February 2018

February 2018, another month of the season where Jack Ross was the subject of much speculation from the media with English club Barnsley the latest to show an interest in taking the Saints manager from St. Mirren Park.

Having secured the Prince of Paisley in the summer of last year, Stevie Mallan, the 1912 FA Cup winners were now after the King.

However Jack Ross wasn’t as easily swayed as the young midfielder, and pulled out of the so called “race” on the fifteenth of February much to the combined delight of the Saints support and annoyance of fans of other clubs, as well as some of the media who were utterly desperate for some kind of halt to our unrelenting push for the title.

By this point Saints had moved to 14 points clear in the Championship following a routine 2-0 win over Queen of the South on the third of February, with Livingston now in second place following Dundee United’s sixth “blip” of the season and also the Arabs had played a couple of matches less than us, and one fewer than the Lions.

This lead over United was more or less accepted by most in the media as insurmountable, apart from Radio Scotland’s Billy Dodds who still held out for the Tannadice club to be promoted automatically this season, and had not given up hope of his former side being crowned champions by finishing above Saints.

“I want United back in the Premiership as we need our bigger clubs up there”;  Dodds is quoted in that bastion of establishment principles, The Daily Record. Isn’t it nice though that Dodds speaks for all of us by using the royal “we”?

If I was to pick anyone from the media to speak on my behalf it would definitely be wee cuddly Doddsy who is just a great guy who I respect so much, especially after he hinted his favourite club Rangers would beat St Mirren 10-0 in a match in 2007 as they desperately tried to claw back Celtic’s superior goal difference late in that season. Staunch is the word that springs immediately to mind.

It is an interesting quote from Dodds though about United, especially his use of the word “want”. His last job was at Ross County where he was assistant manager; a club by his own warped logic shouldn’t be anywhere near the Premiership and who coincidentally enough were bottom of the league before he was sacked.

Should Dodds ever get back into the game in Scotland at say a Championship club; will a large part of him actually want his new employer to get promoted? Will mid table with Dunfermline in the Championship for example constitute success for him? If I close my eyes I can hear the words:

“They were big in the 60’s, but crucially not the 1980’s when I can remember. In 1983 they were rubbish so don’t deserve to be in the top flight. I want the clubs that were good in 1983 to be in the Premiership, apart from St Mirren. Oh, and Rangers were rotten that year but they must always be first or second, it’s the natural order”.

What a weird and troubled world Scottish football is where any kind of ambition or form shown by 90% of our clubs is seen as a threat. Do you know what would probably guarantee all these “elite” clubs a place in the top flight forever? A larger top league which most of the “Natural order” pundits on Radio Scotland are against! You could time your watch by the stupidity, usually 6.30pm -7.30pm every week night by the way.

The last thing I will say on this matter (this month) is what exactly is this so called “natural order”? How many clubs are part of it and “need” to be in the top division? Which clubs are allowed to float between leagues to make up the numbers? Which clubs aren’t allowed in the top division at all? Which clubs aren’t allowed to win trophies so it doesn’t “detract” from the national game? Who is allowed to finish in the top six and who isn’t? If one club dies and becomes extinct, how can they possibly be included in a natural order?

So many questions remain unanswered, but the petty insular world of Scottish football in the media needs thoroughly cleaned out, the dinosaurs are gone, time for some new blood.

Next up on the Radio Scotland list of halfwits however is Allan Preston, the man nicknamed “Biscuits”, as apparently as a player he went to pieces in the box, so perhaps his radio nickname should be “Crackers” as he actually goes that at the very mention of our name.

I have mentioned Preston before in the November blog when he hinted a year ago that Jack Ross wasn’t as good a manager as Alex Rae, that sort of insight is common with Preston who is from the squeaky high pitched world of wee Robbo where his voice remains at a pre-pubescent girl pitch, and it can be genuinely terrifying listening especially when his club Hearts are on the attack and he is within half a mile of any microphone. Dogs think it’s an alien invasion.

It is pretty much common knowledge that Biscuits is not very keen on St Mirren; he once petitioned the makers of The X-files to have the events of 3rd May 1986 turned into a massive conspiracy episode where Frank McGarvey is revealed at the end as a Celtic supporting Alien with mind powers that forced Alex Miller to pick Jim Stewart that afternoon, and then shape shifted inexplicably into Paul Coia. And we were all in on it.

Preston often screams “Sunt Liedoon” into a deserted forest for no reason other than to justify his own existence, and even then he can hear Albert Kidd laughing faintly in the distance, haunting Biscuits until the end.

Biscuits often rhymes off clubs he believes are “turrifuc” or terrific to me and you on national radio and they always exclusively include St Johnstone, Dunfermline, Dundee United, Hearts and Livingston. Perhaps not so coincidentally they are all the clubs that employed Preston during his journeyman career. No other club, especially not “West Coast” ones enter his list.

So on the thirteenth of February, Radio Scotland had Preston and Alex Rae discussing Jack Ross potentially leaving Saints and Scottish football for Barnsley who it has to be remembered are the seventh biggest club in Yorkshire with one solitary season of top flight football behind them in their history, and one trophy won over a century ago. More Peterborough United than Manchester United.

You would think that our so called national broadcaster would employ people who promote the game in Scotland, but the decline in quality of pundit from Radio Scotland has been so sharp recently that is often indistinguishable from Radio Clyde at the moment, and it is common place to hear pundits talk Scottish football down.

Preston was simply desperate for Jack Ross to leave Saints; it was actually cringeworthy listening to him. When Alex Rae is the voice of reason on a Saints discussion, you know you are dealing with something a little bit special and every counter argument on why Ross should stay was swatted away by an increasingly irritated Biscuits whose voice was so high at one point I thought he had been replaced with my four year niece on helium and she had developed an unhealthy hatred for Saints.

The crescendo however was this absolute classic:

“Chic says its only Barnsley, but I mean Barnsley are a massive club. Massive. They have their own training ground and everything”.

Just wait until Preston hears about a place called Ralston, he’ll be outraged such a small and not “turrufic” club has the temerity to even dare to own a training ground and youth academy. Natural order only diddys.

However, so insecure are these pundits with their made up wee ‘Elite clique’ of successful football clubs based on 1983 as a stand alone year, that they have been trying to get rid of Stevie Clarke from Kilmarnock since he turned up at the Rugby Park club.

It is almost as though certain clubs can’t have good managers, it’s not allowed and just not fair, and Jack Ross fits into this weird pigeon hole. Instead of getting excited about possible development of clubs in Scotland these pundits want their managers to go to the lower leagues in England as soon as possible. Weird, weird behaviour.

Eventually however Barnsley lost out on Ross of course, who was never their top target anyway as that was likely to be Nigel Farage or Katie Hopkins down in the heartlands of Brexitshire, but it was glorious to see the reaction of their fans as a “Jock” knocked them back, despite the relative insignificance of their club. Money doesn’t make you big or anywhere near relevant lads, always remember that.

With that panic finally out of the way we had a trip to on form Livingston just under 48 hours later to negotiate, and the opportunity to stretch our lead at the top to seventeen points, a lead Billy Dodds would consider a “challenge” for Dundee United despite them not being our nearest challengers at that point.

Backed by a large away support just short of 2,000 and two thirds of the actual attendance at the run down Pasta Bowl, Saints started superbly and took the lead only a couple of minutes into the match when Ryan Flynn fired home after a goal mouth scramble. All was looking good at this point.

However, perhaps this early goal in hindsight worked against us. Maybe the players took their foot of the pedal, or motivated Livingston or both, but Saints found themselves 3-1 down very quickly after this as the Lions battered us with tactics David Hopkin found by torchlight scrawled by early man in a cave in the hills above Greenock.

It worked tremendously well however, and taking a leaf out of Dunfermline’s book they bombarded us with long balls from every perceivable angle and I’m not sure in the first half if that loveable cannibal Lee Miller lost a header so dominate was he in the air.

Miller is a recent signing at Almondvale having been freed by Falkirk, (even cannibalism isn’t weird enough there anymore) and has formed a rather tasty partnership with another new man, a certain Ryan Hardie, aka the human slug from his lethargic days in Paisley.

It was Hardie that equalised in nine minutes after utterly deplorable defending from Baird and Samson following an eighty yard bouncing hoof, and the ultimate Alex Rae imposter had a tap in following their calamitous mix up allowing Sluggy to run the length of the Saints support with his finger to his lips telling us to be quiet after this.

That will show us! Never again will we mention that Hardie never tried a leg for Saints and stole a wage for six months now he has scored yet again against us!

What utter idiots we are to believe his attitude is poor, nice one slugger, you sure showed us. If you could score again that would finally prove you try your pure hardest for everyone.

Six minutes later, boom, the Murray Park mollusc hits the net again! This time it was from a throw in given by the strangest and most inadequate linesman I have ever seen in action, and it was hurled 30 yards into the box by Alan Lithgow, a player I assume Livingston signed from the World Darts Championship with his beer belly and big accurate throw, and it broke to Hardie who volleyed it sweetly beyond Samson.

Lithgow then took his turn to run up the touchline with his finger to his lips, very strange really as nobody knew who he was, however maybe like the Dumbarton supporter in January who complained about Saints fans chatting in the lead up to the match as he liked to hear the players talking to one another during a warm up, (true story) perhaps Lithgow was spooked that the stands at Almondvale had people in them and he was genuinely asking for a bit of hush.

For Hardie though, my mate summed him up perfectly when he said he is “all of the Morton players rolled into one” and only turns up for matches against us!

Seven minutes later it was 3-1 to Livingston when another hoof was turned in by Miller, and that was pretty much game over.

Already by this point it was obvious certainly to me that we needed MacKenzie on the park to deal with Miller at least, and he did come on at half time and certainly solidified the defence.

However even by this half way point we had already made several changes in formation that had little impact on the match, and even the introduction of new signing Myles Hippolyte couldn’t spark a comeback despite the winger coming mightily close to a debut goal with ten minutes remaining when his shot was hacked off the line.

Saints still had time to gift Livingston a fourth in injury time after poor play by McGinn, but the players and manager still received a standing ovation at full time from an extremely vocal away support throughout the match. That’s the way to support your team.

This concluded a poor day for Saints, our third league defeat away from home this season by three goals, and throw in a couple of heavy defeats away from home in the cup competitions, and perhaps there is reason for concern outside Paisley, but Livingston played very well and we just have to accept the defeat.

In the aftermath some fans pointed to Jack Ross being in Barnsley for talks as completely inappropriate preparation for a league match, but nobody knows if this had any impact on the match at all, and I will happily take a 4-1 defeat against Livingston as the consequence for Jack Ross staying in truth.

However it should be noted that we had won all five league meetings between the clubs at Almondvale before this day, so this defeat was unexpected and also ended our nine match unbeaten run since early December in the process.

Before we played our next match against Brechin City, Livingston were at it again however by beating Dundee United on the Friday night live match on BBC Alba.

Gaelic always confuses Ryan Hardie of course, and he phoned Jamie Langfield before the match to ask what his squad number was in the ancient tongue; however despite this Hardie battered home a late winner to further Livingston’s great recent form and ensure they are likely to be the only threat to Saints in the run in.

This meant Saints knew a win against Brechin would put the lead back to eleven points at the top the following day, and the acceptance beforehand of everyone I spoke with was a scrappy 1-0 win would do, and that’s exactly what happened.

The win wasn’t pretty, particularly in the second half, but we got the three points and that was the main thing. I had won hospitality tickets for the match, and having never been or even wanted to go to anything like that before I wasn’t exactly looking forward to it I have to say, there is something suspicious about people that want to eat a full chicken dinner before a game of football in my opinion, however I was curious none the less.

It was nowhere near as bad as I imagined as it turned out however, but it’s been a long time since I heard so much rubbish being spouted during a match as I did that afternoon by the buffoons behind me. Just because you played amateur football in the 1970’s doesn’t make you better than Lewis Morgan, and the youngster got a torrid time from a set of older fans behind me practically all match.

All was revealed however as they enthusiastically greeted Rangers second goal against Hearts near full time, and it turns out their issue with Morgan was not performance related. I was very close to telling one of them that his jacket was actually older than Rangers, but by the end the life had been sucked out of me and I was glad for full time and a break from the terrible patter shouted at the top of their voices so the entire stand could hear, no wonder Jack Ross was raging at full time at some fans.

This scrappy 1-0 win that most would have taken beforehand was not acceptable to all however, and certainly in the main stand some pretty unfair criticism was dished out to several players, Morgan and McGinn in particular as well as Jack Ross, arguably the most important three individuals this season in our surge towards the league. Nonsensical in my opinion.

I would say however it was a minority that were vocal about it, and I don’t think these types of supporters will ever change, they have expectations and they need to be met. If we won 5-0 it should have been 6-0 etc, it doesn’t make them any less of a supporter however, it’s just they do it differently and like a wee moan that unfortunately we all have to endure also.

So with Saints lead back to eleven points, Livingston travelled to another form side in the division for their game in hand against now third placed Morton a few days later on the 27th February, and the Lions won 1-0 taking the gap back to eight points with equal games now played between the top three, and ten fixtures still to go.

It is a scenario we could only have dreamed about on the first day of 2018, never mind this time last year or the start of the season.

Dundee United can now only go within eight points of us should they win their multiple games in hands, which seems very unlikely at the moment and they now have boardroom unrest to contend with as well as poor form and fixture congestion.

I wrote last month that realistically only Livingston or the Dundee club could catch us should either go an incredible run and we self-implode, and I also expected at least one of these sides form to improve. It turns out Livingston are that threat, but they are winning games without any real pressure or expectation currently.

That will change should Saints lead be cut to five points at any point in March or April as suddenly they have a small chance, however the fact remains we can still only really throw it away at this stage.