SO MUCH for this being a banana skin for St Mirren. They didn’t so much overcome Dunfermline as overwhelm them. Three in front by half-time through clinically taken goals from Calum Gallagher, Stephen Mallan and Scott Agnew, this was the day when it finally clicked for Ian Murray’s side. Pleasurable though it was for the manager and the Paisley side’s long suffering fans it did make for a somewhat less than rip-roaring cup tie.
With the teams’ contrasting starts to the opening quarter of the season, there were certainly grounds for believing this might be a close-run thing. St Mirren hadn’t recorded a win on home soil and the Fifers have simply been scoring goals for fun. But although their respective league standings might have supported the notion there was little between the two sides, when it came to the game itself they looked miles apart.
With battle-hardened competitors like Steven Thompson, Jim Goodwin and Andy Webster running down the spine of the team, St Mirren were simply too streetwise for the visitors. Lapses in concentration and slackness that might have gone unpunished in League 1 were pounced upon in clinical fashion by the Buddies, who on this occasion added up to something more than the sum of their capable looking parts.
“We started the game exceptionally well,” Murray reflected. “We got into the areas of the park where we felt we could really exploit them, and when we did get into those areas we showed really good quality. We’ll try to take that into our league form.”
It took only ten minutes for the hosts to stamp their authority on the game, with Cameron Howieson hitting the accelerator down the left flank to breeze past the visitors’ Shaun Rooney and send over a delightful cross which was hooked beyond Sean Murdoch by the unmarked Gallagher.
Uncertainty and indecisiveness seemed to spread like a plague through the Dunfermline rearguard after this and it was breached once again as Ben Richards-Everton was caught dithering by the predatory Gallagher who raced into the box and squared for Mallan to side foot into the net.
At the other end, the hitherto prolific visitors’ attack was largely neutered with the much vaunted Faissal El Bakhtaoui noticeable only on account of his luminous pink footwear before being withdrawn through injury prior to the interval. Only once did they look like doing something to retrieve the deficit when Rooney’s low driven cross was somehow flicked over the bar from three yards out by Joe Cardle.
With that moment and the game yet to hit the half-hour mark their hopes were flickering and they were effectively extinguished before the break as the hosts added a third. Once again a giant hole was punched through their defence in simple fashion, with Keith Watson setting up Agnew for another easy finish from near the penalty spot.
That was game over in nearly every sense, with the second half reduced to something resembling a training exercise. Dunfermline attempted shore up their shattered self-esteem and the hosts were glad just to enjoy the experience of seeing out victory with relative ease for a change. What few chances there were were still carved out by the Championship side and their persistence was rewarded when Mallan added a fourth with two minutes remaining.
It was, as manager Allan Johnston conceded, just a pretty horrendous day at the office for the Fifers. “I don’t think anyone played well today,” he said. “We weren’t good enough and everyone’s got to take responsibility including myself.”