St Mirren 4 Dunfermline Athletic 4Author: Alistair Campbell Date: Sunday, 22nd Apr 2012
Finally the Pars managed to find a cutting edge to their attacking play but the defensive frailties that have haunted them all season were once again visible to all. Trailing at the break to a Thompson goal late in the half after McMillan had equalised Hasselbaink’s early opener, the Buddies forged clear with Thompson completing a hat-trick either side of a Graham strike. In a thrilling finish first Buchanan then Kirk found the net, but the miracle fifth wasn’t forthcoming.
This was my first visit to the “New” St Mirren Park, confusingly given the same name as the old ground in Love Street. It’s even easier to find, though – leave the M8 at Junction 29, double back following the signs, and you’re soon there, with plenty off-street parking. One minor downside is the requirement to go through the rigmarole of buying a ticket in one place, only almost immediately to present the same brief at the scanner at the turnstiles just round the corner. However, it is a neat enough ground, with the black and white seating distinguishing it from similar “lego-land” stadia elsewhere.
As for the teams, Hardie and Buchanan were back in the side instead of Kirk and Willis, with what started as a 4-4-1-1. Smith was in goals at his old stomping ground, with the expected back four of McMillan, Dowie, Keddie and McCann in front of him. Graham was the one wide player in the middle, along with Kerr, Hutton and Mason, and Hardie was closer to Buchanan than his midfield brethren. The bench had an attacking flavour to it, more due to the availability of players I suspect rather than any gung-ho tendencies – with Kirk, Barrowman, McDougall, Cardle and Willis there, along with Thomson and Bernardo Dominguez Fernandez.
St Mirren were along usual lines, with Jim Goodwin recalled to the side in defence to begin with. The promising McLean was in midfield along with Imrie; Carey and Van Zanten were playing as wingbacks, and Thompson and Hasselbaink were the strikeforce.
The Pars kicked off in their yellow and blue change strips defending the North Stand, populated by 308 noisy flag-waving Pars fans who had brought a drum (and drummer) along for the occasion. He was soon beating the retreat as St Mirren scored an early goal in their first attack in the fourth minute. Hasselbaink broke clear with the defence vainly appealing for offside, neatly sidestepped Keddie’s attempted tackle, and slide the ball beneath Smith. 1-0.
Another terrible start, and there was a close shave a few minutes later when Carey’s cross flashed across the face of the Pars’ goal evading everyone. However, the Pars not only calmed things down, but took play to the hosts – twice Hutton had good shooting chances, the first leading to a corner which Hardie headed over, Buchanan also had a half chance after some first-time passing from Keddie, Dowie, McMillan and Mason set him free, and then we saw the closest thing yet in 18 minutes when Graham’s shot from the left struck the inside of the post and stayed out. Next a free-kick came back to Hardie and when he chipped the ball back in Keddie headed wide when he should have found the target at least.
However, the goal was not long delayed – Mason passed to McMillan who cut inside his man before thrashing a left foot shot from the edge of the box into the far corner. 1-1 and no less than the Pars deserved.
Having done the hard work to get level, the Pars nearly threw it away again twice in quick succession. Carey managed to escape down the left and Imrie got something on the end of his cross but Smith managed to touch it onto the bar and Keddie stopped Thomson scoring at his right hand post. Next we saw a typical communication break-down when Smith came out to gather a long ball only for Dowie to back-head it nearly beyond him, Smith sticking out a glove to stop another calamity.
By now St Mirren had made a tactical change, pushing Goodwin into a holding role just in front of his back four and this switch meant the Pars were no longer enjoying the majority of possession in the middle of the park. Indeed, it was the home team who were looking dangerous – Imrie, having stopped the ball running out of play whilst going full tilt, had time to swing round the corner flag and gather it again before being nearly halved by the late arriving McMillan.
However, with not long to go before half-time the Pars conceded another bad goal. McCann played a needless ball inside to Keddie who allowed himself to be dispossessed too easily by Hasselbaink. The Pars defence just about dealt with it, but were still sorting themselves out when Carey swung the ball back in and Thompson rose above McCann to head the Saints into the lead. With McGowan sizzling a shot just past the post a shell-shocked Pars team went in one down at the break.
Half time: Buddies 2 Pars 1
There was a surprise change for the restart, with Cardle coming on for McMillan who had a thigh strain – forcing Gary Mason to drop to right back, a position he had filled on occasion in the Calderwood era. However, this change couldn’t be held responsible for the Pars conceding another early goal as the damage was done elsewhere – Kerr being caught in possession by McGowan and Thompson rising above Dowie to score the classic centre-forward’s header from the resultant cross. 3-1 and surely game over.
Well, no, not quiet. Hardie had a half-chance but unlike Thompson couldn’t get his head on the ball, before the Pars pulled one back in 56 minutes. Mason’s pass was deflected to Hardie who found Graham 20 yards out in a central position with a shot on, but DG elected to play a 1-2 with Hardie, a manoeuvre that was executed to perfection allowing Graham to burst through for a simple finish from 8 yards. 3-2, and Graham was in the net to shuttle the ball back for a quick re-spot.