St Johnstone v St Mirren Preview
By Stuart Gillespie
Updated Monday, 19th September 2011
Who said Scottish football was boring? Less than a fortnight after we played St Johnstone, we get to do it all over again tomorrow night when we head to McDiarmid Park in the League Cup.
OK, so this could happen in any cup competition, but it's still incredibly frustrating. It means we'll face the Saintees at least five times this season - something no one wants to experience if the game 10 days ago is anything to go by. On the plus side, our run to the League Cup Final in 2009/10 saw us take on sides at the third round, quarter-final and semi-final stage that we'd faced just a few weeks earlier and win the lot. But the same can also be applied to the final, so that doesn't really work.
It perhaps says a lot about the games between the two Saints that one of the more interesting meetings of the last 10 years was a friendly. The summer of 2001 wasn't perhaps the best time to play the game, given that many St Mirren fans felt certain St Johnstone players (we'll call them Alan M and Paul H) had deliberately phoned in their performances against Dundee United to get the Buddies relegated. Of course, the predictable happened - Alan M got booed all game and each side had two men sent off. The Saintees went one better in 2004 when they managed three red cards, but despite that sly tactic we were still able to win.
Decide for yourselves whether the disappearance of that edge to these games has been a good or bad thing. OK, so the game at Greenhill Road the other week featured seven bookings but that was more down to a ridiculously incompetent official rather than bad challenges. It's about time we had some blood and thunder in these games and hopefully the fact it's a cup tie will help to create that. And hopefully we remember to turn up, unlike in 2008 when we were awful in a Scottish Cup quarter-final replay at Love Street and the Saintees romped to victory. But it's worth noting our last win over St Johnstone came in a League Cup tie in Perth, so the omens are there.
After going three and a half games without a goal, it is surely time for Danny Lennon to make some changes in terms of style of play and personnel. For starters, lets cut out the messing around at the back where our back four decide whether to play it back to Craig Samson or Jim Goodwin. Secondly, start playing Paul McGowan in a more advanced position. He can play some brilliant passes, but he'd be far more use if he was making those passes in the opposition's half rather than from the edge of our own penalty box. Perhaps playing him as one of the front three is an option, or we could play him between the midfield and the attack in a 4-4-1-1 or 4-3-1-2 formation. With cup progression rather than points at stake, it's not that big a risk to experiment.
It is also surely about time Graham Carey was given a run in the side. He was hardly impressive against Motherwell, but he has been working on his weight problems and now seems to be fit. He can take a superb set-piece and can play some terrific passes, while he isn't afraid to have a shot. Ideally, Gary Teale should be the man making way for him as I've been far from impressed with the former Scotland man - although he was bizarrely deployed as a holding midfielder against Hearts. Of course, if he's dropped it'll probably be Kenny McLean who starts. I like the youngster, but it's time we start mixing things up. On the injury front the usual suspects - Hugh Murray, Aaron Mooy and Darren McGregor - are all still out.
Like us, St Johnstone have managed a few cup runs in the past few years, but they haven't had the joy of a Hampden final at the end of it. Runs in the League Cup and the Scottish Cup have seen them make the national stadium on three occasions since 2008 but on each of them it's been for a semi-final. They've not quite been able to get over the final hurdle, something manager Derek McInnes must be getting increasingly frustrated about. He'll see tomorrow night's tie - at home to a side they haven't lost to in six years - as the perfect chance to move one stop closer achieving that goal.
There was one notable absentee from the Saintees side when we faced them 10 days ago - Jody Morris. I was rather surprised to see him completely left out of the side and can only assume he was injured. He usually runs the show against us and if he's fit enough to play tomorrow St Johnstone will be a much improved side. They are far from a one man side but it's fair to say Morris makes St Johnstone tick the same way Alex Neil pulls the strings for Hamilton Accies. St Johnstone did rather well in his absence on Saturday, mind you, thrashing Motherwell 3-0.
Morris' return should lead to better things for Francisco Sandaza and Cillian Sheridan. The two strikers didn't have a great deal to work with in Paisley and had to resort to taking some long range shots as they tried to break the deadlock. With the Saintees now the home team, that'll surely not be the case even if Morris isn't back. The likes of Murray Davidson, Liam Craig and Chris Millar in midfield are all capable of providing and scoring goals, with Jamie Adams left with the task of kicking folk all over the place.
St Johnstone even have a few players at the back capable of causing teams problems in their own penalty box. Dave MacKay likes to get forward and can also score, while Alan Maybury's 20 yard effort was a brief highlight last time out - even if it was miles off target. Peter Enckelman is a solid keeper and has put the days of the Birmingham derby comedy behind him.
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