Kilmarnock v Saints preview
By Stuart Gillespie
Updated Sunday, 1st January 2012
Saints will be looking to make it a happy New Year tomorrow afternoon when they take on Kilmarnock in what is becoming our local derby.
We played Kilmarnock on the first Monday of 2011 and it neatly highlighted the differences between the two sides at the time. Kilmarnock destroyed us in the second half at Greenhill Road and scored twice without being threatened. The class they oozed with guys like Alexei Eremenko and Connor Sammon was clear to everyone, while we had to resort to putting former postie Gareth Wardlaw on in a bid to get a goal back. It showed just how different things could have been if we'd gone for Mixu Paatelainen as our manager and Killie had ended up with Danny Lennon. We battled the drop once again while Killie made the top six.
With Mixu, Sammon, Eremenko, Wardlaw and various others now gone from their respective sides, things are somewhat closer. Both teams are trying to play football "the right way", Killie are once again pushing for the top six but so too are we and we have just as good a chance of making it. Tomorrow will show just how far we've come in the past 12 months - or perhaps how far Kilmarnock have fallen.
This really is the sort of away game we should be looking to win. We thrashed Kilmarnock earlier in the season, although the margin of victory was reached a little fortuitously, and we are both battling to meet similar aims. If we want to meet those aims then we have to leave Rugby Park with at least something for our efforts, preferably all three points. Killie will at least be a little more open than many of the teams we play and this could be quite an entertaining clash with which to kick off the New Year.
Both teams are having eerily similar seasons. We've both beaten Rangers, we've both drawn far too many games and we've both failed to pick up the number of points we probably deserve. We’ve three more points than Killie, who have played a game less. So, taking all that into account, this is surely a stick on for a draw!
We've had the same team for the last couple of games and have managed to pick up four points so it's extremely likely we'll stick with that side tomorrow. Hugh Murray could start as David Barron seemed to struggle against Dundee United, but on the whole I expect Danny Lennon to keep things as they are (which probably means things will get changed around!). That means Aaron Mooy will be playing his third game in little over a week, perhaps asking a bit much after his injury problems.
The Aussie is one of a number of youngsters we have that are playing rather well at the moment. Paul McGowan has been sensational all season and Kenny McLean has also stepped up to the plate in recent months, the pair drawing attention from clubs down south. With the transfer window now open it would not be a surprise to see one or both of them move on to English clubs before the end of the month. Graham Carey is revelling now that he's getting a run in the side - his goal against Dundee United was a cracker - and it wouldn't be a surprise to see clubs want him too. The future's bright - if we can keep hold of folk!
At one point it looked as if Kenny Shiels would never win a league game as Kilmarnock manager. he took over from the departing Paatelainen at the end of last season and no more SPL wins followed. The situation continued for a while at the start of this campaign before they finally broke their duck and they haven't really looked back. They beat Rangers - thanks to a comical interpretation of the offside rule from Sone Aluko - and that prompted a terrific, accurate rant from Shiels about people supporting their home town club. Although not as entertaining as Terry Butcher, Sheils' interviews are usually worth a listen as he seems rather intelligent for your average manager.
As mentioned Shiels has managed to continue Paatelainen's football philosophy, even if he has had to make do without several of the players that made that possible for the Big Finn. Dundee's Gary Harkins may not sound quite as exotic as Finnish international Alexei Eremenko but he does the job just fine. Long been linked with a step up, Harkins is further proof that there is talent to be had if you know where to look in the lower leagues (rather than just focus your efforts on raiding your old club). He has helped offset the departures of Eremenko and Craig Bryson and could be destined for bigger and better things himself.
Then there was the problem of finding a replacement to Sammon, who somehow managed to get himself a move to Wigan last January. Paul Heffernan's history didn't exactly bode well but the Irishman has certainly grabbed his chance in the SPL after bouncing around the English leagues. 10 is a terrific return so far and Killie's continual battle against debt makes you wonder if someone will offer him a move back down south. Bringing in former Celtic striker Ben Hutchinson hasn't proved quite so successful – he is now heading for Mansfield - although Shiels did decide to bring son Dean back to Scotland on loan from Doncaster and has been rewarded with six goals.
Killie's team lines looked a bit like a list of UN delegates last year and they still have a number of foreigners this season. Manuel Pascali - who has been with them for a few years now - scored the winner against Rangers while Mahamdou Sissoko returned for another year on loan from Udinese. Then there's David Silva (not that one, this one's Portuguese), Dutch midfielder Danny Bujis, Czech Zdenek Kroca, fellow defender Leon Panikvar - who hails from Slovenia - Swedish defender Billy Berntsson and forwards Jorge Galan and William Gross, who are Spanish and French respectively.
Of course, they still have plenty of Scots - national team goalie Cammy Bell for one - and Garry Hay and James Fowler seem to have been at Rugby Park for as long as I can remember. hay still has a wicked left foot when he gets a game and it's something we really have to watch out for or else we'll get punished big time. Liam Kelly is a bit of a goal threat from midfield although has yet to score this season. All four have come through Kilmarnock's youth set-up which is clearly working when you consider it's also produced the likes of Kris Boyd and Steven Naismith in recent years.
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