With the month of September resulting in just one goal from Saints, (a Tony Andreu trundler struck with all the ferocity of a Laura Kuenssberg question to Boris Johnson) fumbled into the net by the Ross County keeper, there was a growing concern at the outset of the month among the support that our failure to score goals was dragging the team into a predictable relegation fight; but more worryingly did we have the players at the club currently to address this lack of goals issue?
Jim Goodwin had added two outright forwards to the squad, Jonathon Obika and Junior Morias, who joined Danny Mullen and the injured Cody Cooke as the competition for Saints in the attacking positions as well Tony Andreu and Kyle McAllister who arrived during the summer and are versatile attacking midfield options.
The first seven matches of the season had prompted Goodwin to rotate these players in order to find the right balance, but our most dangerous player in these games had undoubtedly been Kyle Magennis who was playing out of position on the wing to accommodate Flynn and Foley in central midfield.
This rotation continued at Fir Park in Saints next fixture against Motherwell who had made a very good start to the season, and Danny Mullen returned to the starting eleven for the first time since the opening match of the league campaign at Easter Road and partnered Jon Obika who was looking increasingly low in confidence as the weeks went on without him scoring.
The first half at Fir Park was a frustrating one, and by frustrating I mean rubbish, and had it not been for a goalkeeping masterclass by Vaclav Hladky in Saints goal, the score could easily have been three or four nil to the home side at the break instead of the solitary lead secured by Motherwell due to a late goal by James Scott as Saints defenders inexplicably allowed the ‘Well attackers to dribble along our 18 yard line before the forward curled a 25 yard past Hladky to open the scoring.
Saints improved immeasurably after the break in a similar way to the match at Livingston at the end of August and created multiple chances, with the best being a Magennis shot headed off the line and then a fresh air swipe by Oran Djorkaeff after he had outwitted his marker a few yards out at the near post following a Morias cutback.
The Frenchman, who had just been introduced from the bench, had a forgettable ten minutes on the park as within a minute his lay off for Sean McLoughlin put Chris Long through to seal a 2-0 win for Motherwell, and although on the balance of 90 minutes the ‘Well undoubtedly deserved to win, had we taken our chances the story could have been very different.
However even just eight matches into the league season a pattern was clearly emerging; sluggish starts away from home, failure to take chances and lots of hard luck stories. Anyone who knows football realises that is a perfect recipe for a long and very hard season.
With just one goal in the last four matches, panic seemed to occupy minds and in a pretty exaggerated outcry many of the new players came in for criticism, in particular Obika who I actually thought had performed pretty well in the second half at Motherwell with good link up play.
I’ve seen this before however, and Craig Dargo was often singled out for his lack of goals despite bringing a lot to the side when he was fit, which admittedly was about as often as praise for Saints from Alex Rae on ‘super’ score bored, pun intended.
Travelling to Paisley the following week were St Johnstone who had started the season dismally, but Jim Goodwin stuck with the front two of Obika and Mullen proving he knew what he was doing, and fans opinions are like racist uncles; everyone has one but very few listen to them.
Saints started nervously, and the faux farmers were on top for the first twenty minutes or so until a tactical switch by Goodwin changed the shape from 4-3-3 to some kind of 4-4-2/4-2-3-1 hybrid, and the Paisley side dominated the rest of the match like a beano crossword does to Ryan Hardie’s tiny little mind every week.
The deadlock was broken around ten minutes before half time when after a scramble, Kirk Broadfoot headed the ball behind him allowing Jon Obika to rotate magnificently and send a searing left foot bicycle kick on the volley into the back of the net for Saints first goal in over 300 minutes of play.
It was a perfect way for the striker to end his own goal drought and with his confidence boosted the big forward seemed like a new player giving a shaky St Johnstone backline a torrid time for the rest of the match. In truth though, the Perth ‘Saints’ were absolutely dreadful after this goal from the Englishman and surrendered with all the fight of a “save the Rangers campaign”.
The second half was as dominant as I’ve seen St Mirren in a top flight match in many years, and the final score of 2-0 seriously flattered the Perth media darlings who after nine matches were yet to win in the league, and a lot of concern was evident on Radio Scotland afterwards that a club who has spent the vast majority of their history in the lower leagues could be back there soon, which apparently was “sad”. Boo hoo.
Saints second goal though was a work of a art. Cleverly switching play from left to right through Andreu and the returning skipper Stephen McGinn, Kirk Broadfoot strode forward like old times and played a beautiful pinpoint scything pass through the inside right channel to the galloping Paul McGinn who hit a first time low cross with pace which was hammered into the top corner by Danny Mullen on the run. Utterly glorious stuff, and we all hoped an insight into what the side was capable of.
A win makes a huge difference, and suddenly things looked positive again. In our five home league games this season we have conceded just once, and that was a 30-yard free kick against Rangers. Going back to last season, Vaclav Hladky has lost only one goal in open play in the last nine SPFL matches at Paisley, a quite phenomenal record and at home we are undoubtedly looking like more than a half decent side when results are considered, the only real barometer for success.
The return of Stephen McGinn to the side was hailed as a significant factor in this win, and it is hard to argue against this. Although both extremely effective and good players, Flynn and Foley who had held the central midfield roles all season, perhaps lack the creative side and there is also a theory they are too similar. There is an element of truth in this, particularly during certain matches we are expected to win, and although McGinn is no longer the box to box player he was back in his first spell at the club, the captain does offer leadership, composure and a better passing range than the two aforementioned players, without being as mobile.
Central midfield is probably the strongest area of the team however, and in my opinion the best of a pretty good lot is Kyle Magennis who has been required to play wide as mentioned before, but to the undoubted benefit of the team. Kirk Broadfoot has also made a fine start to his time back at Saints, almost as though he has never been away in fact but I doubt he’ll be standing on the ball and doing tricks again this time around, although I would encourage it personally should we find ourselves in the unlikely position of cruising against Celtic and Rangers.
Following an international break, Saints then travelled to Kilmarnock looking for their first points on the road all season against a Killie side without Stevie Clarke of course, but points wise seem to have just carried on as though no change in management has occurred.
Just over a thousand Saints fans were packed into a cordoned off area high behind the goal, and it looked on TV as though nobody was there. I have never understood this, why don’t clubs put supporters in the lower deck so the perception is better? I know it’s irrelevant in all honesty, but it still annoys me.
Saints started brightly, and for the vast majority of the match were the better side by quite a distance. Danny Mullen repeatedly sprung the off-side trap in the first half, with a wobbling Alex Bruce struggling badly with the basics of defending, perhaps being raised by Mrs Doubtfire wasn’t the best preparation for playing football after all.
Frustratingly, Mullen couldn’t sort his feet out on the plastic surface and Saints didn’t make the most of their chances, with Andreu also coming close on several occasions. In truth, I thought it was just a matter of time before we scored, however like beans on a breakfast plate, I was wrong.
The second half was similar, and this time both Anrdeu and Mullen found the Killie keeper in good form, before the Frenchman passed up the best chance of the match with around ten minutes remaining. On this occasion Saints broke with speed, and another brilliant sweeping move similar to the second goal against St Johnstone, resulted in Obika turning his man and threading a delightful ball through to Andreu who had sprinted a full 60 yards in support.
With a free shot on goal from 18 yards and defenders rapidly closing him down, the little midfielder seemed to take his eye off the ball and screwed his shot wide before being thumped on the ankle by a Killie defender, ending Andreu’s afternoon prematurely. Perhaps in hindsight, the Saints number 10 should just have scored and took the hit, after all he was going to get the contact anyway.
I haven’t seen the chance again, however a few people have suggested to me it could have been a penalty, but to be honest considering Andreu got his shot away, the only two clubs in the country who would get one for that would be Glasgow based. I’m sure anyone who remembers the penalty Rod Wallace got in 2000 at Love Street for Rangers when he was tackled so far off the pitch he could have ordered a pint from the Wee Barrell pub, and then the referee still allowed Rangers to miss a chance before blowing for a penalty, would agree with that. I should let it go.
A few minutes later, Killie scored from a free header at a corner kick, a terrible goal to concede in truth and eerily similar to the poor one we lost at Livingston in August. The Killie scorer was Gary Dicker, and he was unmarked eight yards out allowing his looping header to beat Hladky and win the match. I couldn’t help noticing in a picture after the match that we had no player on either post, and in all honesty wee Robbo would have headed this one clear had he played for us so simple was it to prevent. It’s the basics that is hammering us at the moment.
Driving home, there was much praise for St Johnstone on the radio who had beaten Hamilton at home for their first win of the season. Radio Scotland’s Richard Gordon was “delighted” for the Perth Saints whilst Allan Preston, aka Bizkits, was “absolutely delighted” for his “old team”. Cast your mind back to last year when Oran Kearney couldn’t win in a similar number of matches. Absolutely no delight for him when he finally did so, and in fact they questioned whether he might be sacked. Funny thing is ‘impartiality’ on the BBC.
Saints didn’t need to wait long for their next fixture as four days later we travelled the short distance to Glasgow and to the home of the extreme capitalist football club, Celtic, with the news Jim Kellermann (remember him?) had been freed by Saints.
I hadn’t personally been to Parkhead since 2006; a match memorable for multiple arrests and ejections in the Saints end due to ‘crimes’ such as standing up, asking stewards a question, drinking Bovril with a “funny look”, or shouting without a letter authorising this from your GP.
On this occasion though I had decided it was time to make a return to what is the biggest rip off in the history of Scottish football. Against Motherwell at Fir Park earlier in the month, it was a very reasonable £28 for two adults and two kids to watch Saints, which suited the Corner family perfectly. At Parkhead, it was a bit more expensive. I say a bit more expensive, but what I really mean is massively more, like the size of a Paul McMullan hat compared to a thimble.
The Glasgow capitalists were charging £84 for two adults and two kids, which to put into perspective is exactly three times what Motherwell charged, and would also buy three children a St Mirren season ticket for the West Bank and still have £9 change. To say it is outrageous is an understatement, but someone must pay for those disco lights, ridiculous wages Celtic pay and most crucially for the capitalists, shareholders dividends and boardroom bonuses.
Celtic supporters of course pride themselves in their socialist roots, so the irony of their boardroom being packed with more Tories than a Rugby team stag night is not lost on most of us. The ‘twenty’s plenty’ campaign was brought to Parkhead by the North Bank with their banner, and with me and Cairters Jnr in attendance, the 600 or so Saints fans present comfortably made more noise than the 30,000 Celtic fans who had bothered to turn up, which wasn’t hard in truth.
We all expected Saints to be dogged and well disciplined, and like those disco lights being as cringeworthy as a Kris Boyd podcast, we did not disappoint. For the first 45 mins Saints defended superbly, with the only criticism being we wasted the precious few chances we had on the break when Durmus and then Paul McGinn (who was in a fantastic position for a cross inside the penalty area) both blazed wildly over.
At half time with the score at 0-0, the man who brought us such delights as Calum Ball, James Marwood, Adam Drury and other non-league standard footballers was whisked out to make the half time draw, when the one and only Tommy Craig appeared on a football pitch again, much to the fear of practically every Saints supporter who had instant flashback’s to 2014 and the barcode strip.
Booed constantly by the Saints support, wee Tommy trudged off but within ten minutes of the match restarting the game was effectively over as the away side conceded two very sloppy goals not in line at all with how we defended in the other eighty minutes, and the match tamely filtered out to nothing, very much like a Tommy Craig interview, and a 2-0 defeat.
This left Saints bottom of the league on goal difference after the first third of the scheduled season as St Johnstone had won again, this time at home to Hearts. I bet Allan Preston wasn’t delighted this time, but this result led to the joint bottom bottlers sacking Craig Levein with former Saints manager Jack Ross favourite to replace him, fresh from a 15-month spell drawing football matches at seaside league English club, Sunderland.
Whether Ross takes that post, or the Hibernian or even Aberdeen one which will apparently both be available soon, will become apparent in time, but if he does return to Scottish football Ross will face a Saints side still trying to find a way to win football matches.
From what I have seen so far, by no means is this is a vintage Saints side, but neither is it a bad one either. Defensively we are excellent, but are struggling for goals. Everyone knows this including Jim Goodwin, but signs are there however that we will come good.
On the only two occasions this season we have taken the lead, against Aberdeen and St Johnstone, both times we showed absolutely no weakness defensively and easily seen the match out, in fact against the Fakes we thrived being in the lead and played our best football of the season. We have been in every match so far, and in most of them had periods of dominantion. It means nothing of course, but with a bit of luck we could be sitting mid table. Hard luck stories won’t pay the rent though, or some other bollocks like that.
I am optimistic we will find the right formula, but until we start scoring regularly then the struggle will remain real and most definitely brutal for the season ahead.
Buy from the online shop here – https://etsy.me/2C18YGz