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Dundee v Saints preview
It's back to the league for Saints tomorrow night as they take on basement boys Dundee at Dens Park.
The Dee are, so far, the only side we've managed to beat twice this season - probably just as well considering we'd be rather closer to them if we hadn't. In fact, we've won on both our previous trips to the City of Discovery this season - those being our only away league wins so far. That's a run we must continue tomorrow as it would remove any lingering doubts over the relegation issue - and if we can't win at Dundee then there's few places we are likely to do well at!
We have yet to put back-to-back wins together in the league this season, a traditional problem under Danny Lennon as we've only managed it once in each of his previous two seasons in charge. This is probably our best opportunity to do that, especially with the fixtures we have coming up before the split. However, Dundee may be struggling but they have a bit of the dead cat bounce after changing manager, which I'll come on to later. They need to start getting wins on the board if they are to have any chance of staying up so they'll be rather fired up for this one.
Our form at the moment isn't too bad. After a run of one point and no goals in three games we defeated Hearts and put in a spirited display against Celtic. We may have lost but there were encouraging signs and if we can play like that again tomorrow night then we should return home with at least a point. However, we have to cut out the silliness at the back - both of the goals we conceded were easily avoidable and down to slack defending. If we remain switched on, shut out their goal threat and cause them problems at the other end then we could be in for a good night.
If he's fit enough Graham Carey has to start. He scored a wonder goal against Hearts last week and we looked far more dangerous against Celtic when he came on at the weekend. I'm a big fan of Carey but his good performances since he returned to us have been few and far between. The partnership of him and Paul Dummett on the left is an exciting one and is capable of giving most teams problems so hopefully we'll see it continue tomorrow night. If Gary Teale is fit enough to play on the other side than even better as being able to threaten down both flanks would make us a bit less predictable.
It's hard to see too many other changes, unless the likes of Paul McGowan or John McGinn are a bit tired and need to be rested for the game against Dundee United on Saturday - Kenny McLean the likely choice to start if McGinn is benched. We have no other fit defensive options at the moment with Darren McGregor, Jim Goodwin and David Barron injured, while we're likely to start with Esmael Goncalves up top again. Steven Thompson should join him but with another game coming on Saturday it wouldn't be a huge surprise to see Sam Parkin slot in up top instead.
The Dundee board have been acting rather strangely in recent weeks. Most people in Scottish football see the decision to sack Barry Smith as ridiculous, considering the circumstances surrounding the club's promotion in the summer. Many Dundee fans were annoyed at the move to sack a club legend, but that was nothing compared to their anger when they found out who was replacing him. For some reason the directors decided to give John Brown - last seen standing on the steps of Ibrox demanding to see the title deeds in the summer - the job until the summer. His previous managerial experience at Clyde was far from impressive. Who knows if he's the man to turn things around but in fairness even Jose Mourinho would struggle given the Dee are currently 15 points behind Hearts and another one behind us. Drawing with St Johnstone on his managerial debut was a good start and while they lost Sunday's cup derby they'll probably fancy their chances against us.
Most teams promoted to the SPL seem to have problems finding a goalscorer. We were fortunate in that John Sutton continued to produce the goods after we won the first division and Andy Kirk did a reasonable job for Dunfermline last season, although it didn't exactly help them in the end. Dundee weren't so lucky. They have plenty of players who can score in the first division but haven't yet been able to cut it in the SPL, including Mark Stewart and former Saint John Baird - although he did score against St Johnstone last week. Colin Nish has helped them a bit since arriving on loan from Hartlepool, he and Steven Milne adding some top flight experience to a frontline that is desperately lacking in that attribute. However, they still haven't scored nearly enough goals to get them out of trouble.
One man who could help address that situation is Gary Harkins. Kilmarnock signed him from Dundee in 2011 but he's now back at Dens Park following his dropping by - and supposed falling out with - Kenny Shiels. Dundee fans had been hoping he was the man to rescue their season as he was terrific first time around for them and not exactly a bad player at Rugby Park. What happened there was strange as he has more than shown he can do a job in the SPL and, supposed attitude problems aside, I wouldn't have minded us signing him if we'd lost McLean or McGowan in January. The midfield wasn't exactly short of a creative influence as Nicky Riley has probably been Dundee's best player so far this season - just as well considering former Buddies Stephen O'Donnell and Jamie McCluskey have been injured, as has Mark Kerr. Kevin McBride and Jim McAlister are solid enough in the first division but don't quite seem to be able to do it consistently in the SPL, while Ryan Conroy could probably do a job if he wasn't playing for a struggling team.
The injuries have been a big problem for Dundee this season, Brian Easton another who has had a lengthy spell on the sidelines. If they'd avoided them and been promoted when they should have done they might have had a chance. Kyle Benedictus seems a decent enough defender, as does Gary Irvine. Iain Davidson is a classic lower league journeyman who seems to be the enforcer in the middle of the park and should be determined to make the most of his unexpected chance to play in the SPL. The same goes for veteran defender Matt Lockwood and goalie Rab Douglas, who are very much in the twilight stages of their careers and probably thought another chance to shine in the top league had gone.
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Source: Mirren MAD
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