Paul McGowan's expression was zombie-esque.

One word - devastated - peppered his assessment of how his St Mirren side contrived to turn victory into defeat in their inexplicable surrendering of a two-goal lead with eleven minutes of this compelling game left to play.

At this time of the season such a defeat has wider, potentially damaging, implications. A glance at the SPFL Premiership table will underline that point. Sitting second from the bottom, it is looking increasingly likely that the club may have to negotiate a play-off against Championship opposition come the end of the season to retain their top-tier status.

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McGowan's opener, a looping back-header after 20 minutes, highlighted the tone of proceedings; that the visitors were in control and their hosts looked unsettled, unhappy and unable to compete with their opponents in any area of the pitch.

And when a sloppy bid by Gavin Gunning to clear a low cross from the left hit the legs of Steven Thompson and went straight into the United net, St Mirren might have pinched themselves at the ease with which they had secured a two-goal lead.

"Dundee United never threatened us," said McGowan, with his eyes still glazed over. "We felt we were on top until their first goal which got them going and got the crowd going and tuned the game upside down.

"Considering what we put into the game it is devastating and we need to show real character and get back from this because we can't let it affect us. But it will be hard not to let it affect us."

The home side were fortunate. Even in a sport where managers will admit to little which can be construed as criticism of their own team, Jackie McNamara recognised that lady luck had been wearing United's colours.

It was his introduction of Ryan Dow, Stuart Armstrong and Brian Graham in the second half that helped effect a much-needed improvement in the United ranks and when the latter scored in the 79th minute - St Mirren complained it was offside - the boost was palpable.

Armstrong grabbed a second with six minutes remaining and suddenly the complexion of the encounter changed. "Once we got the first goal there was a feeling we could go on and level the game," said Armstrong. "But we thought it was unlikely we'd actually win it. You can have all the technical ability in the world but without a bit of spirit and determination it's nothing. I think the win shows the belief we have in ourselves and what we can accomplish."

Dow's long-range sizzler of a shot as the match entered the third and final minute of stoppage time brought the breakthrough. Marian Kello, the St Mirren goalkeeper, fumbled the ball and when it fell for Nadir Ciftci, just a yard away, the striker reacted quickly. Somehow he found enough space to prod the ball over the line.

"It's been the story of our season," McGowan said. "We don't get the breaks often enough and we paid the price again. It would have been a great three points for us, considering Partick Thistle won against Hibs."

The consequences for McGowan and company could be serious and it might be argued that Danny Lennon, the St Mirren manager, has had to make too many post-matches speeches claiming bad luck and learning lessons. Allowing his side to lose concentration following United's opener spelled disaster, but said much for the iron will of a young Tannadice team who answered many questions as they continue to look upwards in the Premiership.