In what was the 125th season of league football in Scotland, Saints went down a familiar route by threatening to deliver success for parts of the campaign but ultimately came up short when it really mattered, leaving a frustrating feeling for supporters for the second season running.
Last season of course, we managed to lose two semi-finals in the national cup competitions, both times to clubs with a smaller budget and nowhere the history of Saints, as well as blow a top six finish in the final minute of injury time at Douglas Park in the last match before the split, after occupying a place in the top half of the league for several months that campaign.
The capitulation this time around was not as dramatic, however as we were at matches in person as opposed to sitting in our houses viewing a stream, it definitely felt worse for me and going by the reaction the players and management team got after games towards the end of the season, I don’t think I was alone in experiencing that.
However, before we get to the conclusion of the season, a lot happened in the lead up to this failure and we need to go back to the summer of 2021 when supporter restrictions were still in place and the dark old days of COVID suppressing everything of any joy in our lives to start the story of the 2021/22 campaign.
Thankfully by July there was light at the end of the tunnel as the Scottish Government had allowed “easing” of fans back into football grounds using a gradual increase per match model, which would eventually lead to the full capacity being available by late summer. Sounds simple enough but somehow we managed to get authorisation for only 1000 fans attending matches in Paisley for competitive fixtures as the Old Firm were getting 30,000 in their stadiums for friendlies!
It turned out the person responsible for interpreting the law changes at the club didn’t understand that a “household bubble” included people actually living in the same household and therefore didn’t have to keep a distance of 2m between each other at a match, hence our rigidly strict restrictions. Who would have thought?
With demand far outweighing allowed capacity, the club therefore decided to carry out ballots for the home matches against Dunfermline & Partick Thistle in the League Cup and also for the first home Premiership match of the season when newly promoted Yo-Yo extravaganza, Heart of Midlothian, visited Paisley. What the club didn’t do however was limit the ballot each time so that the same people didn’t “win”, therefore we had the ludicrous situation where some people got to see all three of these matches, and others didn’t manage to attend any.
On the park, the usual loss of players and signing of replacements took place throughout the summer, however with first choice wide players Ilkay Durmus and Dylan Connolly both leaving the club and no wingers signed whatsoever, Jim Goodwin stated from the outset of the campaign that the team would be playing a 3-5-2 system, which seemed to be based primarily on one of the new signings, Scott Tanser, who arrived from elite farm outfit St Johnstone, being well equipped to deliver crosses from the left wing back position.
Dunfermline were first up in the League Cup after the away match at Dumbarton in early July was awarded to Saints 3-0 as the League One club had a COVID outbreak, and the 1000 lucky fans who were in attendance (including me) were treated to an utterly dominant performance from the team on a gloriously sunny evening in Paisley, however we had to settle for only a 1-0 victory courtesy of a fine header from new signing Curtis Main despite constant pressure from the home side.
A week later, a sold out away support of around 300 Saints fans (due to COVID restrictions) travelled to Stenhousemuir on another beautiful evening to witness a second win, this time 3-1 where Main scored once more as did fellow strikers Kristian Dennis and Lee Erwin, to ensure qualification for the next round making the 2-0 win over Partick Thistle in the final game academic other than securing a seeding place, and a rare 100% record in the group stages for the club.
All looked fine at this point, with Scott Tanser making a very good start to life at Saints, however we had only played lower league sides so far and the real test was still to come in the Premiership. Also, and rather worryingly, we didn’t seem to have a natural right wing back to compliment Tanser, with Jay Henderson covering that role despite being an out and an out winger. This issue wouldn’t be fixed all season.
Saints therefore travelled to newly promoted Dundee on the opening day of the league campaign in good spirits and made the perfect start when Eamonn Brophy fired in his first goal for the club after just 4 minutes, his left foot shoot sneaking in at the near post after a good flick on from Main. Could it finally be? A great forward partnership? I’ll answer that later once we analyse all the evidence.
Dundee, of course, are always good value for a right laugh in the top-flight. They once appointed a raging John Brown who hadn’t been employed in about a decade to try and save them from the drop (he failed obviously) and then a few years later gave the job to TV pundit Neil McCann who somehow managed to lose a football match to Alan Stubbs before being sacked. Now they had James McPake, who is like a mixture of several characters from the Limmy Show, as manager. Despite this disadvantage for the Dens Park side, the match finished 2-2 with the defensive issues down our right-hand side costing us two points when Henderson failed to stop a cross coming in for the second equaliser.
From here, the quiet concerns among the support with the formation of the side and lack of options in the wide areas soon became a screaming mess, as the team went a further five league matches without a win and were knocked out the League Cup by Livingston (again) on penalties as late September approached.
There was little doubt we had good players; Goodwin had also recruited the tigerish veteran midfielder Alan Power from Kilmarnock as well as playmakers Greg Kiltie (also from Killie) and 23-year-old Irishman Connor Ronan who arrived on loan from Wolves after spending the previous two seasons farmed out in Europe, firstly in Slovakia with FC DAC 1904 and then with Grasshopper of Switzerland last term. The issue Goodwin seemed to have throughout the season was fitting them all in the team in their best positions along with Jamie McGrath and Ethan Erhahon.
Saints did finally get a victory in Premiership match number seven when Aberdeen were beaten 3-2 in Paisley thanks to a Marcus Fraser winner, but it was this game that Ronan showed he was going to be a very useful player indeed with two goals, the second of which was sublimely taken from the edge of the box after a beautiful delay bamboozled the Dons defence before he rattled home low into the corner with unerring accuracy.
The following week Saints won again, this time at Dingwall, where Ross County had scraped the very bottom of the managerial barrel by appointing the Nigel Farage of Scottish football, Malky McKay, as their new manager. The 3-2 win however was a lot closer than it should have been after failing to build on a dominant first half with goals from Brophy, Fraser and Tanser leaving Saints 3-1 up at the break, but at least the team had a new signing as Australian right wing back Matt Millar was now playing in this troublesome position after Marcus Fraser and Richard Tait had also given it a go in previous matches. Goodwin had decided that young Henderson should drop back to the under 20 squad after a difficult start to the season, primarily as the manager himself refused to play with wingers!
The following match, against champions Rangers at Paisley, Saints started with an explosion and Ronan again was on target with a ridiculous 35 yard shot smashing into the top corner to give the Paisley side a deserved lead. For 30 minutes, Saints had the measure of the Govan club who are celebrating their 10th anniversary this campaign, however two quick goals just on half time turned the match and the poisonous hoards went away happy with their 2-1 win at the end of 90 minutes.
What annoyed me more than anything however was the equaliser being scored at the Family Stand End, or The Tony Fitzpatrick End as it is now known. It was full of Rangers fans who spilled onto the park and their presence undoubtedly played a part in the away side scoring again within 60 seconds. Had it been kept for our fans as it should have then we might have won the match.
Incredibly, Saints wouldn’t win again that calendar year though, losing four and drawing six of our next 10 matches, including a 1-0 defeat to a dreadful Dundee side and a 0-0 draw against Celtic where we were forced to play more or less a youth side as the SPFL insisting we fulfil a fixture against one of their favourite clubs after a COVID outbreak at Ralston. Yet it was the Celtic fans that bitterly complained afterwards as we set up our team with an average age of 18 to defend making it hard for the poor wee Weegie snowflakes.
The pressure was undoubtedly growing on Goodwin by this Celtic match however just before Christmas, and there was genuine talk of him losing his job, particularly when Jack Ross was surprisingly sacked by Hibs and the significant JR fan club within the support wanted the cardigan wearing yet handsome ex-boss back in Paisley.
In one of the other defeats during this run, Aberdeen recorded a 4-1 win at Pittodrie, scoring each time from their first four attacks. It was a desperately poor result against a side toiling on a weekly basis and who would sack their manager soon after the imminent winter break would end, which of course would impact severely on Saints. The reaction to Goodwin after the match from the Saints support suggested that patience was running out with him and serious questions were being asked about everything, from the formation, tactics, players to even the role of Kibble.
However, in something that united Saints fans almost completely, the wing back system was simply not working and too many of our better players were not being allowed to flourish. Additionally, the opposition were easily able to nullify us as Tanser was the only real wide threat, mainly due to the various players who had played on the right side of the team having made no real impact because the system didn’t suit them.
In my opinion during this run we had actually played well in some matches, particularly at Tynecastle where Craig Gordon was in unbelievable form, however there was a definite fragility and predictably about our play now and relegation seemed a reasonable possibility at this point. Looking at the fixtures after the break, if we lost the first two, away at Dundee Utd and Ayr in the Scottish Cup, I genuinely believed Goodwin would be sacked. If we didn’t win any of our first four league matches in this period, I also thought he would go as we had that fixture at Tannadice, a home match against Aberdeen, a trip to Dens Park and Motherwell at home; all very winnable matches.
We shouldn’t have worried though as Goodwin always had an uncanny habit of turning things around when form was poor, and this is exactly what happened as the Saints boss reverted to a 4-2-3-1 formation with Henderson on one wing and eventually Jordan Jones on the left. Dundee Utd were beaten 2-1 by Saints at Tannadice in the first match back after the break on the 18th January, thanks to a brilliant goal from Henderson and a Brophy tap in, but in truth the gap between the sides was significant that Wednesday night and had Saints won by three or four, the 1983 Champions couldn’t have complained, although they probably would have.
On the Saturday, Saints won 2-0 at Ayr, a match so easy at one point Goodwin must have contemplated putting himself and Lee Sharp on, but the main difference in both matches apart from the formation change, was Greg Kiltie playing behind the striker in a number 10 role as Jamie McGrath was already in advanced talks with several clubs about a transfer and would eventually sign rather bizarrely for League One English jobbers Wigan.
As well as Jordan Jones, Alex Gogic would join the club on loan from Hibs who had appointed former Celtic gnome Shaun Maloney as manager and he didn’t like big bad boys in his team, so the Cypriot midfielder finally signed for the club after being linked with Saints for several years. Also signing during this period was New Zealand forward Alex Greive who had impressed after a trial but going out went Kristian Dennis to Carlisle and Lee Erwin to somewhere where he can never speak to Goodwin again such was the deterioration in their relationship over the past year.
Finally, Kyle McAllister was sent out on loan to Partick Thistle, a strange decision as we were now playing with wingers and he was after all one of them, however the good form continued with wins over Hibs and St Johnstone in the league and Kelty Hearts were thrashed in the Scottish Cup 4-0 in Paisley. In the other match of the opening six fixtures after the winter break, a last gasp Motherwell equaliser after Richard Tait had inexplicably handed them possession stopped six victories in a row, but 5 wins and a draw was a very good return in these matches to effectively save Goodwin’s management career, but more importantly push us right up the table.
Any threat of relegation at this point was gone completely and with a game in hand against Dundee still to come which would put us fourth in the Premiership should we win, as well as a Scottish Cup quarter final tie at Tynecastle to look forward to, the outlook for the rest of the season was extremely positive at this point as another battle for European football looked on. This was as good as it would get, however.
With Aberdeen on the hunt for a new boss, they suddenly liked the look of Jim Goodwin now he was winning matches again, and like a dumb fish chasing the shiny treat of a metal lure, Dave Cormack made it known he would like to speak with Saints manager. For those who don’t know anything about Cormack, he’s the bronzed egomaniacal chairman of the 1980’s sensations who decided to name a training ground after himself because obviously Aberdeen have no fitting players or managers that could have had that honour.
Having made his fortune in America, not only does Cormack have the usual arrogance of an Aberdeen supporter, but he also has a huge slice of good ole ‘Merican ‘know how‘ to go with it. It’s a combination he thinks is irresistible, but after appointing Stephen Glass and then stating Goodwin will deliver an attacking style of football along with multiple youngsters from a youth academy, his understanding of football is similar to that of 17-year-old Burnley fan on twitter saying his Nan would score a hundred goals in the Premiership, forgetting Chris Iwelumo is a hero to their support.
Coincidentally, just three days before the approach from Aberdeen, Goodwin had stated unequivocally at a SMISA meeting that as long as he is wanted at Saints he will stay here, something we had heard before from the forked tongue of Jack Ross, but almost everyone agreed Goodwin had far more integrity than the man sacked by Sunderland and Hibs. Doesn’t he?
A few days later Goodwin answered this integrity conundrum emphatically when he decided he was going to take the job at Aberdeen on that promise of exciting football and youth development. Although I think Jimbo is a good manager, these are things he has failed at miserably during his management career up until now, so the only conclusion I can come to is what an outstanding interview he must have given. Goodwin is a fine communicator however and after dabbling in the sales market before taking the Saints job, he would undoubtedly be an expert in selling himself so we shouldn’t be surprised at this. Jim could flog hairbrushes to Michael Fabricant and probably convinced Cormack to buy a new trophy cabinet also.
At the end of the day however, Aberdeen have something Saints could never offer, and that’s a big statue of Alex Ferguson and an obsession with the decade Goodwin was born in. I said at the time Goodwin would be off his head to take that job due to the unrealistic expectations at the club, and unless he turned up with a flux capacitator and a DeLorean then there is literally NOTHING he will able to do make a success of that job.
Goodwin is no longer our problem however, and after flirting with Jack Ross for a few days before sending the Old Firm obsessed media on a wild goose chase after managerial puppies Scott Brown and Steven Naismith, our board of directors very swiftly appointed former Motherwell manager Stephen Robinson as our new boss after paying seaside resort Morecambe £100k for his services.
Key to this appointment according to Robinson was the role of Jim Gillespie, who is a board director and part of the Kibble entourage currently at the club. Now, the Kibble has been part of Paisley longer than even St Mirren, going back to 1840 in fact when the wheel was finally introduced to Greenock, but the compatibility of football club and young offender charity is still under severe scrutiny by the support and the arrangement had come in for criticism in the last few months of Goodwin’s time at the club. Gillespie however convinced Robinson that his future was in Paisley, and time will tell if the Saints director has a good eye for a manager.
Robinson’s first task was a home match against third placed Hearts on the 26th February, who were nine points clear of Saints, although we had that game in hand over Dundee still to play. Robbie Neilson acknowledged this by stating we were now their main challengers for third place and guaranteed Europa League group stage football, worth around £3.5 million. Imagine the new tables Alan Wardrop could get in the 1877 club for that.
It was a difficult enough match in any case, but the early sending off of Connor Ronan definitely didn’t help, especially as the Irishman had been in great form since the resumption of football after the winter break, and to make things worse referee Greg Aitken was in a generous mood towards Hearts when he denied Saints as clear a penalty as you will ever see when the already booked Ben Woodburn clumsily brought down Alex Grieve in the penalty area.
Logically, this should have meant a penalty to Saints and both teams down to 10 men, however SFA employees aren’t known for their logic after rejecting our request earlier that week to to recall Dylan Reid and Kieran Offord from loans, when earlier in the season they had forced us to do so with the same players in order for us to play Celtic against our wishes!
Hearts would eventually win 2-0, with both goals coming in the second half, the exact same fate and circumstances that Saints and Robinson suffered at Parkhead a few days later, as the new managers start to life at Saints got off to a stuttering start, however it was still all to play for and European football was still in our hands with everyone else unable to string any results together also.
Ross County at Dingwall was next up for Saints, a much better chance to judge Robinson so far against Uncle Roy’s financially enhanced racist project, but we lost once more during a poor match settled by another mistake by the match official when the extremely pliable Joseph Hungbo acrobatically flung himself in the air to “earn” a penalty which he then converted. I hadn’t personally witnessed a leap like that in the Highlands since I went fishing in the Tummel Valley back in 1993 during salmon season, but Malky MacKay was happy enough and could enjoy the UKIP conference in peace the following day where he was probably guest speaker.
After three matches without a goal never mind a win or point under Robinson, that game in hand against Dundee was next on our fixture list and around 800 Saints fans made the journey on a cold March evening to Dens Park where the new Dundee manager, Mark McGhee, couldn’t attend because of COVID but was still serving a 6 match touchline ban in Scotland anyway after swearing at an Aberdeen fan and attempting to take his phone, back when Stephen Robinson was his assistant at Motherwell. I told you Dundee were a laugh.
Although it wasn’t a vintage performance, Saints were the better team by a distance against the doomed Dees, with Jordan Jones missing several glaring chances in each half to give us the lead. The winger had been a welcome addition to the squad, but this was not his greatest night in football it has to be said, however at least he had the good grace to apologise to the away support after ballooning a left foot shoot over the bar from 2 yards.
With time all but gone during the match, Saints sub Jay Henderson drove one last time at Dundee left back Jordan Marshall before swinging over a quite sensational swirling cross three minutes into added on time which was simply screaming out to be buried. The Saints fans looked on in hope and almost in slow motion meeting the ball unmarked in the middle with a diving header was Connor Ronan, who nodded it firmly into the ground and it skipped off the surface to nestle neatly in the net and give Saints a crucial win.
Chaos ensued in the stand behind the goal and suddenly European football looked likely again. All we had to do was win one more match before the split from Dundee Utd at home, Motherwell away and Rangers at home. The first two of those clubs had won once in the last 28 matches between them at this point, so surely even we could do this…………
Before that however, we had a Scottish Cup quarter final at Tynecastle, rearranged for a Saturday night on the BBC to entertain the millions around the UK sick of Ant and Dec or another repeat of Pointless Celebrities. And boy did council telly provide on this occasion, this match was worth the TV licence alone.
A boisterous support from Renfrewshire filled the away end in anticipation, however we found ourselves 2-0 down within half an hour despite causing Hearts many issues, with some questionable goalkeeping from the usually reliable Jak Alnwick thrown in. Eamonn Brophy volleyed home a fine goal before half time to drag Saints back into it, and you could sense if we went onto equalise there was a very good chance that the delusional home support would turn on their players.
After 62 minutes, the equaliser did come following constant Saints pressure, but the goal is something that no-one present, including Hearts fans, will ever forget from the sweet right foot of Connor Ronan.
The ball broke to the Irishman from a cleared corner around 35 yards out, and having watched the player all season, you could see from his body shape that he fancied having a shot, however his first touch took him wider that anticipated and the chance looked gone as the little midfielder was now 40 yards from goal and well outside the range of the posts, with arguably the best goalkeeper Scotland has ever produced standing in between the sticks for Hearts.
Ronan however had other ideas and let fly with a vicious dipping shot from a bouncing ball leaving even Craig Gordon utterly helpless as it lashed against the corner of the net. It was genuinely extraordinary, and football was invented for such moments of utter genius. What a privilege it was to see something like this from a St Mirren player.
For the next few minutes Hearts wobbled and as predicted their fans got on the players back, but after Saints tore the home side apart again down their left, Jordan Jones failed to find anyone with his cut back despite the box being overloaded with black and white shirts and on the break Hearts retook the lead thanks to a very fortunate rebound off substitute Aaron McEnuff left Jak Alnwick with no chance. This goal seemed to destroy any belief Saints had, and the home side scored a final goal late on to win an enthralling match 4-2. It was very disappointing, but we couldn’t let things slip as the league remained the target.
The following week, Dundee Utd travelled to Paisley in poor form and from what we had all seen of them this season, that was completely expected as they looked a very limited side with an even more limited manager in Tam/Tom/Thomas Courts who it is rumoured previously was a deckhand on a Montrose fishing boat.
The first half was routine, with Jay Henderson hammering in another long range shot against the Tayside club meaning he is merely taking over from where fellow academy winger Lewis Morgan left and just tormenting the side who apparently reached the 1984 European Cup Semi Final but is never mentioned by their fans.
The second half was a much different story, and Saints were quite frankly appalling. Clearly motivated by a half time talk from Courts where he threatened to take the players out on his vessel the next morning, United looked a different side and deservedly equalised on 57 mins after constant pressure from the match resuming. Why we didn’t change formation or try something to break play up in the 12 minutes from half time until then, I will never know, but the pressure continued for another 10 minutes until Robinson finally made subs and changed formation from a 4-2-3-1 to the old 3-5-2, which of course was so unsuccessful earlier in the season.
This change however did halt the flow towards Saints goal, and in all honesty the game was heading towards a draw which wouldn’t have been a bad point at all, and I’m not saying that even in hindsight, it simply would have kept Saints above United with games running out. However, everything changed in the last minute when Jak Alnwick was sent off after wiping out a United player 25 yards from goal. I’ve not seen it back as quite frankly I was so angry at full time, but it looked like perennial cheat Tony Watt had pushed Marcus Fraser into the keeper the second before this, but in another refereeing blunder the red card was issued.
We now had only 5 minutes of added on time to see out with 10 men and Dean Lyness in goals, but we couldn’t even do that although the winner by Mark McNulty was actually two minutes later than the indicated added time which nobody even cared about as quite frankly we deserved what we got that day. However, the momentum for European football swung from Paisley to Dundee with this goal and some fans let Robinson know exactly what they thought after this as frustrations boiled over.
The week after this Saints travelled to Motherwell on the 2nd April for the penultimate match before the split, knowing we had to win to keep any top six hopes alive. By the end of 90 minutes, incredibly it was no longer the Europa League we had in our sights, but the Seaside leagues as bottom six and relegation suddenly became a possibility following a 4-2 defeat where the players either looked out on their feet with 20 minutes left or they had given up.
The reaction towards the players and Robinson at full time suggested the fans thought it was the latter, and some unfortunate exchanges resulted between the fans and Saints staff as they headed past the support towards the temporary changing rooms in the away stand. Incidentally this was Motherwell’s first win since Boxing Day, just to prove how poor we were that day.
Astonishingly, there was now genuine talk of Robinson losing his job, speculation further fuelled by a 4-0 defeat to Rangers at Paisley which secured our bottom six fate, and then a 1-0 loss to managerless Hibs who had sacked Shaun Maloney a few days before and like Saints had been dragged into a relegation fight that seemed utterly improbable only weeks beforehand.
This left Stephen Robinson with just one win in his nine matches in charge, a poor record without doubt however he had inherited a pretty small and definitely imbalanced squad from Goodwin. Additionally, the run of victories that led Jimbo to Aberdeen had probably papered over the cracks in what had now been a season where on three occasions we had went on runs of not winning for at least seven consecutive matches. Therefore, this current form was undoubtedly that of a Jim Goodwin side and typical of the last three seasons. The former Saints captain however ALWAYS turned it around with a good run of form immediately after. Could Robinson do the same remained the burning question with just four matches remaining.
With St Johnstone at Perth the next fixture, a place where Saints have had less success at than Rangers at a Tax Hearing, the pressure was definitely on Robinson as should we lose the match, we would only hold a two-point lead over the farmers favourites who occupied the play off place of 11th in the league. How we got from being Hearts main challengers for third place to a genuine relegation battle in just two months was beyond most of us, however no matter how we managed it, we simply had to avoid defeat at Perth at all costs.
Robinson had looked pretty shocked so far by the reaction to our defeats. He probably analysed it logically and thought there was no way this group of players would get relegated and calm heads were therefore needed; however, he was yet to experience the culture of our fans. After all most Buddies had seen us blowing a Cup Final against nine EBT enhanced men and those older than thirty had also witnessed Hammarby.
Panic is the natural result of these events, and not something he’d have experienced at Motherwell who just plod along every year without winning anything. We’re far more volatile than this and will win something but also allow our players to party for weeks after before almost being relegated, and then the following season our captain will spear the best young player in the country during a training ground “laugh”. We’re beautifully unconventional to unashamedly steal the song title.
St Johnstone had been on a good run of form, much better than us anyway, and although automatic relegation looked less of a threat for them now, the utterly dire form of Saints, Hibs and Jim Goodwin’s Aberdeen had given them hope that they could even get out of a play-off having been in the bottom two practically all season. Realistically, they had to secure victory over us for that to happen but in truth they were well beaten on the day by a well-motivated and organised St Mirren side that looked much more like the team we thought Robinson would put on the park.
Back in his best position of behind the strikers, the winning goal was scored by Greg Kiltie after brilliant lead up play by the extremely impressive Alex Gogic and Alex Grieve. The difference Kiltie makes in this position can’t be underestimated. Even on the occasions Kiltie doesn’t influence the match with possession, he regularly bursts beyond the forwards to occupy space off the ball, leaving room for others to utilise. When in possession however he is often creative and a goal threat, and in my opinion, totally wasted on the wing as he often found himself this season, although Jim Goodwin can be blamed for that due to his ludicrous decision of not signing natural wingers.
However, the best player on the park in Perth was undoubtedly the much criticised and written off Curtis Main. The English striker played like a man possessed after suffering the indignity of being booed before the match against Hibs the previous week, and he answered his critics perfectly with a brilliant performance unlike young Ethan Erhahon who took to social media to have a go back in one of those moments you just know the midfielder will regret in years to come.
The following week, the Dundee circus rolled into town led by Mark McGhee who had threatened to go naked in order for the Dees to escape relegation, but the star of the comedy show was undoubtedly Charlie Adam who attempted a Hollywood pass across his penalty area with this weaker foot, only to present Alex Greive with an open goal and the New Zealand international gleefully knocked home his third goal of the season.
Saints were in complete control and with Connor Ronan injured and having now played his last match for the club, Ethan Erhahon returned to the starting XI and put in a great shift to also silence his critics, but it was Curtis Main that once again got the headlines with an absolutely devastating left foot strike high into the net after Erhahon had outbattled Paul McGowan and Charlie Adam for the ball before releasing a returning to form Marcus Fraser down Saints right who found Main on the far side.
Robinson of course has worked with Main before and got the best out of him, and it has to be conceded that on this form the powerful forward could be a very important man next season and form a great partnership with Alex Grieve to answer my own question at the start of this review. The 2-0 win all but relegated Dundee, and Saints finished the season off with two 0-0 draws against Livingston and then Aberdeen on the final day, where Jim Goodwin got a very mixed reception from the 500 or so Saints fans who had made the early morning trip North.
Goodwin of course is a cup winning captain and rightly in the Club Hall of Fame, however his actions in the past few months have left a rather sour taste in the mouth for some Saints fans and Stephen Robinson, who was not happy with the Aberdeen manager publicly talking about signing Charles Dunne, Connor Ronan and Jak Alnwick. His comment about Jamie McGrath making a “step up” to Aberdeen is the sort of nonsense we fans expect from Radio Scotland pundits and not one of our own heroes, therefore the inflatable snakes on show at Pittodrie on the final day from some Saints fans was probably predictable to everyone apart from Goodwin himself who looked absolutely stunned by the reaction. I guess Jim thought he could do and say what he wanted, and we’d always love him. Football doesn’t work that, Jim.
Jimbo’s Juggernaut is now well and truly derailed and could be scrapped completely in Aberdeen as he finished below Saints at the seasons end, however in truth the Rubik’s Cube of Scottish football probably would have been in the play-off had the former Saints man took over a month earlier such has been the disastrous nature of his tenure so far. These aren’t sour grapes as I still like Goodwin and was one of the fans that clapped him at Pittodrie, but as I said earlier, that was the worst career move he could ever have made and he’ll regret it possibly for the rest of his life, especially as the route back to Saints is probably now shut forever given the last few months.
Stephen Robinson initially had similar problems to Goodwin in getting a reaction from his new players, but the last four matches where we didn’t lose or even concede a goal, proves already he has turned it around in Paisley after a slow start. In contrast to Goodwin potentially taking Aberdeen to the play off, another month of Robinson would likely have seen Saints in the top 6.
The Saints boss already has signed four players for next season and we are well on course to have a squad ready to go from day one of the league cup campaign. Although we have lost Jak Alnwick who was a great keeper for Saints, Trevor Carson will come in as a full international player who like Curtis Main previously played his best football under Robinson. As did Mark O’Hara, who has also signed for the club.
There is a lot to be optimistic about going into next season. A new CEO is in place after the deserved and well earned retiral of Tony Fitzpatrick, and Keith Lasley will hopefully bring everything and more to the club in his new role. Robinson also insisted a head of recruitment is appointed, and we have allegedly gone for his trusted sidekick from Motherwell and Morecambe, former Port Vale striker Martin Foyle who has a solid track record, particularly in finding good players in England. I’m pretty sure this won’t be the V9 academy I would add.
Ultimately, it was a frustrating season peppered with magic from Connor Ronan who will undoubtedly leave a lasting impression on all Saints fans for a number of years. In my opinion the unexpected change of manager probably cost us a European place as the players were temporarily unsettled, but I firmly believe we go into next season with a better manager in place and great things are possible. Hopefully for once, I am right!