IT isn’t often over the years that a match between Motherwell and St Mirren could be billed as something of a ‘top of the table clash’, but both teams showed on Saturday at Fir Park just why the so-called bigger clubs in the Premiership should be taking them seriously.

Ok, no one is saying that they will be in the title race come the business end of the season, but there is no reason why they can’t be in the conversation in the battle for third, often framed as a straight fight between the likes of Aberdeen, Hearts and Hibs – who have all struggled at the start of the campaign.

Saints edged the encounter with a brilliantly worked and wonderfully finished goal from Scott Tanser 10 minutes into the second half, the one real moment of attacking quality they produced in a game where – as manager Stephen Robinson and his players have admitted – they weren’t at their best.

READ MORE: Motherwell 0 St Mirren 1: Streetwise Saints do job on wasteful 'Well

They were defensively resolute though, typified by a wounded warrior's performace from Alex Gogic, and showed that they are capable of grinding out results at difficult venues. Though, they were helped by the profligacy of the home side, who did just about everything but put the ball into the back of the net.

Motherwell manager Stuart Kettlewell, so impressive in dragging his club up by the bootstraps since taking over in February, said it was the best performance his team had produced since he took the reins.

His midfield of Lennon Miller, Blair Spittal, Harry Paton and the advanced Callum Slattery were hugely impressive once more, their interplay and one-touch football often a joy to watch. And they created chances.

Theo Bair missed perhaps the best of them, dragging wide when in on goal, though substitute Oli Shaw also fluffed his big chance seconds after entering proceedings, dollying a great opportunity straight at the outstanding Saints keeper Zach Hemming. More on him later.

Alas, the Steelmen carried a blunt edge on the day, but both sets of supporters will have left Fir Park with huge optimism that their team may be able to upset the established Premiership order.

Certainly, that is a view held by Saints goalscorer Tanser, who revealed the St Mirren players see themselves as real contenders for third place.

“We do,” Tanser said. “Of course we do. But we are not a team that’s going to come out and shout about it.

“We go about our business picking up points. Hearts are expected to be up there. Aberdeen are expected to be up there. 

“People look at us - we finished top six last season - and I still don’t think they accept we should be pushing for top six.

“But us as a team we definitely believe we should be. We do get underestimated by people but I think the way we’ve started this season, I don’t think they can.

“You’re not always going to be at your best. But, as I’ve said before, as a team we are all together.

“We all dig in for each other and that’s what you need to pick up those points if you want to be in the top six or pushing for Europe at the end of the season.

“That’s what we’re doing. Good teams get results in those situations, and we are a good team.”

Tanser himself was delighted to get his first goal in almost two years, and he is pleased to have put a difficult spell behind him away from football – with the help of his manager - that had been detrimental to his game.

“As you know probably, last season was a bit of a struggle for me on and off the pitch,” he said.

“I had quite a lot going on. I’ve kind of put that behind me and this season I’m being the player I was when I first signed for St Mirren.

“Hopefully that continues. You know there are ups and downs. There are a lot of downs in football, and you have to know you’re not going to play well every week.

“Me, personally, first half I wasn’t at my best. Second half, much better. It was a game of two halves for me - literally!

“The manager has been massive, especially for me. We’ve had talks, he’s helped me out massively.”

Now, back to Hemming. The keeper had his own issues away from football last season that prevented him showing his best form during his second loan spell at Kilmarnock, but he too appears to be back to his best at St Mirren.

The keeper pulled off a miraculous fingertip save late on to deny Motherwell substitute Georgie Gent a debut goal, the left-back seeing his effort somehow diverted onto the underside of the crossbar.

It was moment that underlined perhaps it was just not to be Motherwell’s day, but according to Gent, they will come again, and be ready for a major test of their credentials at Ibrox next Sunday.

READ MORE: St Mirren's fast start to Scottish Premiership comes as no surprise

“It was so close,” Gent said. “I thought it had gone in.

“It wasn’t our day. But we regroup and we go again. To be honest, I thought we were the better team. But it happens in football. Like I said, we will regroup and the lads will be up for the next one.

“The boys have been excellent recently. Before I came in, we were on a great run. It’s just one of those things.

“Personally, it will be a great experience playing at Ibrox which I have never done before. 

“I’m sure it will be a tough test, but we will be up for it.”