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St Mirren 4 Dundee United 1: Saints raise spirits after Ghost's exit

BOXING Day seemed as appropriate a time as any for Dundee United to find themselves outfought in a bruising scrap in Paisley.

Jason Naismith, second right, is congratulated after scoring his first goal for St Mirren. Picture: SNS
Jason Naismith, second right, is congratulated after scoring his first goal for St Mirren. Picture: SNS

Stevie Thompson was clad in tangerine the last time St Mirren scalped these particular opponents in this neck of the woods, back in April 2001, but yesterday he topped and tailed a famous victory for his hometown team as the Saints stomped all over United's six-match SPFL winning run.

Although they were thankful themselves for an inspired last line of defence in Marian Kello, St Mirren's four goals came on the back of a four-match scoreless league run, against a side who are renowned for scoring multiple goals themselves. But the hosts won personal battles all over the place, even prior to the dismissal of United's Keith Watson midway through the second period for a dangerous tackle on Liam Kelly.

It was the day's only red card, much to United's chagrin. Jim Goodwin, nicknamed The Ghost by Ross County manage Derek Adams earlier in the season for his apparent ability to remain invisible to officialdom, crunched Ryan Gauld early on, left Stuart Armstrong complaining of being the victim of a forearm smash, then did see yellow from referee Bobby Madden for leading with an arm in a lusty midfield aerial contest with John Rankin. While his robustness helped put the fear of God into United's young creative players early on, when he avoided a second booking for a supplementary late one on Rankin, it was only a matter of time till he was withdrawn - job at least partially done - drawing daggers at his manager Danny Lennon, to outright cacophony from both sets of fans.

"I was doing the team a favour taking Jim off," said Lennon. "The odds didn't stack up well. With the type of players United are, it doesn't take much; and it is difficult enough playing against Dundee United with 11 men never mind 10. I have to add that Jim was fantastic for the 40 minutes he played. A lot is spoken about the Dundee United youngsters and rightly so, but I was delighted with the fantastic, brilliant crop of youngsters we have here."

St Mirren went in with a 2-1 lead at half-time, just about right on the balance of the play and chances. Their goals were executed in a manner of which this much vaunted United side would have been proud. First Conor Newton directed Paul McGowan's cross into the path of Thompson, who killed the awkwardly dropping ball before directing it, on the swivel, into Radoslaw Cierzniak's bottom corner. Some more McGowan prompting saw John McGinn sweep in off the left, dummy past Gavin Gunning and roll in a simple finish.

They had other chances as well - but so did United. The visitors really should have answered the opening goal within seconds but Stuart Armstrong headed Keith Watson's cross straight at Kello and the Slovak - blamed in some quarters for a heavy defeat against these same opponents on his debut - also had to look smart to keep out efforts from Rankin and Nadir Ciftci. While St Mirren were still celebrating their second, the hitherto peripheral Gauld earned another assist with a lovely first-time pass which Ciftci converted, the ball spinning off Kello but dropping under the bar to defy two back­tracking defenders.

The changes in St Mirren personnel at half time pre-empted a rearguard action. Kello tipped away a Rankin piledriver and pawed at a lob from the onrushing Gary Mackay-Steven, before McNamara made a few changes of his own, withdrawing Gauld and the injured Armstrong and going direct with Graham and David Goodwillie. Kello, nigh unbeatable now, saved from Ciftci before the moment which changed the match. Watson miscontrolled on half-way, then compounded the error by going in dangerously on Liam Kelly. Referee Madden had no hesitation.

Seconds later, and the mountain United were facing acquired Himalayan proportions when Jason Naismith ran on to a McGinn pass to knock in his first goal for the club. Kello defied Rankin one last time before Thompson lashed into the net from McGowan's cross.

"I was disappointed with some of the challenges that went in and I think that was reflected in Danny's substitution at the end of the first half," said McNamara.

"I felt Jim could have been off before that, not just for the number of fouls but the manner in which they were carried out. I have no qualms about Keith's red card because he left the ground, but there was no malice. It was just one of those days, but I've told the players they do not have a divine right to win every game."

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