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Patience has proved a virtue for player capable of frustrating

The last time Gary Harkins spent 11 weeks out of the starting line-up was when he was a centre-back at Grimsby Town.

Gary Harkins scored the opening goal against Queen of the South
Gary Harkins scored the opening goal against Queen of the South

Back then he was 21 and still trying to find a way to deploy his mercurial talents in the professional game. That can remain an issue at times for Harkins, who is now a playmaker in the final third, but he made an immediate impact on Tuesday night after a second period of almost three months stuck on the bench.

Harkins last started a game for St Mirren against Hibernian last September, but a combination of the team's poor form, manager Danny Lennon struggling to find his strongest line-up, and Harkins being the kind of player who needs to be accommodated in the team, left the attacker on the periphery. He watched from the bench as St Mirren recovered their form and as Paul McGowan retained the central attacking midfield role where Harkins is most often used, but he kept his edge.

With McGowan injured, Harkins started the William Hill Scottish Cup replay against Queen of the South, scoring the opening goal and playing a role in the others as his side won 3-0. He can be a frustrating player and several managers have struggled with fitting his passing ability and creativity into their side when he lacks the high intensity, work rate and defensive instincts to be a midfielder. He lacks the pace to be a threat on the flank, but can be effective in the final third, where his ball control, feints, and passing range mean he can make the most of crowded situations.

"I'm the type of player that people get on my back, quite simply because I can be frustrating," said Harkins. "I know what I can do and I like to show people what I can do. I don't like to go out there and just do everything dead simple. Because I'm not Pele, I can't do it every time. I'm going to make mistakes, but I'm not going to chase [the ball] around like a headless chicken because I've not got that in my locker. I don't think anyone at any level can do it right every time."

A move into defence is unlikely, although Harkins has the game awareness and poise to play in any area of the field. He played his best, most consistent football in Scotland under Kenny Shiels at Kilmarnock, usually on the left of an attacking trident, but with the licence to roam infield and deep to pick up the ball. He is something of a free spirit, but Lennon must have felt that finding room for Harkins and McGowan brought an imbalance to his team.

Despite impressing on Tuesday night, Harkins is already under pressure. It was thought that McGowan had fractured his toe, but scans yesterday revealed that was not the case and the player could return to the squad for this weekend's game against Aberdeen. Harkins has earned at least another start, not least because his attitude did not suffer during his time out of the side.

"I scored, I played a part in the goals and I would expect to be starting on Saturday," Harkins said. "If the team is doing well then you support your team, but you always want to be playing. Obviously there are times when you're thinking 'wait a minute, I want to be playing', but you just need to work hard and wait for your chance. I've got a contract here for a couple of years, so you don't think of leaving every time something goes bad."

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