St Mirren stretched their lead over Dundee United at the top of the Ladbrokes Championship table to six points with this hard-fought victory and immediately ramped up the pressure on their closest rivals by questioning the mental strength of the Tannadice players.
It may have been wishful thinking on the part of Saints midfielder Kyle Magennis but he posited the theory that it may be difficult for Csaba Laszlo’s players to recover from their surrender at second-bottom Falkirk.
United appear to lack mental toughness and that lack of fortitude has cost managers Jackie McNamara, Mixu Paatelainen and Ray McKinnon their jobs in the space of two years and current boss Csaba Laszlo described their performance at the weekend as shameful.
In the circumstances, mind games are only to be expected and Magennis questioned whether United’s players, who lost the play-off final to Hamilton last season, will simply fold after the manner of this latest setback.
“It’s been a tough run of fixtures recently [against United, derby rivals Morton and Inverness] so to come through them unbeaten with seven points is brilliant,” he said.
“This is 100 per cent a game we would have lost last season. Now we have a strength and resilience which the manager has drummed into us.
“For the Dundee United result to go the way it did as well just stretches the gap that little bit more. So it was a good day at the office all-round.
“The games we have coming up next probably aren’t as tough as theirs so we’ll just keep doing what we do by winning games and hope their results go our way.
“Hopefully, the Falkirk result really dents their confidence over the next few weeks and they buckle. We just need to keep winning to capitalise on every opportunity.
“Everyone was buzzing in the dressing room when we came in and heard that United had lost at Falkirk.
“Cammy Smith came in and shouted that they had lost 6-1. Everyone started cheering because it’s massive for us, both in terms of stretching our lead and also – maybe – denting them psychologically.”
Gavin Reilly scored just four times in 32 appearances for Hearts two seasons ago (and only twice in 28 games on loan at Dunfermline last term) but the 24-year-old has rediscovered his mojo in Paisley and he made it 20 for the current campaign here. Stephen McGinn, the most impressive performer on view, was the architect with a through ball for Cammy Smith, whose cutback found Reilly. The striker’s first touch was poor but served to deceive his marker and Reilly took advantage of that stroke of luck to lash the ball into the roof of the net from close range.
The home side were good value for that lead and should have been out of sight by half-time but Inverness, who have improved after winning only one of their opening nine league games, pinned them back after the break and could easily have left with a point.
Lack of money means that goal-line technology is a non-starter in the second tier but it could have settled the game’s only moment of controversy here, when Liam Polworth’s mishit cross struck the inside of the far post and appeared to have crossed the line before Craig Samson clawed it out.
“I was far away so I don’t know,” said Inverness captain Gary Warren. “There was that one and there were another couple of chances – George Oakley had one and Aaron Doran had one – and Craig Samson made a great save from Connor Bell at the front post.
“It’s a tight league and we’re six points away from being in the top four. If you put together a run of two or three wins, you’ll be in that mix so we have to start winning now. We can’t look at drawing games and dropping points here and there.”
Scottish Cup-winning full-back David Raven, signed from Tranmere Rovers in 2012, made his final appearance for Thistle in this match – he is leaving as the Highlanders attempt to reduce their wage bill – and Warren lamented that his team-mates could not mark the occasion with a win. “I was gutted we couldn’t pick up three points for David, to be honest,” he admitted. “He’s been a fantastic servant over the years and I’m gutted to see him go.”