Following that draw at Cappielow, Saints lead was cut from five points to three, with Dundee United still having played one match less than us. It was still tight, but the media blinded by what I call ‘1983itis’ firmly believed it was only a matter of time before we capitulated and the Tannadice club ran away with the league. The title rightfully belonged to Dundee United in their view; the ‘establishment’ as they see it will prevail.
The problem with ‘1983itis’ is it is a completely flawed logic, and all current professional footballers as well as a large chunk of fans can’t remember the Tannadice club being very good at all never mind a serious title contender, which they were briefly for a decade or so forty years ago. The current threat is based on past circumstances, a castle made of sand.
In the crusty world of the Scottish media however, almost exclusively made up of fifty year old plus men, they do remember Dundee United being good when they were teenagers or young men, a key age for forming life opinions, and immediately promote the Tannadice club amongst Aberdeen, Hearts or Hibs as clubs that “need” to be doing well for the Scottish game to thrive, again flawed logic on their part but you get my drift.
This nonsense from the media is not Dundee United’s fault of course. They are a decent club who like most professional outfits in the country have had good and bad spells over the decades; it is all part of supporting your club of course.
The next sets of fixtures for each club were tricky ones scheduled on the sixth of January, where Saints hosted Inverness at home whilst the Tannadice club travelled to Grangemouth to take on an improving Falkirk. I say tricky fixtures, but the media already had the clubs level on points in advance of full time, this was finally the weekend they had predicted for weeks where United would return to the top and surely under Csaba Laslzo would absolutely romp home as Saints folded under the weight of such a challenge.
Our old friend “Wee Robbo” is still in charge of Inverness of course, and following the previous home match where he confused the dogs of Feegie with his excited squeals, the SSPCA provided special ear muffs for all K9’s within a mile radius of St Mirren Park should the Highlanders score. By half time in the predictably tough match Saints led 1-0 thanks to a nicely worked Gavin Reilly goal, his twentieth of a remarkable season.
Dundee United by this point had taken an early lead at Grangemouth, but the expected precession predicted by the media did not materialise, and something pretty remarkable happened instead it has to be noted. By the half way stage the Tannadice side were 2-1 down, and a potential six point lead could be developed by Saints should both results stay the same.
Whilst Saints held out a for a nervy 1-0 win, the result at Little Chernobyl was as off the scale as a radiation reading after a plant night out, and Falkirk incredibly hammered the “Promotion Certs” by a score of 6-1. To put the result into perspective the Bairns had only scored twelve league goals all season up until that match. From the outside it looked like United were crumbling, but the media had it down as a mere blip.
This match also signified the first in Lewis Morgan’s career where he was not a permanent Saints player having transferred to Celtic a few days beforehand and was loaned back until the end of the season. It was a good deal for the club where they get money, in all likelihood a sell on clause, as well as Morgan back for 6 months, so we can’t really complain, but when the time comes young Lewis will be sorely missed as he has been a fantastic player for the club, but we have a league to win before then of course.
Next up was another potential set of fixtures where Saints might be able to extend their lead at the top even further, with a short journey to Dumbarton for us and an away trip to Dunfermline for United. Dumbarton of course had increased the prices the last time the clubs met by over 20% from the previous season and kept this going based on their absurd logic of; “The more fans we get in the stadium the less money we make”.
That’s a bit like saying the more it rains the less water we will have, it is utterly stupid and sounds like something Donald Trump would say to deny climate change. To make matters worse, January was also the month where the clubs and SPFL had their so called free entry for under 12 kids offer, and this presented a problem for Dumbarton because free kids means no money, unless of course you make it as hard as possible for people to obtain these free tickets in the hope adults purchase the full 900 allocation given to Saints.
The full adult ticket sell out was in fact a very likely scenario should Dumbarton be able to get away with it, a cunning plan in fact. All Dumbarton had to do was play the patience game and hope nobody notices……….
However we Paisley Buddies aren’t stupid of course. Very quickly and quite rightly those with kids under 12 started asking questions as to how they obtain such free tickets. There was nothing on either clubs websites, and then both clubs started blaming one another for the farce as information was as rare as a Stevie Aitken formation with more than one person up front.
Technically it wasn’t Saints job to relay the message about free tickets as Dumbarton are of course responsible for ticket information as it was their home match, but we could have made some effort before they went on sale to find out, however this played perfectly into the hands of Dumbarton who must have been counting adult sales until that magical 900 moment where free kids tickets became obsolete.
As the days went past and no confirmation was forthcoming, there were rumours that Dumbarton were making free under 12’s tickets available from 6am to 7am from a boat under the Erskine Bridge to fulfil their league responsibilities, but eventually it took Saints fans to drive to the 103 FM Stadium and advise the rest that 50 free tickets had been reserved for Saints which were still outstanding as nobody had actually informed the public up until that point how to get them.
To the match, and Saints won again against our bogey side, very comfortably 2-0 in the end and Dumbarton had the look about them of a team that had lots of Alex Rae duds in them, and of course they did. As this was happening, Dundee United were drawing 0-0 at East End Park and suddenly Saints had an eight point gap at the top, but as the Tannadice club are GUARNATEED to win their game in hand at Palmerston and also beat us in the remaining fixture between the clubs, it is actually only two points. Don’t get too excited diddy fans of diddy club.
Away from the actual on field action, and making a rare appearance outside his bubble of Aberdeen for Radio Scotland at Dumbarton that afternoon was head of the ‘1983itis’ group chat Willie Miller, who believes association football in Scotland only started when Alex Ferguson became Dons manager.
Miller is also an outspoken supporter of what he perceives to be the “natural order” in Scottish football, meaning that Celtic, Aberdeen, Rangers, Hearts, Hibs and Dundee United should always be in the top division regardless of their ability or circumstances in his view. The rest he couldn’t care less about and gets annoyed when they are doing well, see St Mirren in 2013 when he made a comment along the lines that it was “ok” but would prefer the “bigger” clubs to win trophies.
Miller also believes that ‘The top division’ must NEVER be extended beyond 10 or 12 teams as a smaller format was when Aberdeen and Dundee United were last successful back in the days of 1983, and therefore this is the only structure that can bring success to the whole country, by which he means Aberdeen.
The status quo must be preserved in his ancient view, despite two clubs dominating like never before in history for the thirty odd years since 1983, and these two clubs don’t include Aberdeen or Dundee United.
For those not aware of Radio Scotland’s “Open All Mics” coverage where Miller was employed to report on that afternoon, it is like the first day of school in Primary One when teacher asks twenty or so young children what they got up to during the summer and the kid that shouts the loudest also gets a lollipop, so they obviously all shout out at once. That is except a moustached five year old Willie Miller who is slumped at the back not paying attention whilst reading a pop-up book about Gothenburg 1983.
The former Aberdeen captain, defender, manager, chief executive and director of football but completely unbiased BBC pundit based in Aberdeen and who only seems to report on Aberdeen matches but is in no way biased, was sent to watch Saints as we were playing his beloved team the following week in the cup, as it may be useful for him to learn something about another club. Ha!
As Alan Preston, Billy Dodds, Derek Ferguson, and Chick Young excitedly fought over the attention of teacher Richard Gordon by screaming each time a team went over the half way line in their respected matches, there seemed to be radio silence at Dumbarton as Miller said absolutely nothing despite chance after chance being created and missed by Saints.
“Quick update Willie?” asked Teacher after half an hour.
“Oh….er nothing has happened at all. Absolutely nothing.” Miller replied, yet a quick look at BBC Scotland’s own stats had Saints already heading towards double figures in shots!
When Saints finally did score two relatively quick goals at the start of the second half, vigilant Saints fans who were listening to the national broadcaster insisted that Mr Gordon had to coax the information from Miller after Cammy Smith opened the scoring, and when Stephen McGinn netted a second, Miller stated “Falkirk” had scored!
Despite the extremely one sided nature of the match admitted by even Dumbarton supporters themselves, Stevie Aitken didn’t see it that way at the end, and incredibly even by his own standards thought in the first half his men were the better side despite almost blanket domination by Saints. The first half stats read Dumbarton one shot to Saints eleven, make of that what you will, but even Trump himself would shy away from saying something so ridiculous I would imagine.
The following week, Saints were in Miller’s home territory for that cup match, a tough tie against a strong Aberdeen side who have been the clear second best team in the country for a few seasons now.
The match was moved to midday for BBC TV purposes, and in further proof that Aberdeen fans are correct in their insistence of a West of Scotland bias within the media, Miller himself was on TV duty as the official voice of the AB postcode area, and his impartial view was sought next to fellow Aberdeen fan Rob McLean in the gantry, along with cringe worthy Aberdeen fan and commentator Lewis McLeod adding his “stand free” mutterings to proceedings, ‘ably’ helped by former Aberdeen player and Saints hater Billy Dodds. West Coast bias at its very worse of course.
To extend this so called, ahem, pro-West Coast agenda at the BBC, Aberdeen fan Richard Gordon was introducing the show on Radio and the TV highlights package at night was likely to be introduced by fellow Aberdeen fan Jonathan Sutherland. I would doubt any other club is so prominently represented by a “national broadcaster” anywhere in Europe.
To ‘level out’ the mega strong pro Aberdeen alliance were Steven Thompson on TV and Chick Young on radio, who is utterly torn between St Mirren winning the league and the “natural order” of Dundee United returning automatically to the Premiership. Wee Chick may have to choose another club to support…………….
Unsurprisingly considering how well Saints were playing, they went unchanged and straight at Aberdeen from kick off. Barely a minute into the match and Lewis Morgan should have squared for Gavin Reilly to score a tap in, but the youngster decided to shoot and it was blocked for a corner.
Saints were looking in control as the match approached ten minutes, however Stelios made the first of many mistakes by diving in and giving the Dons a soft penalty that was easily dispatched beyond Samson in what was Aberdeen’s first attack.
The Dons would score with their second attack also, before Gavin Reilly pulled one back for a Saints side that continued to look dangerous going forward but poor at the back. To prove this theory, from a swift counter attack after Saints had looked threatening Aberdeen scored a third from incredibly their third shot of the match, and again Stelios was at fault thanks to a quite ridiculous attempt at a clearing diving header which still makes me laugh even days later!
Despite this 3-1 score-line at half-time, the game was probably even and what this proved was a real fragility in Saints defending which struck again at the start of the second half as Liam Smith dithered and Gary McKay Stevens hammered home a fourth from Aberdeen’s fourth attempt of the match.
That was the end of the scoring, and as the game trundled towards an end, new signings Ryan Flynn and Mark Hill made debuts for Saints, which undoubtedly strengthens a midfield that has been highly reliant on too few players for most of the season.
It was disappointing, but for the large Saints support that made the trip north nothing was going to stop their party and they got behind the side for the full ninety minutes. In the aftermath, some unkind things were said of Saints, however should we be promoted this season Aberdeen are unlikely to be the target or benchmark at this point, and defeats at Pittodrie have been common for most clubs in the last five years.
With Saints out of all cup competitions now, the focus was solely on the league with fourteen matches remaining and a lead of eight points over United who still had that game in hand at Palmerston, which was being treated like already won chips from a casino that the Tannadice club were cashing in for three points once it was finally rescheduled by the SPFL.
Live TV was again responsible for rescheduling our match, this time to a pretty unkind Friday night in Dunfermline, yet just short of 800 Saints fans made the journey despite supporters buses leaving when people were still at work, an impressive showing unless of course you are Alex Rae’s Dundee United supporting pal on twitter who thought this was pathetic. I sent him a screen shot of the tweet confirming the official Dundee United travelling support of just 339 at Paisley in March 2017, but he is yet to respond.
Saints in general have been awful at Dunfermline in the past few decades, but I was still surprised to see we had only won three times here in the past 25 years, with the last being in 2001 when Mark Yardley and Jamie McGowan scored, a match I will never forget as the Linesman bizarrely ran to the get ball and kicked it to Ludovic Roy in an attempt to hurry him up in injury time.
The conspiracy back then was the “establishment” wanted us down to save Dundee United from relegation, and they got their wish in time, however it is perhaps ironic that with Saints and United battling it out again this time to get back into the top league, we should go to Fife and win again by the score of 2-1.
In truth Saints looked quite a bit superior to Dunfermline technically, who although are ultra-competitive seem to be lacking in confidence completely and are a shadow of the side from their excellent opening to the season when they pretty much destroyed Saints back in September.
That technical superiority showed in the twelfth minute when Saints took the lead with a breath-taking sweeping team goal involving Davis, Liam Smith, McGinn, Cammy Smith, McGinn again, Morgan and then brilliantly Cammy Smith once more who stroked it beyond Robinson in the Pars goal to give us a stunning lead.
One touch football, dummies, off the ball running, back heels to take out multiple defenders, the lot. This wasn’t Barcelona or laughably Arsenal as someone tried to point out, (we are top of an actual league FFS) this was St Mirren and we shouldn’t need endorsements or comparisons to enjoy watching such brilliance.
The Pars battled away and soon found a route back into the match however, courtesy of shelling eighty yard punts to giant centre half Jean-Yves M’voto, (I wonder whose idea that was Sandy Clark) and they were level within a few minutes of the restart when Nicky Clark capitalised on a knock down from the big defender.
Saints then visibly wobbled any time this repeated tactic was attempted, but in reality this agricultural like hoof was all Dunfermline had and the goal was their only shot on target of any real threat the entire match, although a late shot just wide by Aird had many Saints fans hiding behind their hands.
Once Saints got to grip with this punt, there was only going to be one winner however, and following an exquisitely chipped Kyle Magennis free kick, big Jack Baird volleyed home at the back post for Saints to win the match.
There was more shelling from the Pars, but by then Gary MacKenzie was on to deal with M’voto and Jack Baird was defending our goal as though his very existence depended on it allowing Harry Davis to deal with anything that these two happened to miss. Saints should then have finished the match off when they had multiple opportunities to score a third, but 2-1 would do just fine.
It was a massive win; there is no other way of describing it and another three points at a place we have struggled historically. We were now eleven points clear, with Dundee United having two games in hand, or six points as the media and some of their fans at that point liked to call it, with the first of these the following day against Morton at Tannadice.
It was just another three points statistically that Saints had won, but this particular victory seemed to be more significant as it was before United played and we simply aren’t giving them a sniff at the moment.
This win put pressure they probably didn’t need or want on the Tannadice club by going away from home to the third top side in the division and winning, whist scoring a goal of the season contender in the process, and this sent out a clear message that we are up for this fight. Are Dundee United however?
By full time at Tannadice the following day, the couple of hundred United fans still left in the Dundee ground would argue that there is still plenty of time left, and there undoubtedly is, but Dundee United are simply running out of games to catch us.
Morton have been accused on multiple occasions this season of only turning up for matches against St Mirren, and that is justified when you look at results and performances, so practically nobody predicted a 3-0 win at Tannadice for the Greenock club that left Saints eleven points lead intact, although those GUARANTEED six points at Palmerston and against us at Tannadice have still to be cashed in by United.
What this will prove in time nobody can predict with any certainty, but Saints are in a very strong position currently. If the rest of the league continues to collect points at the rate they have been all season, the best of the rest (currently Dundee United) will only collect sixty six points meaning Saints would only need another sixteen points to win the league. Someone needs to step up, and it has to be starting now if we are realistically going to be stopped.
The likelihood is someone will improve their form, but it would need to be either Dundee United or Livingston to be able to stop Saints, and it would need to be something spectacular. If Saints continue to accrue points in our final thirteen matches this campaign as we have been already, we are heading for eighty points with a vastly superior goal difference. If Dundee United win all their remaining fourteen matches they would be able to reach a total of eighty two points, and Livingston eighty one. Not impossible, but highly unlikely.
Saints of course could utterly collapse, that is also possible. Loads of fans of other clubs have been falling over themselves to say we are not that good, maybe they are right and us and the bookies are wildly wrong. Maybe we have been lucky for so far in twenty five matches, plus the fourteen at the end of last season, maybe that thirty nine jammy league game streak is coming to an end.
Of course, the truth will probably lie somewhere in between, but the reality is nothing has been won yet and we face many tough matches before the end of the season.
Last campaign we proved any team could have a remarkable end to the season against the odds, so we might be caught, but January 2018 could well prove to be the most pivotal month of the season.