren’s burgeoning goal-bagger Kenny McLean.

St Mirren's Stephen Mallan (left) battles it out with Conor Townsend. Picture: SNS
St Mirren's Stephen Mallan (left) battles it out with Conor Townsend. Picture: SNS

If any offer is forthcoming, it might have to be more sizeable than the Sky Bet League One club had bargained for ahead of last night.

The 23-year-old provided the stand-out moment of an impressive home display that ought to have brought a win against Dundee United. His goal after 39 minutes genuinely had shades of Paul Gascoigne’s pearler against Scotland in Euro ’96.

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As with that storied strike, little looked on when McLean chased a hopeful punt in the company of markers. However, after one bounce, McLean flicked the ball over the head of Conor Townsend and then applied a cute outside-of-the-boot finish to complete a genuinely classy counter.

The advantage the effort gained may have only lasted four minutes, but the late onslaught that Gary Teale’s side produced served as indication that the interim manager, with four points from two games, is starting to have a real impact in a team that looked lost under sacked manager Tommy Craig. It is also worth noting that Teale – albeit out of necessity – has made McLean much more of an impact player by berthing him in a more attacking role.

It was supposed to be a pretty straightfroward affair at Paisley last night. Even if St Mirren had secured the rarity of a victory at the weekend – relegation bedfellows Ross County vanquished on their own patch – the expectation was that United would prove far too strong for them. Jackie McNamara’s side, after all, had been averaging three goals a game across the past month in order to hang on to the coat-tails of the Premiership leaders, while St Mirren, hadn’t recorded a home league win all season.

Yet Teale’s side gave their sparse following plenty of cheer in the early stages. They might have been in front as early as four minutes after Kenny McLean seized on a short passback by Keith Watson to motor in on Radoslaw Cierzniak. The Polish goalkeeper piled ­forward to thwart the danger, but the tone was set.

Throughout the early ­exchanges, the home side exhibited a fizz and demonstrated a forcefulness that had United teetering on a number of occasions. Yoann Arquin, able to play after appealing his red card in Dingwall, had a low angled drive that almost squirmed under Cierzniak, and the flow was largely ­towards the United goal.

However, Nadir Cifci, Stuart Armstrong and Chris Erskine all came alive to produce goalmouth activity that would have alerted their opponents to the fact that territorial advantage can mean diddly squat against the Tannadice side. If there was one United attacker who figured little in the opening half hour it was Gary Mackay-Steven. Last night marked the first appearance by the 24-year-old winger since he signed a pre-contract agreement with Celtic. It seems unlikely that Celtic will be prepared to meet United’s £240,000 asking price to conclude a move this month.

It is not clear whether the Scottish champions would be prepared to make any outlay even to give United something to think about.

That appears true of the £3 million-rated, constantly Celtic-linked Armstrong. And it was the combined efforts of that duo which drew the visitors level four minutes after they had fallen behind to McLean’s sparkling strike. In its construction, the goal proved that Mackay-Steven’s commitment to the United cause remains beyond question. Combining drive with delicate balance, the winger surged past a posse of opponents before slipping the ball wide right to Ciftci, who sharply shifted it back ­inside.

It was an invitation to ­Armstrong, lin the centre of goal, to show the trickery that makes him such a coveted young talent, the 22-year-old flicking the ball up and whacking it low into goal in a fluid, ­pirouette movement.