Kilmarnock v Saints preview
By Stuart Gillespie
Updated Friday, 25th February 2011
Saints have a rare chance to go for two league wins in a row tomorrow afternoon when we make the short hop down the M77 to face Kilmarnock.
Killie are the team we should have been. After a disappointing season last year, in which they finished below us, they changed things around in the summer by bringing in Mixu Paatelainen. It is rather frustrating that the big Finn, who played for us in 2004, would have been more than happy to manage Saints but wasn't even considered for the post. The transformation at Rugby Park has been quite remarkable and relegation isn't an issue, even at this early stage in the season.
Sadly, for us relegation really is an issue and one we must be increasingly wary of. Points are desperately needed as we get ever closer to the split and with some tough fixtures coming up we need to approach fixtures like these with the intention of taking at least a point, possibly more. Wednesday's win over Motherwell was timely and very welcome, but we need more. If we can manage to get a few more wins in the next few weeks, then we will have more than a fighting chance of beating the drop.
Our record against Kilmarnock in the last few years has been good - before this season we'd lost just once in two seasons. However, this year we've already managed to lose twice to them and the form guide is not looking too good for tomorrow - although they were gubbed by Aberdeen last week. Knowing our luck they'll be looking to take that out on us.
By all accounts, our performance on Wednesday was good. However, this time we'll have to make do without Paul McGowan as he's suspended. While Michael Higdon taking his place is the more likely option, it does rob us of some much needed creativity - especially when you consider the midfield. The only way round that would be to drop one of Steven Thomson, Jim Goodwin and Hugh Murray and throw in Kenny McLean or Aaron Mooy. It hasn't happened after a defeat so there's probably no chance of it happening after a win.
To be honest, if Higdon starting is the only change then we can't really complain. Everyone did a good job during the week and, while I'm wasn't there, I'm guessing we played a 3-5-2 formation. With the players we have fit it seems the way to go. Marc McAusland can play as a centre half and Jure Travner has more space to get forward. David van Zanten is also more comfortable operating as a wingback so it seems the way to go. Lee Mair seems to have disappeared recently and may well be injured again, which wouldn't be a surprise. Definitely out are David Barron, Garry Brady and Gareth Wardlaw. Nick Hegarty is fit but will be on the bench at best.
As I mentioned earlier, Mixu has worked wonders at Kilmarnock this season. As well as improving their form and results, he has also improved their football. The play attractive, passing football that has been a joy to watch at times - unless you are on the receiving end of it as we have been this season. The only plus side is they no longer have Conor Sammon, although as he didn't score against us in either game this season that maybe isn't quite such a good thing!
While Danny Lennon seems to think the world ends at Cowdenbeath, Paatelainen has left no stone unturned in his bid to bring players to Rugby Park. Star of the show this season has been Alexei Eremenko, who arrived on loan from Ukraine in August. He has been superb in midfield and has played a big part in changing their style of play. He was linked with moves away during January but ended up staying in Ayrshire, much to the relief of the Killie fans who had already seen Sammon and Ben Gordon depart.
As if that wasn't enough, Mixu was also able to bring in a striker from Milan. Fortunately it wasn't Robinho or Pato, but instead Willy Aubameyang. If I'll be honest, the only reason I'd heard of him before was from playing Football Manager, but you don't end up at Milan if you aren't any good (Rino Gattuso being the exception to that particular rule). Other foreignors of note include David Silva (not that one) and defender Mahamadou Sissoko.
Of course, while Eremenko has been a huge help to Kilmarnock this season, they did have a rather talented midfielder before Paatelainen arrived in the summer. Craig Bryson was wanted by former boss Jim Jeffries, but Killie decided to reject the numerous offers from Hearts for his services. How much longer they can hang on to him will probably depend on their financial problems as he is a real talent and will surely go on to cement his place in the Scotland squad in the years ahead. Paatelainen has also been able to do well with some of the players that were there when he arrived at Rugby Park, including Frazer Wright and keeper Cammy Bell.
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