Saints v Falkirk preview
By Stuart Gillespie
Updated Friday, 11th December 2009
It's not even Christmas but once again we find ourselves in a must win game with Falkirk. Nothing less than three points will do when the Bairns come to Paisley on Saturday.
We were in this situation last year. After dropping to bottom and going without a win since early October, we went to Westfield with a depleted side and won 2-1, sparking a four game winning streak. It's spookily similar in 2009 and we could do with the same again, although avoiding the three month winless run that followed the final victory last year would be nice!
We are five points above basement boys Falkirk, but it's already a six pointer. A win in this one would allow us to breathe slightly easier for a while and allow us to push up the table. Lose, and we look like repeating previous seasons when we were relying on other teams being useless rather than ourselves being good. This is the sort of home game we have to be looking to win - if we can't beat the bottom club, who can we beat?
If we are to win this one, we have to be more clinical up front. The games against Dundee United and Hibs have seen us perform far better than expected, but we wasted numerous chances. We could have taken six points from the two games, but ended up with just one. Sadly, we're probably going to be stuck with Billy Mehmet and Michael Higdon up front, with Craig Dargo likely to be on the bench at front. Mehmet has a good record against Falkirk and Higdon could be looking to score against his former club, but they've hardly set the heather on fire in our last few games.
Another way to add a few goals would be to give Stephen O'Donnell a start. Two goals in recent sub appearances show he might be a decent deputy for the injured Andy Dorman and he's now our third highest scorer in 2009, despite missing the first four months through injury! He has to be given a start and, if fit, Steven Robb should be alongside him to give us some width. Garry Brady should make way, with contract rebel Stephen McGinn another player who could drop out.
Someone who should be starting in the middle of the park is Hugh Murray, who will break Tony Fitzpatrick's Saints league appearance record. I covered this in depth yesterday, but it's great to see someone like Shuggy - who scored the goal that kept the club alive - get this accolade. There may be changes behind him as Lee Mair is doubtful, meaning John Potter could return. And, for what it's worth, Mo Camara is also fit.
Like us, Falkirk will be fancying their chances of victory. They'll see games like this one as ones they have to win if they are to move up the table and avoid being relegated come the end of the season. Despite their lowly league position, they are improving. They've done well against both halves of the Old Firm - drawing with Celtic - and they also beat Hamilton. If we underestimate them - like we did with the Accies in October - we will be made to pay.
Eddie May seems to be coming in for criticism from some Falkirk fans, but it seems the board are set to give him £500,000 in January to try to keep them up! Even though they are struggling, this looks like a good move as most of his signings have been pretty solid. Brian McLean has been excellent in defence, while Pedro Moutinho - back at the club after a year away - has proved a sound acquisition. Like Mehmet and Falkirk, the Portuguese striker has a good record against us.
Falkirk have had a reputation for bringing on the youngsters of other clubs in recent years, but some of their best players have come through their own ranks. Darren Barr has been capped for Scotland, while Tam Scobbie and Scott Arfield also have bright futures ahead of them, the latter probably having his eyes set on bigger things than Hamilton, who recently tried to sign him!
Without Shuggy, there might not be a St. Mirren but the same could be said for Falkirk's Burton O'Brien. Without the £600,000 we got when we flogged him and David MacNamee to Blackburn Rovers over a decade ago, who knows what state we would be in? It's perhaps fitting Bobo will be facing up to Shuggy when he makes history, and we all know what the South African-born player can do with a deadball.
All in all, Falkirk may be bottom but this will not be an easy game. We cannot take anything for granted. We must put in a performance similar to the Hibs game and the opening half an hour of last week's game against Dundee United - but preferably with a few more goals.