St Mirren made it difficult for themselves again yesterday – and remain in last place in the Scottish Premier League after a fifth match without a win – but the manner in which they fought back from two goals down to snatch a draw will give their beleaguered supporters something to cling on to after a patchy start to the season.
Danny Lennon’s side showed more intent in the final 30 minutes than they had managed in the entire opening hour during which defensive lapses and their own profligacy allowed Hamilton into what seemed like a commanding lead only for St Mirren to belatedly show a bit of fight and dig to rescue a point.
With matches against Rangers, Celtic, Hearts, Aberdeen and Dundee United to come in the weeks ahead, it is hard to view this as any sort of platform from which St Mirren could construct a long unbeaten run but, after four successive defeats, there was tangible relief in their ranks that they had at least stopped the rot.
At the heart of the fightback was Kenny McLean, an 18-year-old thrown on for his debut when all hope was seemingly lost. Lennon later admitted that McLean was only used because he felt there was “nothing to lose, let’s stick a kid on”, but the young midfielder’s drive and energy were key to St Mirren turning the deficit around.
This was the third match in succession in which Hamilton have thrown away a lead to only draw or worse. Their two goals here were a reward for their early inventiveness and persistence, but once Dougie Imrie had doubled their advantage early in the second half, they seemed to switch off thinking the job done.
Once St Mirren claimed one back, the momentum swung fully behind the home side who then claimed an equaliser and looked the side more likely to go on and win the match.
Billy Reid later cut a frustrated and angry figure as he tried to address his side’s deficiencies.
“We didn’t defend as well as we could have and I never felt comfortable,” he said. “St Mirren pushed us back and got control of the game and we were all over the place. We have leaders all over the park but nobody took control. That’s been the story of our season – throwing points away.”
It was all fairly entertaining if somewhat scrappy. Both teams tried their best to play the ball on the ground, but too often moves would break down as passes went astray and it would be back to square one.
St Mirren should have gone in front on the half-hour mark. Gareth Wardlaw rattled the crossbar with a fierce strike and, when the loose ball was shuffled into his path via David van Zanten, Michael Higdon somehow couldn’t force it over the line.
Such profligacy rarely goes unpunished and so it was here when Hamilton forged in front nine minutes later, Jon Routledge sweeping a low shot past Craig Samson for his first Hamilton goal after good work by Nigel Hasselbaink and Imrie. The boos at half-time left Lennon and his players in little doubt as to what the home support thought of it all at that stage.
It would get worse for St Mirren early in the second half. They survived a let-off when Mark McLaughlin’s header from a free kick was well saved by Samson but would not be as fortunate one minute on.
Hasselbaink skipped past the dithering Lee Mair to cross for Imrie who, despite falling, was still able to bundle the ball into the net from close range. Lennon did not spare his players afterwards. “I felt our defending for that first goal, especially from Jure Travner, was very basic.
“The second goal was a catalogue of errors. Darren McGregor was naïve as he tried to win the first header that he had no chance of winning, then Jure doesn’t track the run, and Lee Mair doesn’t give him cover.”
The second Hamilton goal seemed to belatedly rouse St Mirren from their slumber. There was finally a bit of vibrancy and urgency about them, as if they had only just realised the size of the challenge facing them.
Wardlaw missed another snip, shooting wide when Travner’s cross somehow trundled all the way through to the back post, before Higdon atoned for his earlier miss by scoring on the hour mark.
Paul McGowan’s corner was cleverly redirected into the striker’s path by McGregor and this time Higdon got his effort on goal and beyond Tomas Cerny for St Mirren’s first goal against Hamilton in almost two years. There was more to come from St Mirren. Travner powered down the left flank to send in another enticing cross and, as Hamilton dozed, Higdon lashed the loose ball in for the equalising goal.
“I’m delighted with the comeback and fighting spirit,” added Lennon “but I’m disappointed not to take maximum points.”