A hugely forgettable season saw holders St Mirren crash out of the Scottish Communities League Cup at the first hurdle, ejected from the William Hill Scottish Cup at the Quarter Final stage and lurch from crisis to insignificance and everything in between. SPFL Premiership survival looked a tall order with six games remaining, but an almighty rallying cry yielded 11 points to secure safety with two games to spare. Painful underachievement or strong emergence from a tough play-off battle? The fans, and indeed the Board of Directors, ultimately opted for the former and Danny Lennon was not offered a new contract after four years in charge. Fraser Anderson writes.
Marian Kello – Famous for his exploits at Tynecastle, Kello arrived an unlikely yet extremely welcome loan signing in mid-October after an injury to Christopher Dilo left goalkeepers thin on the ground. Signed until January, some stunning performances from the Slovakian international resulted in a pleasant surprise when he extended his loan deal beyond the January window until the end of the season. Although prone to the odd error he was a player many Saints fans classed as “out of our league”, but Kello had no ideas above his station for a man of his obvious quality, agreeing to sign a new deal to stay in Paisley yesterday.
Jason Naismith – This youth academy graduate replaced David van Zanten at right back early in the season and participated in some eye-catching performances with his trademark lung-bursting runs down the right flank. Prior warning from our all-knowledgeable friends in Greenock (that Naismith was the worst defender since Moses was a boy after his loan spell at Morton last season) was wisely unheeded. The claims were unfounded as Naismith racked up 25 league appearances and even notched two important goals against Dundee United and Inverness Caledonian Thistle. Big, strong, skillful and juggernaut-esque once he gets going, Naismith will be one to watch next season.
Darren McGregor – It has been a successful campaign for Darren in that he has avoided another career-threatening injury. Two cruciate knee ligament injuries have kept the central defender out of action for the best part of the last two years. After being destined for the English Championship after his infallible 2010-2011 season, the Edinburgh-born defender may perhaps be disappointed not to have made anywhere near the same impact on his comeback. Often criticised for lapses in concentration when holding the defensive line, McGregor is out of contract and is rumoured to be on his way to Tynecastle.
Marc McAusland – 2012-2013 was perhaps McAusland’s best season in the black and white stripes, however 2013-2014 hasn’t borne the same fruit for the St Mirren-supporting central defender. McAusland is much like a “box of chocolates” in familiar Forest Gump parlance. In some games he commands his back line like a Marine, in others he is sapped of all confidence and highly error-prone. This season has been another mixed bag, however you sense that he’ll flourish alongside a quality and experienced centre back – something I imagine sits pressingly high on Tommy Craig’s transfer wish list.
Sean Kelly – Another fruit from the labours of the club’s youth setup, Kelly has been a real find. After Naismith’s instant impact Kelly has almost flown under the radar and gradually improved with each passing week. His defensive positioning can sometimes be questioned however such shortcomings will be ironed out in due course. He even has one goal to his name – a sumptuous top-corner finish against Queen of the South in the Scottish Cup. Kelly has often found himself in good shooting positions in his many forays forward but poor decision making has cost him a greater haul. The left-back’s capped off an impressive debut season after earning his first Scotland under-21 cap against Hungary.
Kenny McLean – There’s not much I can say to do this man justice. Kenny has always harnessed a wealth of natural skill and ability but accused in the past of lacking the effort required to execute his all round game. Well, McLean has given 100% in every game he has played this season, leading to an embarrassment of man of the match performances in the past few months – culminating in an SPFL Player of the Month award for April. The most innately-gifted striker of a football I have ever seen at St Mirren has deservedly cemented his place in the Scotland under 21 squad. Out of contract and seemingly destined for England, the only way is up for McLean.
Jim Goodwin – After a rocky start to the campaign playing at centre-back, Jim’s impact was truly seen when Danny Lennon shifted him to defensive midfield – a position in which he has licence to govern matches in his own authoritarian style. The problem for Goodwin this season has been a lazily-constructed image perpetuated by an unimaginative Scottish media. Often mistaken as a brutal thug instead of the hard-hitting midfielder he admits himself to be, the stereotype has undoubtedly worked against him. Not that he has helped his own cause right enough – his forearm challenge on Stuart Armstrong was correctly punished on retrospect. The Irishman has been offered a new coaching role assisting new manager Tommy Craig – a move that should see the popular character continue to stamp his authority on friends in the dressing room and cowering foes alike.
John McGinn – Is there enough space to sum up this young man? Probably not. In the last 10 months he has been the first name on every team sheet, turned out for the Scotland under 21 squad and swept the boards at the Player of the Year awards. This is made all the more impressive given that McGinn has been exiled to left midfield, a less comfortable position for the adaptive central midfielder.
There is still no word on the steward’s inquiry regarding his omission from the Young Player of the Year nominees. He is described by many as the best youth product to emerge from St Mirren in at least a generation. His lion’s heart compliments his unspeakable vision on the field which now presents a problem for Saints – the plethora of scouts turning up at St Mirren Park to watch this gem. A risible offer in the region of £100,000 from Sheffield United has just been rejected but there’s no doubt the number of offers – and their respective values – will continue to soar.
Conor Newton – At the end of 2012-2013 when Paul Dummett and Conor Newton returned to Newcastle United, and you asked which of them would earn a six year deal, most would have bet the mortgage on Newton. His performances towards the end of that season were stunning, and there was great excitement when he returned to Paisley for this term. However his performances haven’t lived up to expectation. Being shoehorned into right midfield perhaps didn’t help matters, as when dispatched into the middle of the park a switch flipped and he became twice the player. Conor moves on to Rotherham United as an extremely well thought of young man who will forever remain etched in St Mirren folklore.
Paul McGowan – Seemingly on his way down south after a third season with the club, and an exceptional one at that, there were cries of surprise and joy when McGowan signed a one year deal last summer. Unfortunately his performances this year were a shadow of what this incredible talent has shown since arriving from Celtic in 2010. There was a court appearance hanging over his head for the first half which perhaps explained matters. But since that resolution his form has failed to improve and the attacking midfielder’s substitutions have become a familiar sight. He was forced to play defensive midfield to accommodate Gary Harkins early in the season, which perhaps didn’t set the most promising of tones for the year ahead. Many fans would like him to stay but only on reduced terms from the lucrative contract signed in 2013.
Steven Thompson – This is the point where my semi-coherent ramblings descend into downright sycophantic drivel. There are no words to sum up this man. Until the last game of the season, he had never missed a St Mirren game through injury in three seasons. The 35-year old has played the whole season as a lone striker and has pushed through every psychological and physical barrier possible to give his all for the club. The service he has received has been far poorer than his first two years at the club, which makes his 16 goal haul this term all the more laudable. He is St Mirren, and is capable of transforming grown men into something akin to teenage girls at a One Direction concert. The man is a legend, Hall of Fame bound and has been made Club Captain. We can only pray that his talent is optimised next season by the new management team to further bolster his value to the club. If that were possible, of course.
Christpher Dilo – The former Blackburn goalkeeper had two main stints in goal at either end of the season. In both he started off timid, glued to his goal line and didn’t appear to strike confidence into his teammates or the fans watching. He ended these spells an incredible shot-stopper, roaring instructions and coming big distances to claim high balls. In those two short spells in goal he has become a fans’ favourite and has proved great value for money. Signed as cover for David Cornell, he has presented a great case for the number one spot should he sign a new deal. With Celtic allegedly sniffing around this talented young Frenchman, his fate may well lie outwith St Mirren’s hands.
David van Zanten – After nine years, three trophies and two separate spells at the club, the curtain has come down on the Irish right-back’s legendary St Mirren career. His first spell was eye-catching, his second was solid. This season was perhaps one too far for the extremely likable “Vanzy”. The rapport he has built with the fans will mean many are sad to see him go, even if the footballing reasons are valid. His family are settled in Renfrewshire and looks to continue playing in Scotland.
Gary Teale – Injury has impacted on what had been a decent season for the right winger. The 35 year old still poses the same threat as he did when joining three years ago and his introduction from the bench has often sparked life into many a lackadaisical display. He completes the new management team alongside Jim Goodwin and Tommy Craig. An exciting new chapter awaits for a man who has developed a real mutual affinity with the club and its supporters.
Gregg Wylde – Plagued by inconsistency since joining from Aberdeen, Wylde’s game improved markedly towards the end of the season. He also scored two vital goals in the victories against Kilmarnock and Ross County in the season run-in. I’d imagine his overall game would improve with an uninterrupted run in the side.
Adam Campbell – After chasing the young forward for the best part of a year, two goals and some impressive performances on his arrival from Newcastle United in January led to bewilderment when Campbell was consigned to the bench for the rest of the campaign. Signed as the perfect foil for Thompson, Campbell simply wasn’t given a chance and his dignity and work ethic was appreciated by the St Mirren support.
Josh Magennis – His loan signing from Aberdeen helped provide some cover for Steven Thompson, and the Northern Ireland cap delivered some mixed performances. A strong and pacey athlete perhaps, but his failure to score in his time in Paisley perhaps led to his release from the Granite City outfit.
Lee Mair – The victim of an alleged fall-out with the management team, Mair became firmly acquainted with the substitutes’ bench. Four and a half years with the club came to an end when he left for Partick Thistle, much to the ire of the Saints support as there was next to no defensive cover for McGregor and McAusland at centre-back.
The Forgotten Men
David Cornell – Signed on a season-long loan from Swansea as St Mirren’s prospective number one goalkeeper, the then 22-year old was guilty of some jittery and error-strewn performances (mixed in with the odd point-blank wonder save) and was replaced by Chris Dilo after six matches. The loan deal was cancelled in December when Marian Kello signed until the end of the season.
Gary Harkins – The signing brought hope and excitement. The performances brought disappointment and resentment that saw Harkins loaned to Oldham from January until the end of the season. His skill and talent was unquestionable but his work rate was pilloried by the Saints support. With one year left on his contract it will be interesting to see where he ends up. Had he been given a designated role in the side then things might have worked out differently.
Eric Djemba-Djemba – The left-field signing of the former Manchester United midfielder sparked flat-capped pandemonium in Paisley. His on-field ability was questionable. He somehow avoided a red card on his debut (his inability tackle produced a great number of facepalms in the Saints support), gave away a penalty in the next game versus Aberdeen and was then substituted in his third game in Dingwall. He never played again. Eric’s World Cup dream faded quickly when a settled midfield resigned the Cameroon international to the bench for the rest of the season, and has now left the club. Now where did I leave the receipt for that bunnet?
Danny Grainger – Arrived at the club seemingly unfit and carrying a burdening chip on his shoulder, Grainger’s performances left a lot to be desired after being touted for a move to England. Guilty of one of the most shockingly tame displays I’ve had the misfortune to witness away to St Johnstone in January, his departure to Dunfermline later that month was only unwelcome in the sense that Saints had zero defensive cover.
Jake Caprice – He loved a step-over, I’ll give him that. Caprice gave 100% for the club until his December release, leaving for Tamworth Town. Lively and nippy with a spark about him, the move didn’t work out due to the winger failing to ever beat a defender.
Stephane Bahoken – “The one we’ve been waiting on” heralded Danny Lennon on Bahoken’s arrival. Most people were waiting on him resembling something akin to a footballer. The OGC Nice loanee’s debut at home to Partick Thistle spawned shades of Ali Dia’s much maligned appearance for Southampton in 1996. There was the uncomfortable and bizarre notion that neither St Mirren nor Nice wanted the homesick Frenchman in January, and seeing as he couldn’t play for more than two clubs in one season, Bahoken returned to Paisley after Christmas. On his return, apparently having been given a kick up the backside by his nearest and dearest, his vow to stamp his mark on Scottish football fell flat after missing two successive sitters against St Johnstone on his return. Where he then went, goodness only knows. What is certain is that many Buddies would have happily driven him to the Cote d’Azur personally.
Danny Lennon’s departure at the end of the campaign perhaps writes this section itself. After guiding the club to its first major title in 26 years it would take an incredibly poor season to ensure that his contract would not be renewed. Although he oversaw Saints’ survival, large periods of inconsistency saw us flounder and fail to find any sort of momentum. Perhaps the list of “forgotten men” signed by Lennon constituted a sacking offence in itself and the board had little faith left in the manager to rebuild for next season. That said, he has done so much to garner the support of the Paisley public and always had the best interests of the club, its players and support at heart. This hasn’t been forgotten, and Danny leaves with the best wishes of every supporter.
Fraser Anderson writes the match reports for the match reports for blackandwhitearmy.com, St Mirren unofficial website. He can also be found on Twitter.