THERE is an opportunity now for Paul McGowan to kick on.

This is perhaps a poor choice of words given that earlier this week the St Mirren midfielder received a non-custodial punishment for going in with both feet on a pair of police officers, but it is a verdict which allows his career to be restored to the vernacular of football. The hope now will be that McGowan's sentence can end with a full point, some time after he has helped his side to gain three more in a match with St Johnstone this afternoon.

McGowan is a free man - he was given a one-year supervision order and must carry out 130 hours of unpaid work - but his club remain in the custody of concerns about relegation from the SPFL Premiership this season.

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Consecutive defeats since the turn of the year have restricted St Mirren's ascent from the division's play-off place and another loss in Perth would act as an invitation to both Partick Thistle and Ross County to catch up. The Dingwall side are just three points behind and have been emboldened by the arrival of new players this month.

Hearts remain out of sight at the bottom of the league, at least, and Danny Lennon sees little reason for the Tynecastle club to have a transfer embargo lifted this month; Hearts officials citing the demands such a restriction has placed on a young squad as a reason for the ban to be brought to an end. The St Mirren manager yesterday dismissed the idea of a club in administration being granted clemency. "They've not abided by the rules," said Lennon.

One would imagine his compassion would be in greater supply given the lengths the manager has gone to in helping rehabilitate McGowan following his misdemeanours.

"I've had a lot of chats with him recently," said the Lennon. "As a professional sportsman, there are young kids out there who idolise him for his football ability and rightly so. But there's got to be a complete package with that.

"That's something, with the opportunity and punishment that he's got, that he can put right and we'll help him along the way with that. He's brilliant to work with. To rectify any goings on out there, any weaknesses he has, it's important you don't go to environments that potentially put you into that position.

"That's something that we're working very hard with him on. But the last man who never made a mistake was nailed to the cross."

Conor Newton has also been pinned down, Newcastle United this week agreeing to extend his loan deal in Paisley until the end of the season. The midfielder - who has made 22 appearances this term - will return to the Barclays Premier League club temporarily next week to enable staff to measure his progress in training, and to perhaps consider whether a new contract would be a good fit.

Newton will become a free agent in the summer, but could be playing in black and white next season even if he is released by his parent club.

"I would see what was on the table in the summer and would definitely consider [a permanent move to St Mirren]. They have been good to me," said Newton, who has also spent part of last season on loan in Paisley. "'ve really enjoyed it, although it maybe hasn't lived up to that first six months when I won the League Cup. But I wouldn't be going back to Newcastle to let them have a look at me if I didn't think that I could make an impact."

St Johnstone are closing in on a deal for a young midfielder of their own. Wade Joyce, the Barnsley teenager, is a free agent, but could earn himself a contract if he impresses before the end of the season.

Meanwhile, Frazer Wright insisted he was not worried by the mistake he made last weekend, when the defender's slip up was enough to give Ross County all three points.

"If I was to make another error anytime soon then my confidence might be right down," he said. "I'm determined not to let that happen."