Sep 26 2012 By Ansdy Newport
Lee Mair’s last-minute winner saved St Mirren’s blushes after a dire display against hard-working Hamilton.
The big defender’s powerful header deep into stoppage time put a gloss on an abject performance that was almost entirely devoid of quality in the final third.
The Scottish Communities League Cup Second Round meeting with Billy Reid’s First Division side was always going to be fraught with tension, even moreso with last season’s quarter-final disaster to Ayr still fresh in the minds of the Buddies.
The performance his men put in, however, will anger Saints boss Danny Lennon as they failed to pass with any authority and toiled against the determined Accies defence.
But the result is all that will matter little to the St Mirren support as their team march on into the last eight.
Lennon threw in a surprise as he handed his team lines before kick-off, dropping last term’s 16-goal striker Steven Thompson along with defender David van Zanten and wideman Gary Teale following Saturday’s calamity at Kilmarnock.
The gaffer wasn’t just freshening up his personnel, though, as he also tinkered with his tactics. In came Sam Parkin, Graham Carey and Dougie Imrie as the Buddies moved to a 3-5-2 after ditching the orthodox back four that was breached three times at Rugby Park.
But Saints’ new look rearguard was almost caught flatfooted when Accies striker James Keatings played in team-mate Louis Longridge after just five minutes of action, leaving Lennon to breathe a huge sigh of relief as the visiting wideman pulled his shot wide from 10 yards.
That scare, though, was starting to look like a momentary blip as Saints settled into their passing rhythms. But while the square pass was always an easy option, cutting through a stubborn Accies line-up which swiftly folded down on its own penalty box as soon as the Paisley men approached proved trickier.
St Mirren did test Kevin Cuthbert in the away goal on 18 minutes, but it came more by accident than design as Imrie’s deflected cross forced the stopper to tip over.
But that was about as much as the Accies keeper had to do for most of the opening period as Saints increasingly lost their way.
Lewis Guy had been a mere spectator during the 35 minutes he spent on the pitch and it was little surprise that he was hooked for Thompson as Lennon tried any way he could to inject some impetus into his team.
And the big man’s introduction nearly came with swift reward as his instinctive lob only just failed to drop underneath Cuthbert’s crossbar.
McLean followed Guy as he was replaced at the break by van Zanten but it was the Irishman’s compatriot Jim Goodwin who came closest to finding the breakthrough as he drove forward and blasted a dipping volley just over.
It was another member of the Emerald Isle contingent who tried next for Saints on 71 minutes, with Carey unlucky to see Cuthbert push over his free-kick, while the goalie then denied Lee Mair’s header from a Carey corner moments later.
But with the game looking set for extra time, the defender wasn’t to be denied for a second time and jumped highest to thud home the winner.