The Saints didn’t just go marching in. They went marauding forth. This was a quite devastating display of pace, industry, invention and attacking zeal from St Mirren as Stephen Mallan’s debated hat-trick helped obliterate hapless Raith Rovers and moved the Paisley men to the brink of Championship safety. The great escape is almost complete. Jack Ross’ team, once so far adrift at the bottom you needed a bathysphere to find them, now cannot be automatically relegated but still may need to plunder something against Hibernian next weekend to ensure they avoid the relegation play-off. On this sizzling form, they won’t be fretting about making the trip to Easter Road.

“I would’ve taken any manner of win but to do it with that kind of performance was outstanding,” said Ross. “Our first goal was not to finish bottom. The next challenge is not to finish in the bottom two. I believe we can go to Easter Road and be positive and any game we go into now, we are more than capable of winning.”

Given the perilous position of both sides, the sense of nail-nibbling nervousness in the stadium prior to kick-off was tangible. You wouldn’t have been surprised if you went down to the refreshment kiosk and they were advertising a steak and gravy pie and a cup of nervous tension at a competitive price.

The hosts started with plenty of purpose and made a decisive breakthrough in the 27th minute. Cammy Smith got himself to the byline and angled the ball back for the on-rushing Mallan who cushioned a neat finish past Pavol Penksa. A goal to the good, St Mirren continued to advance with an added spring in their step and their energy and drive had the Raith defenders in a right old fluster at times.

Lewis Morgan whipped in a curling effort which Penksa had to palm to safety but the Raith custodian could do nothing to prevent a second St Mirren goal with six minutes of the half remaining. Mallan’s free-kick from the edge of the box took a considerable deflection off the Rovers wall and bounced beyond the wrong-footed Penksa and into the net.

“I know there was a deflection but it was on target so I don’t care what anybody says, I’m claiming it,” said an inspired Mallan, who appeared with the match ball afterwards.

The visitors must have been happy to get into the dressing room to regroup but probably wished they’d stayed in there as things went from bad to worse just a couple of minutes after the resumption as Kevin McHattie inadvertently headed the ball into his own net.

St Mirren were buoyant and continued to bound forward with tireless energy and a seemingly insatiable hunger for more goals. Mallan almost got one on 56 minutes with a dipping drive which Penksa had to tip over at full stretch but the St Mirren man would not be denied. On the hour, he put the finishing touches to a delightful passage and curled a superb 25 yarder into the top corner. St Mirren could do no wrong.

Morgan had a goal disallowed at the end of another barnstorming move but he would have his say in the last knockings as he rattled home a fifth goal to complete a rousing rout.

John Hughes, the Raith Rovers manager, questioned the character of his players ahead of their win or bust encounter with doomed Ayr United next week. “There are too many guys in there who think they are better than they are,” said a clearly annoyed Hughes. “And that’s a recipe for disaster.”

Scorers: Mallan 27, 39, 59, McHattie 48 og, Morgan 87