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The kids are alright as St Mirren mature

IN Scottish football circa 2013 you are only ever as good as your young players.

Steven Thompson set the tone to a Boxing Day win over Dundee United
Steven Thompson set the tone to a Boxing Day win over Dundee United

So little wonder that there was something of a proud, protective, doting parent about the way in which Steven Thompson extolled the contribution of St Mirren's homegrown kids in the 4-1 Boxing Day victory against Dundee United.

For all the plaudits lavished consistently in the direction of young players such as Ryan Gauld, Stuart Armstrong and Andy Robertson at United, it was worth noting that two 19-year-olds, John McGinn and Jason Naismith, were also on target for the Paisley side. Other starring roles were played by Sean Kelly, who is 20, and 21-year-old Kenny McLean.

Such distinction in youth development will be equally important tomorrow when St Mirren take on another set of talented teenagers, this time from Tynecastle, albeit one rooted to the bottom of the SPFL Premiership table after another demoralising defeat. Recording back-to-back wins could even allow the Paisley side to trouble the top six for the first time this season, despite struggling at the start of the campaign.

"We have as many [young players starting matches] as any other team and they have all been doing exceptionally well," said Thompson, the St Mirren striker. "It was nice to see John McGinn getting on the score sheet, which is something I have been urging him to do more. Playing in a wide area in midfield like he has been, he has to make the box more. He has the ability to score goals, he just has to do it more frequently, and all the other young players have been doing exceptionally well too."

For all the effervescence of youth, several of the club's senior citizens were also to the fore as Danny Lennon's side did a number on their idealistic visitors from Tayside. Marian Kello, formerly of Hearts, was in utterly defiant form between the sticks, Jim Goodwin careered around the midfield like a wrecking ball, and Thompson - a United player the last time St Mirren defeated the Tayside team in Paisley, back in 2001 - scored two and set the tone with energy and aggressive pressing from the front.

"You are not going to get it your own way all the time, and they [the kids at United] have been getting it their own way quite a lot of the time," added the veteran striker of a United side who left this match battered and bruised. "They will learn from the defeat and I am pretty sure they will bounce back again in their next game. They are all exceptionally talented players, and they have got enough leaders in their changing room to lift their spirits for the next game."

Danny Lennon also struck a proud, paternal note. Kelly's energy caused the miscalculation with led to Keith Watson being dismissed halfway through the second half - a crucial moment in the match - while soon afterwards Naismith was piling on from right-back to register his first goal for the club.

"The Dundee United lads get a lot of credit because of the positions they play," said Lennon. "They are flair players, score goals and that's what people want to read about. But we have a fantastic conveyor belt here ourselves."

Such positivity would be hard for even the most upbeat of Hearts fans to find amid what has been a truly annus horribilis down Tynecastle way. Hearts have known little but misery in 2013, the club falling into administration in the summer after years of financial mismanagement, with the subsequent 15-point penalty and departure of all but a handful of senior players further adding to the gloom.

Rock bottom of the Premiership, 14 points short of a play-off space and 18 off the complete safety of 10th, relegation seems all but a formality for Gary Locke and his overexposed and overused young players in 2014. Throw in March's Scottish League Cup final defeat by St Mirren and it has been a year to forget, the only consolation the way the supporters have impressively rallied around an increasingly desperate cause.

They will be needed again tomorrow, when Hearts fulfil their final fixture this year before the calendar can be torn down and thrown in the bin. "In some ways we'll be glad to see the back of 2013," admitted Kevin McHattie, the Hearts full-back. "But with everything the club has been through, and all the fans sticking by us, it's been a great year in that way. We've just got to look forward to the [St Mirren game] and hopefully produce the goods. We just need to hope we start getting points on the board."

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