Two years ago St Mirren’s season petered out after the famous League Cup win over Heart of Midlothian. It was hoped that last season would be the one where they kicked on and broke their duck, finally reaching the top six. However, a dreadful start which returned two points from the first seven games saw St Mirren slip to lower echelons of the league; Hearts’ points deduction their only buffer. Four wins from their next five games meant it was improbable that they would find themselves relegated automatically but they still had to worry about the relegation play-off spot.
The wins failed to act as a catalyst for a surge up the division. Two goal less draws followed before 12 defeats from 17 games plunged them deep into a dog fight to avoid 11th place. Normally, a run like that, in addition to their start to the season would have had them 12th or 11th with little prospect of finishing higher. But circumstances dictated that a seventh place finish was still achievable, such was lack of quality from the teams around them. A late turnaround with only one defeat in seven pushed them to eight place four points better off than 11th place Hibs and only one point behind seventh place Ross County.
The end of the season brought relief more than anything else. Bizarre decisions were becoming Lennon’s forte. There was the game where he changed half the team’s position for one sub (when they were winning); there was the continued positioning of Kenny McLean or John McGinn in wide areas when they were at their best in the centre of the park; then there was the Eric Djemba-Djemba signing. A terrible debut in the middle of the park against Dundee United in the Scottish Cup was followed by only two more starts. A good season it wasn’t.
St Mirren’s summer has, like Celtic’s, been dominated by a managerial change. Despite winning the club their first major trophy since 1987 fans were happy to see the back of Danny Lennon after his managerial stewardship had stagnated with little improvement in league performance, plus some questionable tactics and signings. However, if they knew Lennon’s replacement they may not have been so eager to see a change made. Tommy Craig steps up from role as assistant. Tommy Craig? Tommy Craig? Tommy Craig? Tommy Craig? Tommy Craig? Tommy Craig?
No matter how many times you question the decision it still doesn’t make sense. For St Mirren fans it must have felt like they were about to get a great birthday present only for Stewart Gilmour to appear out of nowhere and punch them in the stomach as Craig looks on with a mischievous smirk and Lennon standing there with his arms outstretched and THAT look on his face.
As for the transfer market itself the club have managed to rid themselves of one of the most pointless signings, Eric Djemba-Djemba. I must have missed him at the World Cup. The only two outgoing players that can be considered a big loss to the squad are Darren McGregor and Paul McGowan, though the latter did require a change of scenery.
They have kept hold of one of the best goalkeepers in the league – Marian Kello – and have added Jeroen Tesselaar to replace David Van Zanten. Elis Plummer has arrived on loan from Manchester City although he does not come with a good reputation. They have supplemented the attack with Ross Caldwell who will be looking to rebuild his reputation after his move from Hibs; Callum Ball after netting five goals in pre-season; and, after enjoying a productive season in front of goal for Gateshead, James Marwood.
Controversial, roundly disliked, loves an elbow but Jim Goodwin has stated that this is the season he rids himself of his bad-boy tag. Remarkably still only 32, Goodwin has time on his side to do so. One of the most influential performances I witnessed last season was from Goodwin when St Mirren were struggling after a poor beginning. The team came to Tynecastle with Hearts looking to overturn the 15 point deficit they had been handed. At such an early point in the season a win either way was going to have a huge bearing on the relegation battle. St Mirren dominated the match and deserved to better than their eventual 2-0 win. In the middle of the park Goodwin controlled the midfield battle. No Hearts player could get near him on the day.
He is nowhere near St Mirren’s most talented player but he is the most authoritative. St Mirren have a young squad going into the season. There are not many players who are in their late-20s. With his role as first-team coach he will have even more responsibility to the extent that fans will hope that his days of being a liability from time to time are gone. He will be charged with being an on-field manager, transferring Craig’s ideas onto the pitch and coaxing the best out of the young talents. On top of that, despite his bad rap, he is actually a decent football player.
Tommy Craig? Tommy Craig? Tommy Craig? Tommy Craig? Tommy Craig? Still nope.
As soon as Lennon left did Craig just move to the manager’s desk and hope no one would notice? Similar to when someone thinks you are called Joe when you are called Joel. It has been far too long to correct it so you just go with it [ED – I’m going to call you ‘Joe’ from now on]. In this instance Stewart Gilmour felt too awkward to tell him the job wasn’t his and just let it run.
We are just going to have to get used to it. He has worked under a number of big names in Scottish football – John Collins, Roy Aitken, Billy McNeil – none of whom you can call great managers. He spent a number of years working as coach of the Scottish Under-21 side and took charge of Belgian side Charleroi after serving time as Collins’ assistant. Despite being awarded an 18 month contract he lasted less than five months. Not a glowing CV for St Mirren fans as they try and cling to positives.
It is imperative for Craig to get off to a good start as it won’t be long for fans to question why he was given the job. There is no doubt he has been around the block and has the advantage of having two influential players on his coaching staff – Gary Teale and Jim Goodwin.
Tommy Craig? Seriously, Tommy Craig?
Okay, enough Tommy Craig bashing, can Stephen Thompson continue to hit the net despite turning 36 later this year?
Since moving back north from Burnley to join the club he supported as a boy Thompson has netted 13 league goals in each of his three seasons plus another nine in cup competitions, including a goal in the League Cup final win over Hearts, prompting a cathartic feeling.
As his years have advanced he has slowed and became less mobile, while his body shape has changed also. It is no surprise that St Mirren have been busy recruiting forwards to ease the goal scoring burden on Thompson, they can’t keep expecting him to net more than a dozen goals in the league while also being the focal point of the team and bringing others into play which he does so well.
The years of playing up front on his own will also have caused a few aches and pains, and with three strikers signed it points to Craig possibly moving to a front two in order to grant Thompson some support. If this is the case the responsibility on Thompson will be one of facilitator rather than facilitator AND goal scorer. Of course, such is his nous in front of goal, he will find the back more often than not. If his partner can hit double figures St Mirren may finish higher than everyone expects.
Readers can probably guess that this writer does not find the appointment of Tommy Craig particularly uplifting for St Mirren. This season is the ideal opportunity for the club to break its duck and reach the top six. Yet can the assistant to Danny Lennon do what Danny Lennon was not able to? I have my doubts. But one only has to look at the squad to see players of sufficient quality for the club to achieve that aim. Kenny McLean, John McGinn and Marian Kello would find a place in most teams’ starting XI, while it is hoped Sean Kelly, Jason Naismith and Thomas Reilly will all improve further.
Yet, the defence looks weaker and with Thompson a year older, how long can they rely on him to provide goals. A season of underachievement is on the cards. My prediction is that Craig is out the job by February with Jimmy Calderwood called in to keep St Mirren up.
Finish: 10th place