PREDICTED LEAGUE FINISH: Tenth
LAST SEASON: 8th, 39pts
NOTABLE INS: Callum Ball (Derby County), Ross Caldwell (Hibernian), James Marwood (Gateshead), Mark Ridgers (Heart of Midlothian), Jeroen Tesselaar (Kilmarnock), Ellis Plummer (Manchester City, loan)
NOTABLE OUTS: Gary Harkins (Dundee), Paul McGowan (Dundee), Darren McGregor (Rangers), David Van Zanten (Dumbarton), Stephane Bahoken (Nice, end of loan), Adam Campbell (Newcastle United, end of loan), Josh Magennis (Aberdeen, end of loan), Conor Newton (Newcastle United, end of loan), Anton Brady, Chris Dilo, Eric Djemba-Djemba
LAST SEASON'S BEST XI (departed players crossed out): Kello, Naismith,
After four years under Danny Lennon, St. Mirren were going stale. They never finished higher than eighth under his stewardship, and last season they only found a bit of form in the final few weeks, just enough to dig them out of a fairly deep hole, but not enough to paper over the deep, deep cracks. That 2013 League Cup victory seems a long time ago. A new manager, with new ideas, is exactly what they needed.
In Tommy Craig, Lennon's erstwhile assistant, they have that new manager. Does that mean new ideas though? Lennon's tactics and transfer moves (Gary Harkins! Stephane Bahoken!! Eric Djemba-Djemba!!!) were often criticised; Craig, with his Newcastle contacts, certainly had some say in the latter, and one would imagine he advised on the former. So is he really the right man to drive the Buddies forward?
Craig has at least been able to shift the deadwood that Lennon left him, though he would have much preferred not to lose central defender Darren McGregor to Rangers. The loss of Conor Newton was a shame, but not an enormous loss as the midfielder blew hot and cold. More importantly, Kenny McLean chose to sign a new contract, a welcome surprise for the supporters as his excellent finish to last season was expected to earn him a move down south. With McLean alongside technically gifted youngster John McGinn, they should be okay in midfield. If Craig has any sense he will use Jim Goodwin, the master of football's dark arts, as his anchor, where he wields far more influence compared to when he sits in the backline. Like him or not, you can't argue that his skill at breaking up play doesn't come in handy.
So not too many problems in the middle of the pitch, but things aren't as rosy up front. Can they really rely yet again on Steven Thompson for goals? Thommohawk will be 37 in January. Last season my prediction of his demise was premature; If he fails to prove me wrong again, Craig does have a like-for-like replacement in new signing Callum Ball, while youngsters Ross Caldwell and Thomas Reilly are available as alternatives but probably aren't good enough. Whoever does play up front may lack support. The decision to let Paul McGowan go was risky but calculated, given his off-field problems and poor form last season, but he won't be easily replaced. The burden of emulating him will fall on James Marswood, brought in from Conference side Gateshead. In the wide areas, all they have are another old man, Gary Teale, and the inconsistent Gregg Wylde; they really need Wylde to fulfil the potential he showed as a youngster at Rangers. It's possible that McLean ends up on the flank like he did at times last season, which is a complete waste of his talent. The Buddies would be much better off playing 4-3-3 than 4-4-2 if they can find another winger somewhere.
At least the defence is in better nick. Manchester City's Ellis Plummer has arrived on loan to replace McGregor, and maybe he will slot in okay beside Marc McAusland, though reports from his spell at Oldham last season were not positive. However, youth products Jason Naismith and Sean Kelly were impressive full-backs last season and should only get better. The signing of left-back Jeroen Tesselaar is curious - I wonder whether Craig may look to use him in the centre of defence rather than as a replacement for Kelly. And while young French keeper Chris Dilo left, Marian Kello is a perfectly decent goalie.
The bottom line is that St. Mirren don't look any better than they did last season...and last season they nearly got relegated. That doesn't bode well. And will the new face in the dugout really make a sufficiently positive difference?
THE SQUAD (players born after 1 January 1993 in italics)
Goalkeepers: Marian Kello, Mark Ridgers
Defenders: Sean Kelly, Marc McAusland, Jason Naismith, Ellis Plummer, Jeroen Tesselaar, Mo Yaqub
Midfielders: Jim Goodwin, John McGinn, Kenny McLean, Gary Teale, Gregg Wylde
Forwards: Callum Ball, Ross Caldwell, James Marwood, Thomas Reilly, Steven Thompson
THE BEST XI?
(comments on Twitter)
@Nareystoepoker fair assessment, would take 8th as long as we get back the exciting football we seen in 2011/12
— Jack Couttie (@Couttie_) August 4, 2014