Ian Murray, the embattled St Mirren manager, enjoyed a welcome boost last night when his side claimed a point against Raith Rovers courtesy of an exquisitely-struck free-kick from young Stevie Mallan with just two minutes remaining.
The Paisley side were staring at the prospect of a fourth defeat in five games after Mark Stewart gave the Kirkcaldy side the lead shortly before the interval.
Although the visitors had the lion’s share of the ball after the break, it looked like being another frustrating night for Murray, who was the subject of catcalls from sections of a disgruntled travelling support as they toiled to fashion an equaliser.
Although his side have won only two of their 15 league games this season, the manager’s relief was clear when Mallan conjured his moment of magic at the end.
The draw that it salvaged was enough to lift St Mirren a point above second-bottom Dumbarton and gave them a much- needed lift ahead of Saturday’s Petrofac Training Cup semi-final against Championship leaders Rangers at Ibrox.
Both Raith and Saints went into last night’s fixture in similarly underwhelming recent form, having taken just one point each from their previous four matches. These stats were made all the more demoralising by a feeling in both camps that they should have recorded victories at the weekend.
St Mirren conceded a stoppage-time equaliser against Morton in Friday’s Renfrewshire derby and Rovers somehow contrived to throw away a 3-0 lead in the closing nine minutes away to Dumbarton the following day.
The Buddies looked the more sure-footed side early on and almost went ahead with the first opening of the match after five minutes, but Calum Gallagher’s shot was deflected agonisingly wide of Kevin Cuthbert’s right-hand post after a Craig Reid cross from the right had fallen kindly to him eight yards out.
Rovers’ first real chance of the evening should have brought an opening goal, but Stewart sent a free header wide from six yards out after meeting a long diagonal cross from Rory McKeown at the far post in the 16th minute.
Raith had gradually forced their way into the ascendancy and almost made the breakthrough in 24 minutes, but Jamie Langfield tipped a James Craigen free-kick, from a central position on the edge of the penalty box, over the crossbar.
The veteran St Mirren goalkeeper was called into action again two minutes later, this time to claw a powerful Craigen volley from 25 yards out round his left-hand post.
From the resulting corner, taken by Ross McCord, Jon Daly flicked the ball on and Iain Davidson came powering in at the back post, but Langfield spread himself well to block the defender’s header.
The goalkeeper was doing his best to keep his team on level terms, but he was eventually beaten in the 39th minute. Lewis Toshney’s cross from the right was met at the back door by Daly and, although Langfield saved the striker’s downward header, Stewart pounced to lash in the rebound from close range.
Calum Gallagher almost summoned an equaliser a minute before the break but his volley from the edge of the box was tipped away by Cuthbert. The Buddies were subsequently booed off by their supporters at the interval.
Stewart almost added his second on the hour mark, but his low shot on the turn from just outside the box ran inches wide.
St Mirren, without creating many clear openings, had been the better team in the second half, and they forced a deserved equaliser with two minutes left when Mallan curled in a lovely free-kick from 25 yards out. The goal denied Raith the opportunity to return to the promotion play-off places.
RAITH ROVERS: Cuthbert, Toshney (Callachan 60), Davidson, Benedictus, McKeown, Anderson, McCord, Robertson, Craigen, Daly, Stewart (Wighton 87). Subs not used: Laidlaw, Campbell, Petrie, Matthews, Ford.
ST MIRREN: Langfield, Kelly, Webster, Carswell, Mallan, Baird, Agnew (Morgan 83), McLear, Gallagher, Shankland (McMullan 73), Reid. Subs not used: Wilks, Conlan, Thompson, Howeison, Cuddihy.