By Stuart Gillespie at St Mirren Park
With the way the weather has been in Paisley today it was perhaps no surprise that it rained goals for 90 minutes at St Mirren Park as Saints and Dunfermline shared the points in an eight goal thriller.
For much of the season the Buddies have been solid at the back only to struggle up front but today they did exactly the opposite. Nigel Hasselbaink looked as if he’d set his team on their way to an easy afternoon when he scored the opener after four minutes but that just spurred the Pars into action, Jordan McMillan deservedly equalising midway through the half.
Steven Thompson header’s either side of the break appeared to have Saints well in control only for David Graham to pull one back, Thompson restoring the advantage when he completed his hat-trick in spectacular style.
That should have been that – and probably would have been had Liam Buchanan not reduced the deficit within a few minutes. Even then it looked as if Saints would be the more likely to get the game’s eighth goal but with two minutes remaining Andy Kirk headed in the equaliser to snatch a crucial point for his side – before spurning a chance to take all three.
Saints fans will no doubt be tearing their hair out and wondering how their side can score four goals at home yet still not win, but this was a far better game than anyone could have predicted and there will be no complaints if the Buddies remaining four “meaningless” games are similarly entertaining.
Graham Carey was to play a big part in Saints attacking impetus after being restored to the side in place of the suspended Jeroen Tesselaar. Jim Goodwin also returned as he replaced Steven Thomson, who joined fellow soon-to-be-a-former-Buddie Hugh Murray on the bench alongside Darren McGregor. A couple of former Saints were in the Pars side with Chris Smith in goals and Gary Mason in midfield. Liam Buchanan was the man chosen to lead the Pars attack with set-piece specialist Martin Hardie also starting, top scorers Andy Kirk and Joe Cardle end up on the bench.
Early goals have been a real problem for Saints this season but they managed to score one today. With less than five minutes on the clock. Paul McGowan picked out Nigel Hasselbaink and with the linesman’s flag staying down he turned Alex Keddie inside-out before tucking the ball under Smith.
Dougie Imrie could only send a glancing header wide of goal when he got onto the end of a Carey cross a few minutes later but after that Saints seemed to switch off as Dunfermline took control, Kyle Hutton seeing his shot deflected behind for a corner thanks to a last gasp slide from Lee Mair. The on-loan Rangers midfielder was unlucky that time but should have done much better moments later, the home defence ripped apart before Hutton dragged his shot wide with only Craig Samson to beat.
Saints seemed to be struggling to cope with a visiting side that had a fair greater need of a win, Steven Thompson heading a Graham Carey free-kick over the bar the only meaningful attempt to double the lead. Dunfermline continued to look the more threatening, opening up Saints once again to give David Graham a sight of goal only for his angled drive to hit the inside of the post and came out with Samson beaten. Keddie was next to try his luck but headed wide with no one near him.
Instead it was another defender who got the equaliser. With the Pars once again given all the time and space they wanted Jordan McMillan decided to cut in from the right and unleash a rocket that Samson could only get a hand to as it flew into the net. The equaliser was fully deserved, only bad luck and poor finishing having stopped Dunfermline from drawing level earlier.
After Mark Kerr had his shot gathered by Samson at the second attempt Saints finally seemed to wake up and should have been in front when McGowan nodded Carey’s cross back across Smith, only for it to bounce up and hit the bar, Thompson fluffing the rebound wide. Andy Dowie tried to show how it should be done when he attempted to nod the ball back to Smith and almost saw it go looping over his keeper, the former Buddie stretching back just enough to stop the ball bouncing into the unguarded goal.
McMillan nearly went from hero to villain for the Pars when he cleaned out Imrie with a late challenge, the ex Rangers fan perhaps fortunate only to be booked for the lunge. Saints were now on the ascendancy, Kenny McLean shooting straight at Smith from 20 yards and Carey’s free-kick fizzing wide. Imrie also shot wide from distance while McGowan was somewhat closer with a long ranger after being teed up by Thompson.
The Saints pressure was building and three minutes before half-time it finally paid off, Carey delivering a delicious ball and Thompson out muscled the Pars defence to nod home. That should have ensured the Buddies were in front at the break but again they seemed to switch off, Mason finding himself with space to have a shot that Samson saved easily, before McGowan tried to push home the advantage when his 25 yard shot flew wide with Smith beaten.
Half-Time: St Mirren 2-1 Dunfermline Athletic
Pars goalscorer McMillan was replaced by Cardle at the break but whatever Jim Jefferies said to his side at the interval was rendered redundant after just two minutes. Imrie did well to wriggle away from a few meaty looking challenges before hanging the ball up at the back post, Thompson once again getting the better of his marker to head the ball out of Smith’s reach into the top corner for his second double in as many home games.
That should have had Saints on easy street but, whether it’s a relegation dogfight or a meaningless end of season run in, things are never that easy where the Buddies are involved and just before the hour mark Dunfermline were back in it. A neat one-two between Hardie and Graham saw the latter waltz his way past Mair and lift the ball past Samson to give the Pars a fighting chance. Imrie then cleaned out Kerr with a tackle similar to McMillan’s in the first half and was deservedly booked before Jefferies was spoken to for disagreeing with a linesman’s decision as the visitors looked for an equaliser in front of their vocal following.
However, their hopes appeared over midway through the second half when Cardle was dispossessed far too easily by David van Zanten. The fullback ran forward before slipping the ball into Thompson who took a touch and hammered the ball into the top corner to complete his first ever SPL hat-trick in emphatic style. In the process Thompson became just the second Saints player to bag an SPL treble after Michael Higdon against Hamilton last season. The goal was also Thompson’s 15th of the campaign – the most by any Saints player since John Sutton bagged 17 during the 2005/06 double winning campaign. His 16th nearly followed soon after as he headed wide from Carey’s cross.
But the two goal advantage lasted just a few minutes, Dunfermline pulling a goal back in equally spectacular style. With Saints looking for a fifth they found themselves caught short at the back but Liam Buchanan still had plenty to do when Graham slipped the ball through to him around 30 yards from goal. Did it he did, the striker running forward a few yards before unleashing an unstoppable swerving shot into the top corner.
The Dunfermline fans sensed a lifeline and should have seen their side equalise when the ball was sent over the top for Buchanan deep in the Saints penalty box, but his first touch was too heavy and gave Mair enough time to nip in and clear the danger. After that let-off Danny Lennon decided to change a couple of his attacking players, Imrie and Hasselbaink replaced by Gary Teale and youngster Thomas Reilly. Keddie was booked for ending a sensational forward run by Marc McAusland before Andy Barrowman replaced Buchanan – a change that had been set to take place just before the latter’s goal – and Kirk replaced Mason.
Two minutes from time the changes paid off to earn Dunfermline a point that may yet prove to be pricless. With Saints seemingly have ridden the storm Cardle was able to deliver a cross from the right and Kirk arrived to head past Samson and send the away fans wild. The Buddies tried desperately to claw back the squandered points and McGowan tested Smith from range but the Pars were desperate for all three, Hardie nodding on for Kirk in stoppage time only for his fellow veteran to blaze over. It may not be the result either side wanted, but if Dunfermline continue to show this sort of fight they may just make the battle to beat the drop last a little longer.
Full-Time: St Mirren 4-4 Dunfermline Athletic
St Mirren: Samson, van Zanten, Mair, McAusland, Goodwin, McLean, Carey, Imrie (Teale 73), Thompson, McGowan, Hasselbaink (Reilly 73).
Subs Not Used: McGregor, Murray, Thomson, Mooy, Smith (GK).
Dunfermline Athletic: Smith, McCann, Keddie, Dowie, McMillan (Cardle 46), Kerr, Mason (Kirk 84), Hardie, Hutton, Graham, Buchanan (Barrowman 77).
Subs Not Used: Willis, Thomson, McDougall, Fernandez (GK).
Referee: Iain Brines.
Assistant Referee: Michael Banks.
Assistant Referee: John McCrossan.
4th Official: Mat Northcroft.
Star Saint: Graham Carey and Dougie Imrie delivered some dangerous crosses and Paul McGowan was lively all day but for a spectacular hat-trick it has to be Steven Thompson.
Match pictures by Allan Picken – © Allan Picken Photography.