Saints v Kilmarnock preview
By Stuart Gillespie
Updated Friday, 23rd April 2010
Tomorrow's game against Kilmarnock will go a long way to deciding which division we are plying our trade in next season. Win, and we've a great chance of staying up. Lose, and we're in big trouble.
As it stands, Saints are level on points with Kilmarnock and have a better goal difference. We might not score many goals, but it seems we have a better defence against Killie and Falkirk which gives us an advantage in the goal difference column - which could prove vital once again. If there's a winner tomorrow, the team that takes all three points will be far from safe - but they will be in far better shape than the team that loses.
We've been here before. Last year we faced Kilmarnock in a post-split game, that time at Rugby park. It was on a Wednesday night and Kevin Kyle ripped the defence to shreds as he pushed us to within an inch of our lives, before we saved ourselves against Falkirk a few days later. The fixtures this season puts us in a similar situation - a game against Kilmarnock followed by a trip to Westfield. We have to do better than last year and a minimum of four points from these two games would almost see us safe - especially if Killie or Falkirk lost the game that wasn't against us.
Late goals have been a big problem for us this season, as last week's game at Perth showed once again. However, Kilmarnock are the only team we seem to hurt late in games ourselves. The only time we've scored winners in the last 10 minutes of games this season has been against them - once in the league and once in the League Cup. With the way we play, there will almost certainly be a late goal tomorrow - the omens suggest it might be at the right end from a Saints perspective.
Last week saw a rather strange 4-5-1 deployed by Saints boss Gus MacPherson and it seemed to work (until the last 12 minutes). Andy Dorman was given freedom to roam between the midfield and the striker, while Graham Carey and Stephen O'Donnell seemed to relish the new roles they were given. You could argue playing Billy Mehmet up front on his own makes more sense if the 4-5-1 is used in an attacking way, rather than the defensive stuff we get at Ibrox and Parkhead. The striker often drops back into midfield, but in the new system that still allows Dorman, Carey and O'Donnell to bomb forward and get into good goal scoring positions. The fact Hearts are supposedly interested in Dorman and Mehmet should ensure we get some good performances from them for the next few weeks!
It wouldn't be a surprise if the 4-5-1 is deployed again tomorrow with exactly the same personnel. The only change I'd like to see is Chris Innes coming into the defence as he seems to have a bit more presence about him than Lee Mair and John Potter, plus he's quite a handy goal threat. The rest of the team seems fair enough considering we have an injury list including Allan Johnston, Craig Dargo, Tom Brighton and Jack Ross. That will probably mean we go with just six subs once again - and you can be sure Rory Loy will be on the bench until late into the game.
Killie looked to have turned the corner after Jimmy Calderwood took over from Jim Jeffries, but they have hit a slump in the last couple of months. Relegation is now a real prospect and it could have devastating consequences at Rugby Park, some people suggesting it could put the club's very existence in doubt. They are therefore fighting for their lives in more ways than one. They were in this position last season and managed to get out of it, but that was with Jeffries - this is the first time I can remember Calderwood being involved in a relegation battle and it'll be interesting to see how he does.
He has some good players at his disposal. The aforementioned Kyle could cause havoc in our defence, while Chris Maguire has been excellent after Aberdeen strangely let him go on loan. Former Saint Allan Russell is fit again and has a habit of scoring against his former clubs, although he's yet to score against us (which should ensure tomorrow is the day he breaks his duck). Craig Bryson is a danger from midfield along with Manuel Pascali and Scott Severin, while Mehdi Taouil is a tricky opponent to deal with.
Despite their league position, Killie are also decent at the back and will be hard to break down. Garry Hay is an excellent leftback and one I wouldn't mind us signing, while Simon Ford is an imposing figure in the heart of the defence. They also have a couple of good keepers in Cammy Bell and on-loan Celtic man Mark Brown, not to mention injured former Saint Alan Combe.
Killie have scored just four goals in away SPL games all season and have won just once in the last two months (which is a bit like us). We have a habit of helping teams out in these scenarios, let's just hope tomorrow isn't another of those days.