THE Saints aren’t quite marching towards the Premiership. This was a big step in the right direction, though.

Jack Ross will preside over more aesthetically pleasing and more comfortable wins than this in the coming months, but few could prove to be as important. In the battle of first versus second, there was only one winner.

Two goals from Lewis Morgan clinched the three points for St Mirren and moved them five clear of Dundee United in the Championship standings.

The forward is set to clinch a switch to Celtic in the coming days but he will return to Paisley to help the Buddies in their bid to win promotion back to the top flight. It was his goals that proved the difference here as Csaba Laszlo’s side were left empty handed.

The winter weather that forced the temporary closure of Glasgow airport threatened to leave the title rivals in cold storage and deny supporters one final chance to see their side in action before the Hogmanay bells.

But the surface showed no ill-effects of the covering of snow that provided a blanket of white earlier in the day. The car parks may have required some extra attention for those that made their way to the Paisley 2021 Stadium but it was job well done by the Buddies.

Ross would have been eager to ensure that the efforts of those that cleared the pitch and salted the pavements didn’t go to waste and there was a sense of anticipation in the crisp air.

Ross was denied the services of striker Gavin Reilly due to illness but his absence offered Danny Mullen a chance to impress as he was given his first start since moving from Livingston.

United boss Laszlo was also without one of his most influential talents after it was confirmed that midfielder Fraser Fyvie will miss the remainder of the campaign with cruciate ligament damage. It was still a strong Arabs line-up, though, and one that was cheered on by a decent travelling support in a crowd of 6,214, plus a snowman.

They should have had a goal to cheer inside the opening quarter of an hour but it was the Buddies that were on the feet when Craig Samson saved Paul McMullan’s penalty.

Referee Don Robertson pointed to the spot after Stelios Demetriou was adjudged to have fouled Mark Durnan. United couldn’t capitalise, though, Samson saving well to his right as Laszlo looked on in despair.

It was the last occasion that either keeper was called into action for some time. It was a competitive affair, but the action was scrappy as neither side found their rhythm.

Scott McDonald was booked for a rash challenge, while McMullan had to receive treatment after being caught by Kyle Magennis. As the clock ticked beyond the half hour mark, there was little to warm the spirits of those in black and white or tangerine.

Chances were in short supply as attacking intentions were snuffed out at source or broke down prematurely due to a lack of quality when it mattered most.

McDonald did have a sight of goal as Scott Fraser found him at the back post with a cross from the left but with the angle tight the striker opted to nod the ball into a more central area. Unfortunately for United, there was nobody within several yards of McDonald or his knockdown.

Fraser came close not long after with a drive from the edge of the area but a low-key first half seemed destined to finish goalless. The Arabs fans serenaded Laszlo with a rendition of ‘Last Christmas’ before the whistle but the belated present of a goal didn’t arrive.

The interval brought a chance for Ross and Laszlo to attempt to spark their sides into action, while fans took the opportunity to hurl snowballs at each other across the corner flag. In fairness, it was probably the most fun they had had since they arrived.

That soon changed, though, and a game that had been lacking in quality was lit up by the man that has brought the Buddies to their feet so often this season. Morgan was patient as he ran across the width of the area from left to right and he soon picked his spot perfectly, sending the ball beyond the reach of Harry Lewis and into the corner of the net.

The response from United was muted as they continued to struggle to assert themselves as an attacking force. Having replaced the injured Willo Flood with Matthew Smith, Laszlo made another change as James Keatings took over from McMullan.

Magennis almost doubled St Mirren’s lead as he flashed a shot just beyond the far post but the Buddies didn’t have to wait long to clinch the points.

A short free-kick routine didn’t come off for Morgan but Stephen McGinn kept the move alive and knocked it back to the 21-year-old. He didn’t need an invitation to strike it as the ball flew beyond the outstretched arm of Lewis and into the bottom corner.

The announcement of Morgan as Man of the Match was as expected as it was deserved and received the third loudest cheer of the evening. Another roar came on the final whistle.

Come the end of the campaign, there could be an even bigger reason to celebrate for St Mirren. This win wasn’t definitive, but it could be decisive.