The only matter still to be decided is whether they will have to negotiate that tie with or without striker Scott McDonald.
Jumping for a ball, with 88 minutes gone and everything still at stake, the Australian appeared to lead with the elbow. Thomas Reilly was on the receiving end and although the contact looked minimal, his opponent did McDonald no favours by going down easily. Whether swayed by those antics or not, fourth official and assistants certainly seemed to influence referee Brian Colvin’s decision to send the Motherwell striker packing.
With seven minutes of additional time added and the scoreline still finely balanced, it wasn’t a popular decision with the visiting contingent, never mind the raging player, who vociferously argued his case with the officials before he headed up the tunnel.
The news had already filtered through that both Kilmarnock and Ross County had secured the three points but a winner for Motherwell would have taken the battle to the final day.
But with stoppage time ebbing away, Steven Mallan scored a delightful long-range effort to give St Mirren consecutive league wins for the first time during this campaign.
If the home team were playing with the kind of freedom that comes from the realisation of their season-long fears, uncertainty replaced by an acceptance that they need to make the most of top flight football while they still have it, Motherwell were the edgier outfit.
Their nerves were evident as they fought to preserve the top-flight status they have clung to since 1985.
The coaching staff were in and out the dugout like figures in the town hall clock, bawling instructions to their players who were up against it. And it never rains but it pours. As monsoon conditions enveloped the stadium, the news came through that Kilmarnock, arguably their best hope of escaping 11th position given the Ayrshire men’s recent losing run, had taken the lead against Partick Thistle.
Dented by that information, they refused to cave under pressure from Teale’s men, who had the better of the chances but were dogged by the scoring frailties which have already cost them dear this season. St Mirren even managed to overcome the loss of the influential Alan Gow, who was carried off after clashing with Stephen McManus in the 66th minute. As he headed to hospital for some precautionary tests, bleeding from his mouth and a little “spaced out” according to his gaffer, his team-mates delivered a blow of their own.
Having conceded a 75th-minute penalty after Reilly tripped Lee Erwin in the box and substitute John Sutton sent Marian Kello the wrong way, they showed real spirit and a belief that has surely been tested by chasing a seemingly lost cause. Jason Naismith bust a gut to get on to a Mallan ball and when he hit it towards goal, George Long and Mark O’Brien got themselves in a fankle, the former failing to collect and the latter heading into his own net as he tried to clear the danger.
Given the results elsewhere, that would have been enough to leave Motherwell stranded in the play-off position anyway but they were chasing redemption when McDonald was sent packing. It left them feeling aggrieved and gave St Mirren a one-man advantage to work with and some space to exploit as their guests went all out.
The Mallan strike was a moment for the St Mirren fans to savour and they have had precious few of them, especially at home, this season.
They know they are doomed and their fate simply underlined the gravity of the task which now lies ahead.
Scorers: St Mirren - O’Brien og 84; Mallan 90; Motherwell - Sutton pen 75
St Mirren: Kello, Naismith, Baird, Tesselaar, Kelly, Dayton, Mallan, Gow (Morgan 71), Wylde (Sadlier 65), Reilly, Thompson (Arquin 87). Subs not used: Goodwin, Cuddihy, Wilks, Genev. Goals: Naismith 84’; Mallan 90’.
Motherwell: Long, Ramsden, O’Brien, McManus, Hammell, Grant (Ainsworth 59), Lasley, Pearson, Johnson (Sutton 69), McDonald, Erwin. Subs not used: Twardzik, Law, Moore, Thomas, Straker. Goals: Sutton 75’ (pen). Booked: O’Brien, McManus, Lasley, Pearson. Sent off: McDonald
Referee: B Colvin