TEAMS enduring a barren spell in front of goal tend to console themselves with the observation that "at least we're still creating chances".
St Mirren didn't even have that going for them on Saturday. Only once during a grim, toothless display did Ben Williams, the Hibernian goalkeeper, have a save to make and it was difficult to recall Danny Lennon's side having too many off-target chances either. As the St Mirren manager later noted with a wry smile, it is not often that all 11 players have a simultaneous off-day.
This was a second successive match in which St Mirren drew a blank in front of goal, the defeat courtesy of Leigh Griffiths' late penalty making a top-six finish to the season an increasingly unlikely prospect. St Mirren, despite just three defeats in 14 games, have been unable to extricate themselves from 11th place in the table and now trail St Johnstone in sixth place by seven points with just seven games remaining before the split. The teams meet in Perth at the weekend.
Of course there is also the small matter of the Scottish Communities League Cup final next month for the Paisley club to look forward to. Lennon and his players have been quick to stifle chat about that March 17 meeting with Hearts at Hampden but, with cup final places to play for, it was surprising just how flat they were. Missing the creative presence of the injured Gary Teale, they were unable to find a way around, or through, a well-marshalled Hibernian defence often leaving Steven Thompson frustrated by the lack of service coming his way.
The only good news on an otherwise disappointing afternoon for St Mirren came from Tynecastle where their cup final opponents had been soundly beaten.
"For our own ambitions of trying to get into the top six we need to go on a run and start winning games," said defender David Van Zanten after making his 300th appearance for the club. "We're just coming off the back of a decent run, so hopefully this is just a blip along the way. The league is so tight, a couple of victories and things can really change. We need to stay positive and keep focusing on that target of the top six."
For Hibernian, this was a welcome end to their recent bout of travel sickness. Pat Fenlon's side had not won on the road since beating St Johnstone at McDiarmid Park in late November, this win lifting them up to fourth in the table, just three points behind Motherwell in second.
They looked a much-improved side to the one that had capitulated to that same St Johnstone side just five days earlier; well-organised, disciplined and quick to snuff out any St Mirren attacks. Like their hosts, the Edinburgh side failed to create their own raft of chances but scored the one that mattered, with Griffiths stroking home a penalty after Jim Goodwin had been adjudged to have bundled Matt Done over in the box. "We needed a big win and a big performance as well after our disappointing display on Monday night," said defender Ryan McGivern. "Thankfully, we got a positive result and, for the fans who travelled through, I think they got a display to match.
"Leigh looked very sharp. He had a fantastic solo effort in the first half and he was unlucky that it didn't go in. We were lucky to get the penalty but we were all very confident when Leigh stepped up to take it that he would score."
Like St Mirren, Hibs have a cup date of their own to look forward to, a William Hill Scottish Cup quarter-final tie against Kilmarnock at the start of next month. The league, however, remains the priority, according to McGivern.
"We're just taking it week by week and concentrating on trying to stay in the top six and finish as high up the table as possible. That's the main objective for us, although obviously we have a Scottish Cup quarter-final coming up at Kilmarnock so we have a chance to go to Hampden. The chance is there for us to have a good season."