Lennon: Kilmarnock deserve more credit
St Mirren manager Danny Lennon believes the reaction to Kenny Shiels' public comments sometimes deprives his Kilmarnock team of the praise he feels they deserve.
Shiels has just returned from a three-match touchline ban received for comments made about match officials and faces another Scottish Football Association hearing early this year after accusing fourth official Andrew Dallas of an "outrageous fabrication" of evidence.
Shiels remained defiant after his latest charge but Kilmarnock were unaffected by his absence from the touchline and travel to St Mirren Park unbeaten in four difficult fixtures against Aberdeen, Hearts, Hibernian and Motherwell, which left them in the top six in the Clydesdale Bank Premier League.
And Lennon feels the furore surrounding Shiels' statements has taken some credit away from the Scottish Communities League Cup holders, although some of the Northern Irishman's remarks appear designed to remove the pressure from his players.
Lennon said: "For me, a lot of Kilmarnock's success is overshadowed by the media's relationship with the manager.
"Because he is so open in everything that he says, they try and make a full story out of it. Sometimes that deflects from the success Kilmarnock have had.
"If you look at Kilmarnock's season so far, they are in a better position, they have more points, have scored more goals, have conceded less goals, and they play football in the manner in which I believe it should be played in.
"For me, Kenny and his players don't get the credit I feel they deserve."
St Mirren can peg Kilmarnock back on Wednesday, though, having gone on a run of just one defeat, against Celtic, in seven SPL games after suffering a six-match losing run following the blow of losing key pair Darren McGregor and Paul McGowan to injury.
McGowan is now back following his shoulder problem and St Mirren could hand a debut to Newcastle midfielder Conor Newton against Kilmarnock after agreeing a loan deal.
Newton's Newcastle team-mate, Paul Dummett, is also available after the left-back extended his loan deal. But midfielder Kenny McLean will miss the game after undergoing minor knee surgery.
Lennon said: "We have got ourselves right back in there amongst the pack. The league table doesn't lie, the hardest thing is to go out there and score goals and put points on the board.
"That is something we want to continue. We had two fantastic victories here against Kilmarnock last season and that's something we want to continue going into the new year."
Kilmarnock are expected to be without Manuel Pascali (hamstring) and Mohamadou Sissoko (ankle), while Danny Racchi, Garry Hay and William Gros remain on the sidelines.
Manager Shiels believes his team are on course to "over-achieve" this season as they begin 2013 in the top six of the Scottish Premier League.
Last season was one of the most memorable at Rugby Park in many years with Killie's Scottish Communities League Cup success but the Ayrshire side missed out on consecutive top-six spots.
And Shiels has his sights set on a finish in the upper half this term having been pleased with their progress in the first half of the campaign.
"We have beaten four of the five heavyweights and we have drawn with the other ones," he said.
"So we have done well. We have won at Aberdeen, we have won at Hearts, we have won at Celtic.
"Our performances have been good and I'm more than happy with where we are at. With a game in hand, we are sixth.
"We are in the mix and it would be great to be in the mix coming into the end of March.
"If we were in and around that position, we would see that as an over-achievement. It would be great."
St Mirren are similarly on form going into the holiday fixture having lost just once, against Celtic, in seven SPL matches to put themselves three points behind Kilmarnock.
Shiels said: "St Mirren are a good footballing side and Steven Thompson is really in form and doing very well. They have got very good players. "The SPL is full of good players and St Mirren have more than their fair share of them. We know the qualities they have and we know we have to be on our game to try and match them.
"If you look at the quality that they have, it's a very difficult away game for us. We go there to hopefully consolidate our position in the top six if we can."