St. Mirren needed a late penalty to see off Ross Countyat the SMISA Stadium this afternoon as Jim Goodwin’s side kept up their push for a chance at European football next season.
With the Buddies sitting sixth in the Premiership and concerns over the Scotish Cup being finished, the top five could all end up in Europe next season.
The two sides went into the game in very different form in the Premiership, St. Mirren having drawn their previous four fixtures, including the midweek stalemate with Motherwell, while Hughes’ County were still on a high following last weekend’s surprise win over Celtic – their third win from their last six games in the fight to get clear of the bottom of the table.
St Mirren manager Jim Goodwin freshened up his starting line-up with three changes from Wednesday’s draw with Motherwell as Lee Erwin, Kyle McAllister and Dylan Connolly all came into the starting XI in pace of Richard Tait, Cammy MacPherson and Jon Obika.
County made two changes from the win over Celtic last Sunday as Callum Morris misses out through injury, while fellow defender Alex Iacovitti drops to the bench with Leo Hjelde – ineligible to play against his parent club Celtic – and Keith Watson coming into the side to the clash at the SMISA Stadium.
With both sides in their away kits due to a clash, it was the hosts who had the first chance of the game three minutes in, but Dylan Connolly made a mess of the shot after breaking the County lines and the Staggies breathed a huge sigh of relief.
County started to find a foothold in the game after their early scare, Carl Tremarco in particular causing poblems down the left for the Buddies as they looked to break the deadlock.
As both sides committed bodies to trying to get the opener, the game became bogged down in a midfield battle, with neither keeper particularly involved and neither side looking like taking control of the game and getting themselves in front.
There were some glimpses of attacking intent as the first half went on but far too many times moves broke down as players got their passes wrong or were simply left too isolated from their team-mates.
Neither Hughes nor Goodwin can be happy with how their side performed in the opening 30 minutes and neither will likely to be shy in letting their players know it wasn’t up to scratch.
Tremarco was lucky to avoid a straight red after a reckless lunge on Connolly just outside the area, referee Greg Aitken instead only flashing a yellow in the defender’s direction.
The resulting free-kick saw the game’s first real moment of quality, Laidlaw saving brilliantly from Conor McCarthy when it looked as the defender’s powerful header was destined for the back of the net.
St. Mirren were starting to control proceedings a little as half-time loomed but there was nowhere near enough quality on show to break the deadlock before the sides went in for the break.
Both sides made changes at the break, St Mirren replacing Joe Shaugnessy with Richard Tait while the Staggies made a tripe-change, Iacovitti, Donaldson and Shaw replacing Gardyne, Andreu and Tremarco for the second 45.
After seeing Ross Laidlaw pull off a wonder save in the first half, ex-Rangers keeper Jak Alnwick made one of his own shortly after the restart, somehow touching the ball onto the underside of the cross bar as County were getting ready to celebrate what looked like a sure-fire opening goal.
Not to be outdone by Yogi Hughes, St. Mirren boss Goodwin made a triple change of his own ten minutes into the second half, Erahon, Connolly and Erwin coming off to be replaced by Obika, MacPherson and Quanner.
While it appeared both sides were going for the win, it was going to tae a moment of magic – or ridiculousness – to finally open the scoring for either team.
The Buddies had another lucky escape with the minutes ticking down. Cammy MacPherson cearing off the line with Alnwick beaten as the visitors increased the pressure as St. Mirren looked like falling apart at the back.
However, the hosts were handed a chance to take the lead ten minutes from the end after a foul on Quaner, McCarthy stepping up and stroking the ball beyond Laidlaw to secure the win – although Staggies boss Hughes was furious at the decision shouting “wait til you see the penalty” then making a diving motion repeatedly at the officials.
With only two games before the split, St. Mirren will be hoping they can somehow sneak into fifth and potentially need to look their passports out ahead of next season.
St. Mirren: Alnwick, Shaughnessy, McCarthy, Doyle-Hayes, McAllister, Durmus, McGrath, Connolly, Fraser, Erwin, Erhahon
Subs: Lyness, Tait, Flynn, Obika, MacPherson, Finlayson, Henderson, Jamieson, Quaner
Ross County: Laidlaw, Tremarco, Hjelde, Gardyne, Watson, Kelly, Lakin, Spittal, Naismith, White, Andreu
Subs: Hilton, Draper, Shaw, McKay, Hylton, Iacovitti, Tillson, Paton, Donaldson