October 2017

The first fixture in October arrived on the back of the anniversary of Jack Ross’ first year at the club, and despite his well-documented awful start in Paisley, at the beginning of the month the current manager sat second in Saints all time most successful managers list based on win percentages, and fourth in the league table equivalent. The legendary Tommy Bryceland tops both lists incidentally.

The reason I start with this is one of our ex-managers has a real obsession about mentioning his own record at the club, and has been playing the victim card in the media based on his own magical and mythical win percentage at Paisley ever since being correctly sacked by the current board.

I have covered this many times of course, and Alex Rae has been wrongly spouting for around a year that he has the most magnificent managerial record of any Saints manager since the early 80’s; a world record, simply the best, he welcomes the chase etc etc.

What Jack Ross has done is leave Rae trailing so much the Ranjurs obsessed “manager” should never again compare himself to the current boss or say with any kind of justification he has been harshly treated, as quite simply he was replaced by a far better manager, and that is a fact. Rae will ignore this small fact of course; the “dynamics” of the argument doesn’t suit his victim agenda.

The likelihood is Jack Ross’ win percentage will fall the more successful the club becomes as we will be in the top division, but as we all knew anyway Jack Ross is so superior to Alex Rae you could actually measure it in yards, and the distance is wide, in fact it is almost the gap between Davie Hopkin’s front teeth.

This anniversary coincided with the build up to the Raith Rovers Irn Bru Cup tie in Paisley at the start of month, and a chance for Jack Ross to further enhance his growing reputation by becoming the first Saints manager since Alex Ferguson to win nine home matches in a row in all competitions.

As the standards at Saints are off the scale, Ferguson of course was sacked by the club, but despite this setback Fergie made a decent career for himself afterwards. However, just think how good Manchester United might have been had they appointed Jim Clunie…….

To the actual match and keeping in line with the ‘Colt’ theme in the Irn Bru Cup, Jack Ross decided he would field his own reserve side for this one and despite taking the lead with half an hour to go through Gavin Reilly, Rovers won 3-1 in the end and practically nobody cared in truth we were out the tournament, except that is for Black and White Army’s lone wolf, the mysterious “Shull” who classed it somewhere between Hammarby and the 2010 League Cup final as our worse ever result!

After this match, it was Saints undoubted bogey side Dumbarton away who were next in the Championship, and to add to the farcical nature of our away fixtures so far this season it was announced in late September by the Sons that Saints were being singled out for extra special treatment due to our big away support and ticket prices were being raised accordingly, an increase of over 20% from £18 last season to £22 per ticket.

Wonderful, not only are we treated to the most despicable tactics in football from Dumbarton, we are being charged top division prices to do so in a “stadium” where a window has more sides.

Essentially Dumbarton are now the taxi driver you get when you are half scooped and he takes the long way to your house just to charge you an extra few pounds, a time wasting over charging arsehole. They are Uber.

Personally, I do not like being singled out like this, £4 extra may seem insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but similar to when our own club targeted families for an extra £25 per child on their season ticket, it is in the principle of the matter and that cannot be repeated enough.

On twitter I had a debate with a Dumbarton fan about their own price increase, and to his credit he was at least arguing the point but essentially his defence started and finished with the price increase being due to printing costs for tickets and extra stewarding, it was that “simple” he claimed.

This “simple” claim was quickly debunked by myself, as any additional costs would be at most 44p per person (In reality much less as The Sons would have an existing printing contract) but then I was told by the same fan that using tickets and stewarding as a reason for the increase “was not so simple”.

Hopefully the Dumbarton supporter doesn’t have to argue or negotiate for a living.

After reading several points from Dumbarton supporters over various on line forums, they seemed to be arguing that the bigger the crowd the more money they lose. Yes LOSE. Therefore they need to put prices up. An utterly stupid argument of course, and the £4 increase on Saints fans meant Dumbarton would essentially only need to sell 573 tickets this time to generate more income from our support than they did in the previous match between the clubs when we sold out 700 at £18. It is blatant income building and can’t be disguised as anything else.

As far as the match goes, and Saints in general have been awful against Dumbarton, with just one win in the eight matches between the clubs since being relegated in 2015, and no victories in the four played at the Rock, or the 103FM stadium as its now called, with 103 referring to the average number of seconds it takes Dumbarton to take a throw in or goal kick.

To say Dumbarton are hard to watch is of course an understatement; they are like a pair of shoes that are three sizes too small painful, but the end justifies the means and the part timers have remained a championship club for four seasons now.

In charge of the Sons of course is Stevie Aitken, a human fidget spinner that absolutely despises football, the concept of time, attacking, positivity and basically anything that people want to see at a football match.

In the hours before the match Aitken screamed at his TV and Jose Mourinho in particular for Manchester United’s “cavalier” and “kamikaze” approach to their 0-0 draw with Liverpool at Anfield, where the closest the Old Trafford side got to a forward pass was when David De Gea blocked a shot with his foot, and this act of “attacking football” was met with outrage with Aitken who smashed his Billy Reid mug to the floor in disgust.

I half joke of course, and generally couldn’t care less what happens in English football so back to the real match in question and Aitken has a fairly new side kick in Ian Durrant, who has influenced Aitken to go down the only route former Ranjurs men seem to know and that is sign former Ranjurs duds, and the Sons therefore had a familiar look about them as these flops are also Alex Rae’s Ranjurs rejects from Saints.

Dumbarton started with goalkeeper Scott Gallagher, winger Tom Walsh and former Miss Dumfries and Galloway 2016, Kyle Hutton, who incredibly is still being employed as a footballer and not as a zombie extra on a movie set. Callum Gallagher was injured along with Stuart Carswell, which means Aitken only needs Ryan Hardie and Lawrence Shankland for “house” in his weird game of Imposter Bingo.

Seriously though, if a manager is trying to emulate another side from history, I don’t think St Mirren between 2015 and 2016 would be top of many people’s list, I’ve absolutely no idea what Aitken is thinking and it can only end in catastrophic failure.

Jack Ross on the other hand made Gordon Strachan extremely happy by selecting “genetically superior” 6ft 6inch striker Ross Stewart in attack, and opted for a back four that surprisingly didn’t include Jamie McCart who it later transpired was injured. The scene was set then, top of the league playing a team we have a diabolical record against with multiple Paisley rejects in the side, but in further proof that the team is progressing rather nicely we won 2-0 with goals from Reilly and Sutton.

After the match Steve Aitken continued the nonsensical post-match interviews from opposition managers by suggesting Dumbarton were maybe the better side, but I think he was genuinely spooked that one of his players tried a quick throw-in leaving them with only nine men behind the ball for a whole 30 seconds. However, it was a good day for Saints as results elsewhere meant we were now clear at the top by three points from Livingston, with Dunfermline and Dundee United a further point behind.

Next up was a trip to the Fifteen Fingered County, and an away match at Falkirk. The mutants had disposed of Peter Houston as manager, not down a chemical residue chute thankfully as can happen in the Fall Out Zone, but the man made entirely of Spam was sacked after a start to the season so bad the spirit of Tommy Craig was almost summonsed from an unknown Glasgow bowling club bar.

Appointed in Houston’s place is a man we know well, Paul Hartley, who looks increasingly like the ghost from fall out past, and someone that of course enjoys a mutually loathsome relationship with Saints supporters where we have both hated one another for over twenty years.

In many ways though Falkirk and Hartley are a perfect fit, sometimes it just happens like that in football when a club with certain characteristics are drawn towards a player or manager that just fits in with the culture of the club.

For example; John Martin and Airdrie; El Hadj Diouf and old Rangers; Nacho Novo and Morton etc. Hartley and Falkirk are a mutants terrifying dream, and unless Chernobyl suddenly emerges with a football club then I can think of nowhere better for Hartley to manage currently than at the Blast Zone Dome.

The match itself was a tense 0-0 draw, and in truth it was a good point. In the 99/00 season when we won this division we suffered two defeats at Falkirk, and following four and three goal concessions away from home earlier in the season, back to back clean sheets on the road was more than welcome.

With these two away matches out of the way, this meant one thing was next, The Renfrewshire Derby. Saints v Morton, The City of Culture versus the village of the damned, caviar against caravans, a roll on sausage versus a slice roll, Mad Dog v the mad cat.

Form going into the match pointed towards a comfortable Saints win, but as we know this fixture is the Greenock clubs cup final, and while Saints fans would happily take four defeats against Morton as long as we are promoted, you kind of get the feeling Morton fans would rather have seen us relegated to League One last season than their own club actually achieve anything. Is it any coincidence our remarkable comeback last term seemed to knock the stuffing out of Morton’s own campaign?

Unfortunately the derby is not what it once was, and Morton are no longer able to command an away support of any great substance for the fixture, and the 1100 that turned up seems to be their lot nowadays for the match, which is about half or a third of what they would bring when the derby was last played regularly around 20 years ago.

This is a not a criticism, and it is a genuine shame any club outside of the ugly sisters loses such a significant section of their support over a relatively short period of time. It is a harsh warning for Saints that they need to get back to the top flight as quickly as possible.

Jack Ross is of course desperate for this return to the top league, and with that in mind the two points dropped against the minnows was a tough one to take, where for the second derby in a row the referee took centre stage.

Thankfully we were spared Willie Collum this time, but Steven McLean was under more pressure than Gary Harkin’s belt coming into this match as he had not given The Rangers a decision the week before in the League Cup Semi Final, resulting in Jim Traynor getting his crayons out and writing one of his many statements about how unfair it all is, which in turn had the tabloids on McLean’s back.

With the media spotlight on him, McLean missed a stonewall Dougie Imrie handball in the box during the Hamilton v Partick Thistle fixture a few days later, and the media screamed “demotion to the Championship!” as they finally figured out he was in charge of Saints v Morton on the Saturday.

How being awarded the Renfrewshire Derby is a “demotion” after refereeing a match with only 2286 in attendance is a mystery to me, and the same journalists claiming it was a downgrading also had a genuine debate only a few years earlier that the Championship was a better league than the Premiership, a ludicrous opinion of course but stick Rangers anywhere and these morons will seemingly claim the sun shines brighter here than anywhere else.

However the fact remains, the SFA seem to be intent on appointing Premiership referees to lower league fixtures when they are not “performing” to expectations, and although it is an undeniable fact that St. Mirren v Morton is a far bigger fixture than Hamilton v Patrick or indeed a vast amount of Premiership matches, in the narrow eyes of an ignorant SFA, clearly anything outside the Premiership is a demotion.

Quite often when a referee is under severe scrutiny, the next match he officiates can involve difficult decisions, and this is what indeed happened to Steven McLean, but the SFA could maybe help the situation by not giving a referee such a high profile match with lots at stake, or even better perhaps give the man a break.

Effectively, with Saints now having had a “demoted” referee this season on five occasions out of eleven league matches the SFA clearly consider our promotion bid as insignificant, and our fixtures seem to be fair game for the football authorities to use as a “punishment “ for underperforming and under pressure referees. To put it bluntly this is nowhere near good enough as under pressure referees are like anyone else under scrutiny, and far more likely to make a mistake.

In these five matches with demoted referees, we’ve had three penalties given against us and four players sent off. On the flip side, we’ve had no penalties against us or sending offs in the other six matches combined. Something doesn’t add up, and for our club there is far too much at stake to be part of some kind of experiment by the SFA.

The match itself turned into an exciting one, but ultimately Saints blew it. Immediately after the match I considered a draw a fair result, but on reflection based on chances created Saints undoubtedly had the upper hand and gift wrapped a point to Morton with two very soft goals, that said I am not complaining about getting a draw.

The action started late, with Ian McShane expertly converting a penalty after 66 minutes to give Saints the lead; ending a run of five consecutive spot kicks missed at home, with Mallan, Shankland, Sutton, Loy and Reilly all failing to score before this success.

The penalty was awarded after Lewis Morgan was clearly tugged back by Thomas O’Ware as he sped into the box. At the match from my seat it looked like a clear penalty, but replays show it was possibly just outside the box, but pictures are still very inconclusive. However, as far as the referee is concerned if it was a mistake then it was an understandable one. At least it was a foul, unlike the first Morton penalty at Cappielow.

Morton quickly equalised, but this was a result of something I have noticed Saints players do repeatedly this season, and that is move as a collective group at a goal kick to the side of the pitch they think the ball is going to be launched to.

On this occasion as the Morton keeper prepared the goal kick (it actually should have been a corner as Morgan’s shot was deflected wide) all the Saints players moved towards our left leaving a massive gap down on our right hand side, something as I said we have done multiple times this season.

Derek Gaston spotted this and launched an obvious pass down our now completely exposed side, and although the resultant cross was cleared, Andy Murdoch thumped a brilliant low shot from 25 yards into the corner of the net to probably become the first ever Morton player to score in three consecutive derbies.

It was a great strike, but completely avoidable from our point of view, it is a bizarre way to defend when an entire team gambles everyone on something they have a 50% chance of getting completely wrong, that’s not a percentage game we should be playing in my opinion.

Saints then quickly retook the lead with a fine Reilly volley following a Cammy Smith cross, but again Saints couldn’t build on this, and after being warned for holding opposition players at a corner by McLean, ten seconds later Gregor Buchanan was penalised for, well, holding an opposition player at a corner kick.

It was too far away for me to see if it was fair or not at the time, and TV angles have proved to be useless, but loads of Saints fans have complained about how soft the penalty was despite Buchanan holding the Morton player.

However big Gregor is 6ft 4inch and should just go and head the ball clear, he isn’t playing for Dumbarton now and doesn’t need to use Stevie Aitken’s utterly diabolical tactics. As far as McLean is concerned, I don’t think he can be blamed for this award either and he also got this correct.

The big controversy was however still to come. A few minutes after this, Lewis Morgan found Gavin Reilly in space with a glorious flick inside several defenders, and as Reilly charged towards goal he was unceremoniously hacked to the ground in the same area of the pitch as Morgan before him by Thomas O’Ware again, who had already been booked for that first foul.

I didn’t need a replay for this one; it was right in front of me and as clear as foul as you will ever see, a second booking, and of course another penalty to Saints.

McLean however got the first bit wrong by judging it a dive by Reilly, and subsequently all three of these key decisions went incorrectly in favour of Morton. How McLean can judge that Reilly dived was frankly incredible as the strikers fall was natural, not exaggerated, and clearly the result of a hack which even drew blood on the forward’s leg. Even Jim Duffy thought it was a clear penalty to his undoubted credit. Reilly of course was booked to further rub salt into his wounds.

In two derbies with two demoted referees this season, what has been proved more than anything is that under pressure referees making poor decisions is a great leveller when one team is better than the other. However on this particular occasion despite this late error by the referee if Saints defend better we would have won the match, it is that simple. Also, if we take our chances we also win the match, which also shouldn’t be forgotten. We must now assume the referee will be rubbish.

Hopefully in a few weeks time Adam Eckersley, Harry Davis and Gary MacKenzie can come back into the side as this could be the difference between promotion or another season at this frankly dismal level of football where we seem to be the subject of a bizarre SFA referring experiment.

So as the month ends, Saints remain top of the division with a win and two draws from our league matches, a month where our colt side was also knocked out of the Irn Bru Cup. It was another good month for Jack Ross, and perhaps it is appropriate to look back to this time last year when even with the new manager in place Saints continued to struggle.

On the radio frequently back then (as he still is) was our former manager Alex Rae, and he would give reasons for his dismissal none of which were his awful signing policy, his style of play, his obsession with another club, or indeed his poor results. One of the reasons he actually gave at the time and still hinted at even last week when Tom English destroyed his “Scottish football needs a strong Ranjurs” argument, was Saints are “fan owned”.

Of course St Mirren are not yet fan owned but neither Alex Rae or most of the media seem to know this, however around a year ago one of Rae’s radio chums, the awful Alan Preston, gave us this little piece of insight into his knowledge that has stayed with me ever since as it seemed ridiculous only a few weeks into a managers career at a club . It went a bit like this:

“I don’t think fan ownership is going to work in Scotland. Look at St. Mirren, they sacked Alex Rae and replaced him with Jack Ross”.

That quote hasn’t aged at all well for Preston, and surely an apology is due to the Saints support and Jack Ross from the Radio Scotland man, and also a full admission that fan ownership is undoubtedly the way forward as by his own warped logic a whole internationally accepted and successful ownership model seems to lie solely with the success of Jack Ross and St Mirren.

Over to you, Preston.