Saints v Hearts preview
By Stuart Gillespie
Updated Tuesday, 26th February 2013
Saints will be looking for an upturn in fortunes tomorrow night when they face fellow strugglers Hearts at Greenhill Road.
Our recent form is pretty poor. Since we put St Johnstone out of the Scottish Cup we have managed one point and no goals. It is simply not good enough and is why we find ourselves down in 11th place. Our top six hopes have gone and we probably have to win tomorrow if we want to make it into the top 10! Hearts are also fairing rather poorly at the moment so there's no reason why we can't manage a win from this one - we have after all beaten them already this season. However, to do that would mean we'd need to score and we are really struggling in the final third at the moment.
This of course isn't the biggest game between the Buddies and the Jambos over the next few weeks, with the League Cup Final at Hampden beginning to loom large on the horizon. It's a no brainer which of the two most supporters would rather win, but this is a chance to take a slight psychological edge ahead of the big day. Both teams are pretty evenly matched, with the home team having come out on top in each of the two meetings this season, and there's no reason tomorrow won't see another relatively even contest. And if you lose it's not a big deal because a chance to take revenge in style is just around the corner!
However, that attitude cannot be allowed to seep through to the players. After we beat Celtic it initially looked as if we wouldn't have to worry about the league form because the players were still up for the SPL. However, the last few weeks have suggested we're already focussing on Hampden. This has to stop. We shouldn't be in danger of relegation but we desperately need to find some form before our cup final and the players should be giving their all to show they should be in the starting 11 for the big day.
It's fairly easy to spot where our problem is at the moment - and it's perhaps no coincidence we've failed to score since Gary Teale got injured. He was providing lots of ammunition for Steven Thompson and seemed to link up well with Paul McGowan and Esmael Goncalves. Worryingly, it seems that he'll once again be missing tomorrow night - although will hopefully be back for Saturday's cup game against Celtic. You could point the finger at Thompson and Goncalves for the lack of goals but they're having little to work with, while the alternatives aren't exactly a great deal better.
There is a suggestion Kenny McLean should be dropped as his form hasn't been particularly good since he returned from injury. However, we have to remember he is still only 21 and is still going to have problems with inconsistency. That said, at the moment John McGinn should be ahead of him in the pecking order. Both started in Perth on Saturday and may do so again, but we could really do with some proper width - which means starting Graham Carey or Dougie Imrie. It's much of a muchness with their respective form but it cannot be McGinn that makes way for them - either rest McLean or Conor Newton.
It's been another season of financial mismanagement at Tynecastle. Having repeatedly failed to pay the players last season they did it again this time, forcing the SPL to finally take action and impose a signing embargo. Then, around the time of our November trip to Tynecastle, it emerged they would go bust if they didn't raise some cash - the amount needed almost identical to an upcoming tax bill. I had my doubts about Vladimir Romanov's motives on that one, especially as he had just launched a share issue at the time, but whether or not he was scaremongering the Hearts fans responded in style and the club should see out the season. The run to the League Cup final should help financially but many Hearts fans aren't particularly enamoured with John McGlynn's efforts so far. They are only a place above us in the table but he is working in pretty tough circumstances.
There will be a lot of players involved that many Saints fans won't know much about. Hearts' financial troubles saw some of the higher earners shifted on in January and this time they did follow through on their promise to play the kids, rather than just going out and signing some more players. Callum Tapping has adapted well in midfield while Fraser Mullen and Kevin McHattie have been doing a job in defence now that Ryan McGowan has been punted to a club in China and Marius Zaliukas has got himself injured. Jason Holt and Dylan McGowan have also been given more of a run in midfield, especially now that Andrew Driver is in the USA, while Billy King and Jamie Walker have been given a shot in behind the lone striker. Considering the efforts of John Sutton and Callum Paterson leading the line in early part of the season it's perhaps not a bad thing to have some fresh competition for places.
The SPL decided to lift Hearts' transfer embargo slightly in January in that they allowed the Jambos to operate on a "one in, one out" policy - providing the player coming in was under-21 and earning less than the person leaving. That ruled out the predicted return of Rudi Skacel (thankfully for us) but it did allow McGlynn to bring in Michael Ngoo on loan from Liverpool. He had a similar impact to Goncalves for us in that he scored on his debut in the League Cup semi-final and he has looked a threat up top. Also arriving from Anfield was Danny Wilson, who Rangers sold to Liverpool a few years ago. Bringing him on loan was a smart piece of business as he could easily do a job for most clubs in the SPL or the Championship.
But of course Hearts didn't bin all their experienced players and still have a few familiar faces, although a number of them are currently injured. Andy Webster has ended up being partnered with Darren Barr in defence lately but the experience of them should help youngsters like Mullen and McHattie. Mehdi Taouil is still playing in midfield but despite having given us problems on the wing in the past he appears to be getting used as a holding player, which is a bit of an odd decision. Ryan Stevenson returned to the club in the early part of the season but his performances have so far drawn a mixed response from the supporters. Jamie MacDonald is still classed as young in goalkeeping terms but you can't deny the fact he's a decent shot stopper.
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