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St Mirren 2 Kilmarnock 0: Newton acts on second law to move Paisley side out of the play-off place

CONOR NEWTON seems to save his most telling St Mirren contributions for the month of March.

Conor Newton, left, celebrates his opening goal with Gregg Wylde, who would later add a second as St Mirren ended a run of five straight defeats. Picture: SNS
Conor Newton, left, celebrates his opening goal with Gregg Wylde, who would later add a second as St Mirren ended a run of five straight defeats. Picture: SNS

Last year it was scoring in the League Cup final win over Hearts, on Saturday it was a precious league goal as Danny Lennon's side stopped the rot by winning only their second game of 2014 after five successive defeats.

In isolation it would take a massive leap to draw comparisons between scoring in a cup final at Hampden and finding the net in a seemingly humdrum win over Kilmarnock. But an examination of the bigger picture shows just how vital Newton's goal - Gregg Wylde added a second late on - could turn out to be.

St Mirren began the game in the SPFL Premiership's relegation play-off place, widely expected to still be there come the end of the season. That desperate run of form had led to intense speculation about Lennon's future, and a suggestion that a loss to Kilmarnock might bring his time in charge to an end.

Relegation, via a two-legged play-off final, would not only seriously damage the prospects of St Mirren directors selling the club after almost five years of trying, but would also likely mean an extended stint out of the top flight given the level of competition in the Championship.

Little wonder there were furrowed brows and looks of concern all around the home support ahead of kick-off on Saturday. Remarkable, then, how just one goal and one victory can make such a difference. St Mirren, of course, still remain in a perilous position in the table and will face only top six sides in their remaining matches before the split.

It was impossible to ignore, however, the wave of relief that washed over the stadium at full-time following months of gloom and despair. Little wonder there were smiles of delight on the faces of the St Mirren players as they headed to Dublin on Saturday night for their re-arranged Christmas bash.

"It wasn't good enough last week [the defeat by Ross County] and all the lads sat down and spoke about things," revealed Newton. "The reaction has been very good and we have cleared the air so everybody looked up for it. We had a few words midweek and it definitely paid off.

"I should hope after this we will get away from trouble. I don't see why we can't win a lot of the games before the end of the season as we looked good today and we had a spring in our step. Hopefully we can get a few more victories after today. We have the quality to do so but we haven't shown that of late."

St Mirren's joy was offset by Kilmarnock's despair. They are enduring a barren run of their own at the moment, this loss ensuring they too will be involved in the battle to avoid the play-offs in the weeks and months ahead.

Manuel Pascali, the Kilmarnock defender, spelled it out in the plainest of terms. "I'm sure that if we perform like today we will end up in the play-offs - 100%," said the Italian. "If we are going to give the same performances as we have today - there is no doubt about that. We won't win any matches until the end of the season.

"It's up to us, the senior players. We've got a young team like many others but we've been here before so we need to take the young players with us and fight again.

"At least we are playing for something rather than having nothing to play for until the end of the season. But we have to change and have to start winning games or else we will end up in trouble. It's not an easy situation but we have to deal with it.

"You can't win every match - everyone wants to challenge at the top of the league - but we are in a different position. If we perform like this again it's going to be very hard. We've been here before. It's time to show some character and I'm ready for this fight."

A section of the away support at St Mirren Park vented their feelings towards manager Allan Johnston and Pascali felt they were entitled to do so. "It's always going to be like that when things are not going well," the defender added. "Maybe the fans have been too nice in the past.

"We didn't deserve anything from this game so they were right to criticise the manager but, okay, he picked the team but it's up to us. I've never seen a manager scoring a winning goal. This was one of the worst performances we've had for a long time."

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