2018-19 – Chapter Three. Premiership fixtures 22-28

January was always going to be an interesting period on and off the park, and although there was a general sense of disappointment as we flung away three points against Hibernian in the final match of the month, our squad is undoubtedly much better than it was on the 31st December 2018. Whether it is strong enough to survive relegation remains to be seen however.

The biggest priority at the outset of January was to rid the club of the Alan Stubbs stench and return his signings to where they came from, mainly the non leagues of England and various reserve squads around Scotland and beyond.

First “player” to go was Matty Willock, who Oran Kearney returned to Manchester United just before Christmas, and has now popped up on loan at Crawley Town of some genuine pub league down south, which is probably his level. If that is the calibre of youngster on the books of a big English club, Scottish football has nothing to be concerned with in the coming years.

Next up was Ryan Edwards, who sprinted back up the M8 as fast as he could to Hearts with his head down all the way; desperately looking for the chicken’s head he lost several years ago. Edwards scored 10 out of 10 for effort during his time at Paisley but 0 out of 10 for composure and passing. The Australian was a sports scientists dream, but a football supporter’s nightmare.

Josh Heaton would soon follow, on loan to the English non-league somewhere and his first appearance at his new club (whose name genuinely escapes me), resulted in a thrashing for his new side. “Do your thing down south”, as he repeatedly laughed beforehand on social media, a dig at Saints management team you can only assume, and true to his word he did exactly “his thing” when his new manager was sacked the following day. You’ve still got it, Josh. The big defender is of course still on our books, but as I said on twitter he is the worst thing to come from England to Scotland since the Poll Tax. Prove me wrong, Josh.

Left back/centre half/bomb scare/sloth/cabbage farmer Cole Kpekawa was next, released by Oran Kearney despite the protests of the free transfer market who objected to be associated with the big defender. In many ways it wasn’t Kpekawa’s fault Stubbs gave him a deal, and a two year one at that, but the big man made Lex Baillie look like Usain Bolt. As bad as I have ever seen, and I would be amazed if he makes it as a footballer.

Not far behind big Cole was Jeff King, remember him? Signed from Bolton in the summer, but had spent the previous season playing for FC United of Manchester, which is a bit like a completely deluded version of Saints supporters’ side, Saintmirnoff. Stubbs sure did know how to pick them. Zero minutes league action, and made as much impact on Paisley as a Morton shop.

Alfie Jones by this point had already gone back to Southampton, apparently as their new manager wanted to assess their entire squad. Jones actually turned out half decent, and when he broke back into the side had done reasonably well. Jones was undoubtedly the pick of the utter dross Stubbs inflicted on the people of Renfrewshire.

Two of Kearney’s signings also left; the maverick Adam Hammill who undoubtedly was a positive for the season, returned to England to be near his family and keeper Dean Lyness who looked not too bad in his four appearances, was freed and joined Raith Rovers. I’ve absolutely no complaints about either of their performances for Saints and wish them both well.

The truly bad news was still to come though, with two heroes of the last couple of seasons leaving the club also, Cammy Smith leaving for 1980’s big boys Dundee United, and Adam Eckersely going on loan to Forfar for the rest of his contract before giving his intention to retire from full time football on social media with immediate effect, meaning he has played his last game for the club without doubt.

Most of us have no idea what happens at a football club, but something is strange about how it turned out for both players. In May 2018 I would have considered both players almost guaranteed first choice starts and essential to our coming season, as well as players who should make an impact in the higher league.

Within a few weeks of Stubbs taking over it was clear both had no or little part to play in his plans, presumably as they could play football, and they never recovered from this, albeit Eckersley was injured just weeks after being strangely transfer listed by Stubbs, whose time in charge I now compare to the revised bin collection timetable for Renfrewshire in which nobody knows what the actual fuck is going on.

Also out the door was Ian McShane, a decent footballer with not much luck as he seemed to be consistently the odd man out even in times he looked a better fit for the team than some picked in front of time, including under Jack Ross who discarded him ruthlessly after the midfielder had a pretty impressive first four months to last season. Such is life at a football club sometimes, and McShane wasn’t in Stubbs or Kearney’s plan, so I also wish him well as he did very little wrong in his time at the club.

The signings then started, and it had an international flavour to it as Saints new recruitment process seemed to concentrate on Eastern Europe, an area where value for money can very often be found.

A Slovak, Croatian, two Romanian’s, a Dane, an Englishmen, Australian, a Northern Irishman, a Scotsman and a Haitian all arrived in the hope they can save our season, and the first test for some of them was a match against Alloa in the Scottish Cup where Saints legend Jim Goodwin was hoping to cause a cup upset with the Clackmannanshire outfit, however it was another returning Saint that would steal the show when Kyle McAllister came off the bench to drag Saints through to the next round.

Having seen Alloa a few times on BBC Alba, it was no surprise to me when they were more than a match for Saints for long spells. Goodwin is an excellent manager already, and rather under the radar has achieved more than Jack Ross with Alloa, yet the same speculation never seems to exist with linking the magnificent specimen with other jobs, which suits me fine as we are going to need him at some point in the future I predict, hopefully after Oran Kearney has been a bigger success at Greenhill Road than a Goodwin elbow to the face of Stuart Armstrong.

The 2-0 half time lead gained by Alloa was entirely merited, and with impressive debutant Brad Lyons ridiculously sent off before the half hour mark, a decision overturned on appeal, Saints were staring at the exit with little hope of comeback, perhaps justifying the large number of home supporters leaving with around half an hour to go. What a mistake that turned out to be.

The comeback started from an unlikely source, when Cody Cooke slammed home after a fumble by the Alloa keeper from a McAllister shot with just over twenty minutes left, sparking a finish as frantic as Ian McCall’s breathing after a day long bong session.

Alloa seemed rocked by this goal and although they struck the post just after this, it was Saints 10 men that looked more threatening, and an equalising goal came with just five minutes remaining when McAllister found Stephen McGinn in the box who rolled it across the six yard line for Ethan Erahon to slam high into net. Three different graduates from our academy from separate times save the day; there is no need for a V9 version ever. We should fire it into the sea from a cannon stationed at Saucelhill built entirely from the shin pads of slow non-league defenders freed by Scottish clubs.

Incredibly though, Saints scored again immediately from the restart when McAllister curled home a brilliant left shoot after great linkup play with McGinn once more, and from nowhere Saints progressed to the next round, probably undeservedly, but nobody was caring.

From here, Saints travelled to Parkhead in midweek for the first league match after the winter break. The 4-0 scoreline to the home side reflects the match accurately, comfortably one of the poorer performances I have witnessed against a Celtic side that were rarely out of first gear.

As I didn’t go to the match I had the complete misfortune of watching a stream on Celtic TV, which was as utterly delusional as you could possibly imagine, with Tom Boyd a fully paid member of the “always cheated never defeated” brigade, as every foul by a Celtic player (including one resulting in a season ending injury to Hodson) was an “accident” and every Saints minor misdemeanour was a red card, followed by comments about the “conspiracy” against Celtic. It was embarrassing, but nowhere and I mean nowhere as excruciating as the light show before the match. Truly truly awful, and points should be deducted.

On Sunday, we then faced Hibernian, who were in worse form than us and had suspended Neil Lennon 48 hours before the game and who would leave the club permanently in the days after the match, so there was a lot of media scrutiny of a game already live in TV.

For sixty minutes Saints played well, were 1-0 up and should have doubled the lead when McAllister was presented with an open goal 20 yards out but inexplicably took the ball wide before scuffing a shot goal wards that was easily cleared by Hibs defence. It proved to be the pivotal point in the match as the Edinburgh side equalised within a minute and went on to win 3-1, but not without a strong Saints fightback resulted in some excellent saves from Marciano in Hibs goal, who was in no way Rocky on the day, and also the referee denying Saints several penalty kicks which looked in the stonewall variety.

This was nothing considering what happened the following week at Ibrox however, where referee Andrew Dallas played a new game of football where the St Mirren half of play also doubled up as a penalty box, allowing him to award four penalties, where only one was an actual foul inside the box.

The Bonkle bunglers boy had as bad a game imaginable, not helped by a diving Jermaine Defoe who ludicrously faced no retrospective action despite going down more easily than a Livingston player up at court, and the almost universal condemnation of a disgraceful refereeing performance only had the absence of The Rangers support who believed they had been robbed of a fifth penalty thanks to the comments of their manager, Steven Gerrard, a decent player in his day but has inherited the paranoid demeanour of a typical New Old Firm manager and believes “They are out to get us”, which of course “they” are most definitely not and usually well on their side.

This refereeing performance where Saints were the only victims, sparked an irrational reaction from Celtic supporters who believed Dallas was actually out to get them, and this was an attack on their attempt at 10 in arrow and a treble treble, despite not having won 9 in a row yet or two trophies yet this season. At least they are being logical and not losing the plot.

On twitter, after pointing out St Mirren had been shafted by the referee due to his pro-Rangers stance and not Celtic, I was called a “hun that can’t afford the bus fare” by these same illogical agenda driven grievance junkies, seemingly oblivious to the fact it’s £3 for a day bus ticket, about one tenth of the price to access the internet and send my tweet. Those smarts sure aint big in Glasgow.

After the match, footage emerged of our board members drinking from something called ‘The Loving Cup’ in the The Rangers boardroom, some kind of ironic tradition at Ibrox as it is of course the last place on earth you would find any kid of love, but the potion presumably containing the sweat of dead puppies and the tears of orphaned war children was guzzled down by our directors, and as I like to joke on twitter the board have never quite been the same since. More of which in a minute.

Motherwell then visited Paisley on the Wednesday after this, and left with a 2-1 victory despite a late Paul McGinn equaliser that lasted all of a few minutes before the ‘Well grabbed an even later winner. It was tough to take, however it was beginning to look that a couple of the Eastern European signings could be more than useful, with goalkeeper Hladky impressing and Mihai Popescu in particular that evening a stand out.

To matters off the pitch, and just before half time that evening one of the Policemen permanently assigned to the W7 section of the West Bank strode purposefully down the front concourse of the family stand eye baling practically everyone present as though he was itching for confrontation. If you had seen someone acting like that in the street you would cross the road as your instincts will be telling you he wants a fight. It was bizarre behaviour; I mean what did he want to do, confiscate some sherbet from a six year old? Maybe I am being unkind and he just needed the toilet and was therefore so agitated, or he was just looking for someone but surely that is what CCTV is for, which we will get too soon as this plays a significant part in the utter disaster that was the Scottish Cup match against Dundee United.

Being knocked out at home by lower league opposition is hard enough to take particularly when the first half performance was so bad I was pining for the good old days of a Kyle Hutton inspired midfield again, but the board managed to turn a very serious injury sustained in the Dundee Utd end of the ground into an absolute PR disaster.

On the pitch we were beaten by the better side, however after United had scored their opening goal a man in the away end was badly injured after he fell following a surge from the away support. His head injuries are reported to be so bad they will be permanent and life changing, therefore it is nothing short of a disaster for his family and by far more important than any subsequent botched statement by the club, and I am sure everyone hopes in time this gentleman can confound the predicted prognosis and make a full recovery.

Our board were quick to react and issued a statement a few days later, but somehow managed to score a number of own goals in relation to the aftermath of the incident by stating the injured man was spat upon by one or several of our supporters and also had coins thrown at him as he was being stretchered to an ambulance strangely through the W7 exit.

If this is true, I would hope that relevant proportionate action is taken by the club and Police and supporters are banned and charged, however within a few hours of the statement it became apparent that there was a groundswell of opinion that this accusation against our support may simply not be true, including feedback from the man’s family who were by his side as he was being wheeled out the stadium confirming he was neither spat on nor had coins flung at him.

Now, someone has to be correct. Either the club have this spot on, or the fans and the injured man’s family are right and this never happened.

Why the club did not make a statement saying they are currently investigating several incidents that occurred during the match and full details will be available in time I simply do not know, but they have backed themselves into a corner if they are wrong, and it is simply inconceivable that whoever authorised that statement continues in their position on the board if it turns out not to be true.

In the same way there are consequences for supporters acting irresponsibly, the board are no different and the damage caused by this allegation is still being felt weeks later as the media throws our support in a heap with the knuckle dragging 17th century obsessed clowns of Glasgow’s shame. It was poorly thought out and frankly embarrassing.

One thing that would clear this whole matter up of course is CCTV footage. In the statement from the club however rather worryingly they stated the quality of the pictures from this are so poor they are unable to determine what happened, and relied on witnesses to provide the information. I had no idea Arsene Wenger had his own camera brand.

Having carried out several investigations myself within a workplace however, I find this whole business extremely worrying. Clearly, the club has not spoken with all the witnesses available and have issued their conclusions before all the due diligence has been carried out, which in truth is amateurish.

As for the CCTV footage not being good enough, this throws up a number of alarming questions for the club even if they are indeed correct about the spitting incident on the injured man and coins being flung at him.

Firstly, the stadium in terms of a sporting arena is very new and back in 2008/09 the technology for cameras was outstanding, why then can operators not make out images of people with this cutting edge technology?

Secondly, the stadium has a surveillance room within the main stand, with windows looking out onto the pitch and monitors for focusing directly on areas of the stadium. Why have the operators and Police not drawn attention to this poor quality before now, and if they have what has been done to fix it?

Thirdly, if the CCTV is in effect useless, why are we paying people to operate it at every home match?

Fourthly, if the answer to three is one of legal responsibility, does CCTV need to be to a specific standard to gain a safety certificate for hosting matches, and are we at risk of having this revoked at any time?

Fifthly, who on the board has overall responsibility for fully functioning surveillance equipment, and why have they failed in their duty to provide this?

And finally, how often is an internal and external audit carried out on the both the CCTV quality and the emergency exit procedures for the ground? Who decided that the injured man be taken 30-40 metres or so through another stand when an exit within a few feet of the incident was available?

I don’t sit in the W7 area, nor do I know anyone that does, so I am not directly defending anyone or group, but as supporters in my opinion we should all be deeply concerned about the repeated accusations from young fans about their harassment from the Police assigned to W6 and W7, the alleged potential breach of data protection laws by the club in giving home addresses of supporters to the authorities just because they sit in certain section of the ground, but in particular this ‘investigation’ and the extremely early conclusion and statement by the board before a fit for purpose investigation had occurred.

The truth is going to come out, and the secret meeting between club and supporters recently has done absolutely nothing to address my worries about the actions of the club in this matter, in fact it makes me even more suspicious as this is what they should have been doing in the first place and keeping it in-house for as long as possible until the facts were established, but maybe I am alone in that. Time will tell.

This disappointment on the park however may have been a blessing in disguise and a final warning to the team like the TNS match two years ago, and consecutive draws at Pittodrie and Tynecastle followed where Saints should have won on both occasions. The improvement of the side during these matches was so significant from earlier in the season you could measure it in yards, and it is more than the distance between Ryan Hardie’s ears. A massive gulf.

As hinted before, the new players are fundamental to this improvement. Although Vaclec Hladky loves to punch the ball instead of catch it, he does so with authority and mainly to sensible areas of the pitch, but his alertness and speed off the line is something we haven’t seen in a long time, plus his shot stopping appears outstanding. Mihai Popescu at the centre of defence is the calming influence we have been crying out for since Harry Davis left, with his ability on the ball reminding of me of none other than Norrie McWhirter, something I never thought I would see again. Plus, he’s a little bit mad and we like that.

As Oran Kearny puts his mark on the team it is looking much more optimistic than only a few weeks ago and we can now see a route out of this, although the improvement may still be too late to ultimately save a dire situation, but the victory over Livingston the following week had practically everyone believing another great escape was in the making.

The last minute winner was scored by Ryan Flynn, a player unrecognisable in the last three matches from the previous year, and clearly something is happening to the squad that is making them believe now in what they are being asked to do, and credit must go to the management team for this transformation.

This is despite the loss of Brian Rice to Hamilton as he embarks on his own head coach career and it would be peak Saints if Rice managed to relegate us as I’m sure we’d all agree and have thought already.

So with five games remaining before the split, we are now approximately two thirds of the way through the season, and although still bottom of the league we are now just one point behind Dundee with Accies a further three points above, but we still have four of the last ten matches against these clubs.

Ultimately Saints have given themselves a chance and have momentum, and considering the situation we found ourselves in only a few months ago that can only be seen as positive. Although a lot of football still has to be played…………

Top Players in January
Kyle McAllister 7.0
Simeon Jackson 7.0
Stephen McGinn 6.7

Top Players in February
Vaclev Hladky 7.6
Mihai Popescu 7.4
Cammy MacPherson 7.3

Top Players over season (At least 14 fixtures played)
Anton Ferdinand 6.7
Cammy MacPhesron 6.6
Stephen McGinn 6.6
Simeon Jackson 6.5

Departed Players Average
Dean Lyness 7.0 (4 matches)
Cole Kpekawa 3.75 (8)
Alfie Jones 6.2 (13)
Jeff King 4.3 (3)
Jordan Kirkpatrick 4.3 (3)
Ian McShane 5.5 (5)
Adam Hammill 6.1 (15)
Ryan Edwards 5.6 (13)
Matthew Willock 5.3 (14)
Cammy Smith 6.00 (23)