BRENDAN RODGERS may rank them as the best side Celtic have faced on domestic duty this season, but St Mirren edged closer to becoming a League 1 club last night with a nerve-shredding defeat against relegation rivals St Mirren.

Raith Rovers claimed a precious 2-0 win over the Buddies thanks to a double from on-loan Rangers striker Ryan Hardie, with the young striker climbing from the bench to plunge a knife into the hearts of his former side.

While his first goal - a glancing header - was delightful, his second was a gift, as St Mirren keeper Billy O’Brien inexplicably attempted to dribble clear of his area, only to lose possession and afford Hardie a tap-in.

It is the type of error that has been relatively rare during the Paisley side’s recent resurgence, but typical of the woeful early season form which sees them remain five points adrift at the foot of the Championship.

Raith, meanwhile, can toast their maiden league win under new boss John Hughes and, more notably, the end of a 17-game winless run.

Unsurprisingly, Buddies boss Jack Ross felt no need to shake up a side which performed so admirably against Celtic on the Scottish Cup on Sunday, despite ultimately succumbing to a 4-1defeat. Adam Eckersley replacing Gary Irvine was the only change to the team that Brendan Rodgers descibed as the best the Hoops have faced domestically this season.

Meanwhile, in perhaps the most predictable starting eleven alteration in history, makeshift goalkeeper Ryan Stevenson lost his place between the sticks for Raith, making way for new signing Pavol Penska.

The giant Slovakian stopper endured a fraught journey to Fife, with his passport being stolen at Bratislava airport on Sunday, meaning a veritable magic mystery tour of Brussels and Vienna was required after securing emergency documentation to complete the move.

However, it was Penska’s opposite number, Billy O’Brien, who was called into action in the early exchanges, plunging to smother an instinctive drive from distance by Chris Johnston.

Chants of ‘Stevo, Stevo’ as he warmed up suggest Stevenson’s stint as a keeper against Ayr United have made the former Hearts midfielder something of a cult hero, however Iain Davidson stole his thunder with a superb block to deny Lewis Morgan’s goal-bound drive.

With the Saints toiling, skipper Stephen McGinn lost his cool, reacting furiously to a Johnston tackle and earning himself a lecture from referee Crawford Allan, much to the amusement of little brother, John, who was watching from the crowd.

Morgan came agonisingly close to breaking the deadlock after 37 minutes, reacting sharply to a loose ball on the edge of the box and fizzing a low shot inches wide of Penska’s post.

A dipping free-kick by Declan McManus on the cusp of half-time proved even more dangerous as the Rovers striker rattled the post from all over 30 yards.

Harry Davis came close as St Mirren - with two successive Championship wins on the spin prior to kick-off - sought a pivotal winner. He latched onto a deep Mallan delivery but could only hook his effort over the bar from close-range, under pressure from Penska.

At the other end, Raith’s scoring woes this term were summed up when McManus skewed a point-blank header over the bar following an almighty scramble in the Buddies box.

However, they had an ace up their sleeve in the form of Hardie, who scored a magnificent instinctive header, glancing Bobby Barr’s in-swinging delivery beyond O’Brien from just inside the box.

The game was put beyond doubt when Hardie then robbed the hapless O’Brien and rolled the ball into an unguarded net.