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St Mirren v St Johnstone preview
It's been a good week to be a Buddie - and it could get even better tomorrow afternoon when we face St Johnstone in the Scottish Cup.
It has been an incredible seven days. The win at Hampden was something none of us will ever forget and we then followed it up with a hard fought, lucky and probably undeserved win against Caley Thistle in the league. It's made all the more remarkable considering we went into these tough games on the back of a shellacking at the hands of Ross County. Now we have a chance to make it through to the quarter-finals of the Scottish Cup for the third year running.
Playing the Saintees in the Scottish Cup brings back bad memories of one of many "what might have been" moments from the last few years. We were handed a trip to Perth in the quarter-finals in 2008 and managed to escape with a draw despite a shocking performance. We'd surely learn our lesson and see them off at Love Street? Er, no. We were soundly beaten and St Johnstone went on to face a tired Rangers side in the semis at Hampden. They lost on penalties - and Rangers went on to narrowly beat Queen of the South in the final. As I said - what might have been.
I was pleased to see a return of the "Battle of the Saints" when we last played St Johnstone. Our games against the fake Saints have been rather disappointing in recent years - usually because we lose - and are instantly forgettable. However, at the start of December they managed to get a couple of players sent off and were perhaps lucky not to have more men dismissed. Admittedly we should forget about it because we still didn't manage to win, but it made a change from some of the dire encounters in recent years. If we play as we did in that game - even if the Saintees manage to keep all 11 men on the park - then we should win, providing we are a bit more clinical in front of goal.
It was evident in the second half on Wednesday night that some our players were drained - mentally if not physically - so it would not be a surprise to see a few changes tomorrow. Lee Mair could be handed a start after replacing Marc McAusland at the break and Paul Dummett couldbe back in the team after returning from Newcastle, although that would perhaps be a bit harsh considering Graham Carey has done well in the last week. The midfield may also be freshened up by starting John McGinn as asking Kenny McLean to play again so soon after returning from injury may be a bit much.
One player who will be starting, regardless of his fitness, is Steven Thompson. The big striker is loving life at the moment and has been in fantastic form, his winners against Celtic and Inverness Caley Thistle taking his season's tally to 14 and seeing him go on a run of seven goals in seven games. In Esmael Goncalves he also has a forward who is also scoring goals - and he's still not fully fit! Whether or not he's able to start tomorrow remains to be scene but if he does he could give the Saintees a torrid time at the back.
Steve Lomas has done a pretty good job at St Johnstone since he arrived early last season, continuing the good work of his predecessors Owen Coyle and Derek McInnes - both of whom are now out of work after their moves down south turned sour. He is continually linked with a move across the border every time a half decent Championship or League One job comes up, but he seems to be happy enough where he is at the moment. Wednesday's win over Aberdeen saw them go up to fifth and the remain on track to finish in the top six and take a European slot. They can also proudly boast an unbeaten record against Celtic in the SPL, haven beaten them at home and drawn with them at Parkhead, but they were hammered by them in the League Cup. I'm sure Danny Lennon can offer Lomas some advice on how to deal with them in that particular competition...
The summer may be the best time for Lomas to bail as he'll almost certainly lose two of his star players. Murray Davidson has been terrific this season, deservedly winning himself a Scotland call up, and is destined for a move down south. Liam Craig is definitely on his way as he's agreed to join Hibs in the summer, the Edinburgh side told to do one when they tried to sign him yesterday. It creates two huge holes in midfield that Lomas must fill, although he has already filled one by signing Richard Brittain on a pre-contract. Whether or not he keeps Paddy Cregg, who had a rather forgettable spell with ourselves a few years back, remains to be seen. In the last few days the Saintees boss made moves in the loan market as he borrowed Mehdi Abeid from Newcastle, Michael Doughty from QPR and Gwion Edwards from Swansea.
Lomas probably needs to sign a few new strikers in the summer. This is rather odd as he spent most of the off-season in 2012 signing up pretty much every forward going, but none of them has been particularly prolific - although I suppose having four strikers with four or five goals each is better than having one with 10! Our former player Nigel Hasselbaink endeared himself to his new club's fans a while ago by saying he plans to move to England in the summer - ignoring the fact he's under contract for another year and has struggled to set the heather on fire this season. Gregory Tade has been a bit better and scored against Aberdeen, while Steven MacLean has also managed five despite being injured. Rowan Vine has chipped in with a few but seems to play in midfield, not that that stopped him from scoring during the week.
When we played the Saintees in December it was Allan Mannus they had to thank for earning them a point. I wasn't particularly impressed with him on their previous trip to Paisley (despite him keeping a clean sheet) but he made a number of terrific saves that afternoon to stop us beating nine men. Steven Anderson was one of the players dismissed but is usually a pretty reliable defender, while Dave Mackay is a real attacking threat at fullback, capable of providing some terrific crosses and the odd goal - like one against Aberdeen. Gary Miller has filled in for him at times this season, while on the other side of defence Callum Davidson has been told he's on his way in the summer. It's perhaps a bit harsh as he's been decent since returning at the start of last season, but time is not on his side and it seems Lomas wants to go with someone younger.
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Source: Mirren MAD
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