Hibs v Saints preview
By Stuart Gillespie
Updated Friday, 2nd November 2012
With a place in the semi-finals of the League Cup secured, Saints return their focus to the league on Saturday when they travel to high flying Hibs.
Easter Road has rarely been kind to us in the SPL. We have won just twice there - one of those being thanks to the Rob Jones and Yves Ma-Kalambay comedy show at the back that regularly helped us out when we were playing the Hibees. However, last season we managed as many points in Leith as we'd picked up in every other SPL season combined, so there is a bit of hope for us. If we go at them as we can then there's no reason why we can't pull off a result, although Easter Road isn't quite as easy to go to as it was at times last season.
Our last game against Hibs did not go well. They weren't on the best of runs and people expected us to take a comfortable three points at home following our win over Dundee the week before. However, we didn't really play for the first hour and were blown away by Leigh Griffiths, eventually losing 2-1 despite a storming display for the last half hour. The game also saw Darren McGregor suffer his ligament injury so it was one to forget. If we play like we did in the last third of that game for the whole 90 minutes tomorrow then it would be a huge shock if we didn't win.
Our current form in the league is not good. We have lost our last three fixtures and scored just one goal, conceding eight in the process. The only bright spot came in the League Cup during the week when we saw off Aberdeen. However, we needed penalties to do so and while there is no shame in that, it could have repercussions tomorrow with players being tired. I fully accept footballers should be able to cope with an extra game a week, but when your opponents have been sitting twiddling their thumbs as they were comically knocked out by lower league opposition earlier in the competition then it can make a difference.
While the win on Tuesday was fantastic, it seems to have ungone unnoticed that we shipped another two goals in the process. Our defensive frailties are a real worry at the moment and Hibs have the players to exploit them. The defending for Aberdeen's last minute equaliser was poor and we need to tighten things up, with the first being a mistake from Craig Samson before the goalie redeemed himself in the penalty shootout. The problem is that while we're conceding goals, we can't really change things at the back as we have no other options - people even suggesting youngster Jordan Holt should be thrown in. That's unlikely to say the least, so we'll probably have the same back four again.
The defence may be a negative but we did manage some goals during the week. Kenny McLean and Sam Parkin both came into the side and scored - both are now on three for the season and have managed them in the same three games, which is a bit bizarre. Hopefully McLean is fit enough to continue after last week's knock as we really missed his presence in midfield against Dundee United. Gary Teale and Dougie Imrie seemed to do a decent job on the wings so if they can continue that there's no reason we can't go with Parkin and Steven Thompson up front again, even though it's not the most mobile of partnerships. Lewis Guy will just have to bide his time on the bench.
The signs didn't look good for Pat Fenlon earlier in the season. The Hibs boss went into the campaign on the back of a Scottish Cup final humping at the hands of Hearts and they were then destroyed by Dundee United on the opening day of the season. However, a draw with Hearts the following week - followed by the win against us I mentioned earlier - sparked an upturn in form that saw them flying up the table and even sit proudly atop the SPL for a brief period. They bounced back from defeat to Ross County by destroying Motherwell last Friday night - although they were helped a bit by some questionable refereeing - and they currently sit in second. Fenlon finally seems to have things working the way he likes and it's fair to see he's already made a better first of things than Colin Calderwood managed during his time in charge.
It does help that Hibs have an extremely good striker in the shape of Leigh Griffiths. When he screws the nut the on loan Wolves man is a terrific player and is simply unstoppable. This season he seems to have stopped doing the silly things that hindered his first year on loan at Easter Road and it shows as he's rattled in nine already this season. So well are things going at Hibs that even Eoin Doyle is looking a player after looking ridiculously poor at times last season. The pair are doing relatively well together - so well that the giant presence of Shefki Kuqi has been sidelined for most of the season. Despite that there's likely to be at least another striker arriving during the January transfer window - especially as Griffiths is due to return to Wolves unless his loan deal is extended again. His current form suggests that's unlikely to happen is the Championship side are likely to want him for themselves.
I mentioned Yves Ma-Kalambay earlier and he's one of a number of comedy goalies Hibs have had in recent years. Mark Brown and Graham Stack improved things last season, although they still made the odd mistake, but their departure saw Fenlon opt for former Colchester shot stopper Ben Williams. He's pretty similar to the men he replaced in that he is relatively solid but capable of the odd howler - a bit like our own Craig Samson. Perhaps the biggest improvement to the defence is the fact Pa Kujabi has been restricted to a solitary League Cup appearance so far this season - a game Hibs lost 2-0 to Queen of the South...
Aside from that the backline is relatively strong. James McPake has continued his solid form from last season, although I'm still not convinced he's as good as everyone makes out, while Tim Clancy and Alan Maybury have helped strengthen things. Paul Hanlon also looks a bit more comfortable in the centre of defence and the experience of McPake should help him. Fenlon recently brought Tom Taiwo in to boost the midfield numbers - a bit of a coup as he'd done pretty well for Carlisle in recent years and should prove to be a really good addition when he gets fully fit. Paul Cairney has adapted well to the SPL after making the jump up from Partick Thistle and Jorge Claros' game has also come on, the Honduran having unwittingly been involved in a comical piece of transfer business last season as he only ended up at Easter Road when oldco Rangers couldn't afford him! Not quite so amusing for Hibs is the fact they have had to make do without Gary Deegan after he was assaulted and given a broken jaw.
Follow Mirren Mad on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/mirrenmad
Follow Mirren Mad on Twitter @mirren_mad or http://www.twitter.com/mirren_mad