ST MIRREN booked their place in the quarter-finals of the Viaplay Cup thanks to a hard-fought, narrow victory over Motherwell at the SMiSA Stadium.

Stephen Robinson’s side maintained his team’s feel-good factor with a sixth straight win in all competitions as Caolan Boyd-Munce scored the only goal of the game on a wet and windy afternoon in Paisley.

Here are three talking points from an intriguing and absorbing last-16 encounter.

Buddies boss the middle

Both Motherwell and St Mirren came into this contest in encouraging form, having each performed well during the group stages and the opening exchanges of the new cinch Premiership season, and both sides are built on a foundation of steely defensive resilience married to an exceptional work ethic.

Organisation and discipline is the name of the game for both these teams, so perhaps it should have come as little surprise that the match got off to an attritional start. Every tackle and header was hard-fought and seemingly instantaneous, and no one was afforded a moment’s peace on the ball as the momentum shifted hither and yon.

The match had been 99 per cent perspiration early on until Boyd-Munce fired the hosts in front with that all-important dash of inspiration. A cross into the Motherwell area was initially dealt with and cleared to the edge of the box, where the St Mirren midfielder was waiting. The ball was 25 yards from goal as it rolled invitingly into his path; an instant later and the Northern Irishman had lashed it beyond Liam Kelly and into the visitors’ net.

The Buddies wouldn’t rest on their laurels, though. The midfield soon gained the upper hand as St Mirren started to exert some control. On the ball, their quick and sharp passing left Motherwell chasing shadows and off of it, their aggressive pursuit of each and every ball kept the away side penned firmly inside their own half.

Robinson’s men finished the first half on the front foot and could have been ahead by more, with Keanu Baccus demonstrating a useful knack of arriving at the edge of the box at just the right time more than once. They were enjoying more of the ball than their opponents and were using it much better – surely it was only a matter of time until they extended their lead.

’Well missing creative spark

By the time the half-time whistle rang out at the SMiSA Stadium, it was abundantly clear that something had to change if Motherwell were to haul themselves back into this cup tie. There were two major issues: there was a conspicuous absence of guile in the middle of the park, which made keeping a hold of the ball nigh-on impossible; and for all the industry of the two strikers, Theo Bair and Conor Wilkinson, neither wasn’t an available out-ball when his side were looking to get forward.

Finding another striker with the hold-up play of Kevin van Veen was always going to be an exceedingly tall order for Stuart Kettlewell and on this evidence, it is a problem that still requires a solution. Having a player like the Dutchman allowed the Steelmen to surrender possession and hurt their opponents on the counter, safe in the knowledge that just about every hopeful punt forward would be taken down and brought under control, but that is no longer the case at the Lanarkshire club.

The end result was that attacking forays forward were few and far between for ’Well, and they all had a rushed feel to them. With no one in attack or midfield able to get their foot on the ball, Kettlewell’s side struggled to truly threaten.

Lennon Miller, the promising teen playmaker who has impressed during so far this term, came off the bench shortly before the hour mark in an attempt to add some creativity to the midfield. Almost instantly, Motherwell started asking some awkward questions of their opponents.

It wasn’t enough to avoid defeat – the closest Motherwell would come to drawing level was when substitute Mika Biereth flashed a ball across the face of goal that no one was able to turn home – but it outlined Miller’s value to his team. He may only be celebrating his 17th birthday next week but the midfielder is growing in stature with every passing week, and is quickly becoming a vital cog in the Motherwell midfield.

No VAR? No problem

These two sides will meet on at least another three occasions this term but this will be the only one where VAR is not in use. Only the two televised last-16 Viaplay Cup ties had the all-seeing eye in the sky in operation, while the remaining six were played without video replays, regardless of whether or not the match was taking place at a Premiership ground.

It meant there was no lengthy period of added time at the end of either half, nor were the linesman encouraged to hold off on raising their flags when making an offside call, ensuring the game wasn’t as stop-start as some Premiership encounters.

There was one shout from the home players for a handball in the box (more out of hope than expectation) that referee Willie Collum correctly waved away, and Bevis Mugabe could consider himself fortunate to evade a late red card for hauling down a St Mirren attacker when he was the last man back – but on the whole, the officials could be fairly pleased with their afternoon’s work without video technology at hand.