These teams shared the goals, the points, and the feeling that the outcome might otherwise have been avoided.
The match had become bedraggled by the time United finally capitalised on an chance. David Goodwillie’s deep cross from the left was hopeful but David Robertson met it with a firm header so precisely composed that it arced over Paul Gallacher, the St Mirren goalkeeper, and into the net.
“Jure Travner could have done a lot better at the back post, you’ve got to defend with your life given what’s at stake,” said Danny Lennon, the St Mirren manager. “I’d expect us to cope with a cross like that. By the 88th minute, you think you’ve done enough to win but there was a wee bit of anxiety there.”
Both teams carried a sense of angst into the contest. St Mirren had not scored a league goal for 365 minutes, while United had drawn seven of their last eight. There was little scope for either manager to be radical, although Peter Houston selected Stuart Armstrong, an 18-year-old making his first start, ahead of Robertson.
St Mirren seemed set on being resolute – because United were capable of swiftly incisive passages – while Paul McGowan offered their greatest source of enterprise. He jinked into pockets of space, but it seemed dully familiar when after creating room, Dusan Pernis dealt comfortably with his shot.
The effort felt like an oddity, since the moments of danger had wholly belonged to United. With the direct running of Craig Conway, at least in the opening stages, United had an outlet for their ambition, while Goodwillie scurried around St Mirren’s defenders with a crafty intent. At times, the interchanges were crisp and precise, and when Conway crossed to Goodwillie at the far post, he turned the ball towards goal only for Jim Goodwin to hack it clear.
St Mirren had to defend emphatically, as United’s sprightly attacks bewildered them. Gathering another cross, Johnny Russell spun adroitly and hit a low shot that Gallacher blocked. Before half-time, Goodwillie also sent a header off the top of the crossbar, but on that occasion his grimace was also one of alarm, as St Mirren had taken the lead by then.
The home side had been disgruntled, with John Potter sharing angry words with Lennon before then barking instructions to Patrick Cregg and Goodwin, the two central midfielders. He was exasperated at their unwillingness to follow the gameplan, and the rigour of St Mirren’s finally brought rewards.
Having won a corner, Travner delivered a firm, swerving cross that Darren McGregor rose to meet with a determined header. Morgaro Gomis hooked the ball away, but it had crossed the line and a basic, unadulterated piece of play had delivered something precious: not only a long-awaited goal, but also something to defend.
The goal changed the nature of the game; United had to try to rescue the occasion, while St Mirren seemed enlivened by ending their goal drought. Perhaps it was a burden lifted, and a Marc McAusland run and cross from right-back created an opportunity for Michael Higdon, but his header was stopped then cleared by Sean Dillon.
Desperation inevitably came to United’s play, and by the closing 10 minutes they were pinning their hosts back. They could already lay claim to regrets, after Goodwillie’s header demanded a diving save from Gallacher, then from Russell’s cross, the striker slid to meet the ball and, from two yards out, turned it onto the face of the crossbar. It was a glaring miss, but United still found a way to overcome it.
“If it was a boxing match in the second-half, it would have been stopped, we were battering them,” said Houston. “Goodwillie should have scored, and he knows that, but the boys never know when they’re beaten.”