Dunfermline Athletic v Saints preview
By Stuart Gillespie
Updated Sunday, 24th July 2011
Strap yourselves in because the St Mirren rollercoaster is just about to set off on the 2011/12 season. It all starts tomorrow night, when we take on SPL new boys Dunfermline at East End Park.
It is never good taking on the newly promoted side in the first game of the season, especially on their own patch. They are usually more fired up than normal and go out to prove a point, to show everyone that they can cut it at this level and are not going to be cannon fodder. If we'd got them a few weeks later they'd still have been up for it, but there wouldn't have been quite the same focus on them. We can but hope the pressure gets to them tomorrow night.
For some reason, Sky have robbed Dunfermline of a Saturday start by choosing to show this one. Of course, that's not as bad as in 2006 when the SPL prevented us opening up with a flag day by sending us to Inverness, but it's still not ideal. Worryingly, that's the last time we managed an opening day win - one of just two occasions it's happened in the 21st century, the other being in 2004. Also cause for concern is that Sky chose to show Hamilton's first SPL fixture in 2008 and they won on a Monday night. The day before we'd been on TV and lost at Parkhead. The omens don't look good.
Many people will be looking at this game as an early indicator of how this season's relegation battle will shape up. That is a rather foolish view to take on things and not just because you get silly results at the start of the season. Both sides will be looking to be well clear of 12th place this season. History is on Dunfermline's side on that one as the newly promoted side often does well in their first season up. Just twice have teams gone straight back down - one of them being us in 2001 and the other being the Gretna joke in 2008. Few first division champions are even in the relegation battle the following season.
For us, avoiding the fight to finish 11th is a must. After four years of seeing avoiding 12th as success, Gus MacPherson was sacked because the club wanted to progress. Circumstances meant that survival was the aim last season, but now it is time for Danny Lennon's side to start pushing on. Talk of sixth seems rather fanciful, but ninth place and safe by the drop must be the absolute minimum. Anything above that would be a bonus, but with the squad we have assembled is entirely possible.
Of the new signings, most will start. Steven Thompson, Gary Teale, Nigel Hasselbaink and Jeroen Tesselaar are all pretty much certainties. Paul McGowan probably is too, with Graham Carey having to stay on the bench due to some, ahem, weight issues. Craig Samson is likely to get the nod in goals, so that means Graeme Smith will be on the bench too. With Aaron Mooy and Hugh Murray injured, it shouldn't be too difficult to suss out how we'll line-up.
Of course, this prediction could well be wrong, but here goes: Samson, van Zanten, Tesselaar, McGregor, Mair, Goodwin, Teale, Thomson, Thompson, McGowan, Hasselbaink. It'll either be a 4-3-3 or a 4-4-2, with one of McGowan and Hasselbaink operating on the flanks. It's a pretty aggressive team, especially for an away game, so it wouldn't be surprised to see one of them drop out for Kenny McLean and a traditional 4-4-2 deployed.
Dunfermline are probably quite pleased to get this fixture to start off the season. A home game was what they were after and getting a side that has struggled ever since returning to the SPL and finished 11th last year is just the icing on the cake. There's also a wee bit of revenge to be dished out as it was ourselves that sent the Pars down in 2007. Of course, there have been changes since then, but it can only add to the atmosphere. Worryingly, we haven't beaten Dunfermline in over a decade - we only managed one goal against them last time they were in the SPL.
While survival will be the initial aim for Jim McIntyre's side this season, he'll be looking to follow the examples of St Johnstone and Inverness Caley Thistle in recent years and reach for the upper echelons of the bottom half of the top six. In Andy Kirk he has a striker who knows where the net is and has bags of experience. Whether new signing Andrew Barrowman can do the same remains to be seen, but he can only benefit from playing alongside someone like Kirk. Kevin Rutkiewicz, Austin McCann and Craig Thomson should ensure a solid backline, with Steven Bell and Joe Cardle providing ammo for the strikers. They still have mad mental Martin Hardie and have added Queen of the South's Paul Burns, who I'd love to have seen sign for Saints.
Dunfermline also have no less than four former Buddies on their books, two of whom they only signed this summer. I'd have been pleased if Paul Gallacher had stayed in Paisley as he was a solid keeper whose form dipped last season, but he opted for a return to East End Park. So too did John Potter, although that was only after we withdrew a contract offer. It's fair to say I wasn't a big fan of him after his performances in the last few years and he could prove to be a weak link for the Pars - but he'll probably play a blinder tomorrow night! Also enjoying Fife are former keeper Chris Smith - who must be thrilled at the thought of having to battle with Gallacher again - and midfielder Gary Mason. He'll no doubt get on well with Potter as he also had a contract offer withdrawn a few years ago.
With our new look side, new hope and expectations I'd normally be looking for a win from this game. However, with all the hype and excitement over their return to the SPL I'll be satisfied with a point.
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