Return to Paisley

Having closed off the first part of the season with a standard one sided Glasgow derby where the score line hardly reflected our dominance, we now open up after the international break with some Friday night football in Paisley.

It’s been a while since we’ve made the short journey along the M8. St Mirren were relegated at the end of the 2014/15 season so our last League match there was a 2-0 victory in April 2015 courtesy of goals from James Forrest and Stefan Johansen. St Mirren finished sixth in the Championship the following season, before narrowly avoiding relegation to League One in 2016/17.

That was something of a minor miracle actually. St Mirren looked doomed for much of that season, but the appointment of Alloa Manager Jack Ross as manager saw them rally and avoid even a playoff spot thanks to their better goal difference.

Celtic played St Mirren at Celtic Park that season in the Scottish Cup, and they even gave us a scare as they took a first half lead through Harry Davis. They almost went 2-0 up in the second half, before Celtic finally found the way through. A Mikael Lustig equalise was followed a minute later by Scott Sinclair putting Celtic in front. Moussa Dembele and Leigh Griffiths made things safe in what was probably the biggest threat to what would ultimately become the Invincible Treble season.

It was the second time we’d faced Jack Ross actually, as Alloa had been another tricky opponent for us in the League Cup, so with those performances and the escape from relegation, it was no surprise that St Mirren went on to win the Championship in his first full season there.

Sadly for the Buddies, it was also his only full season there as his performance got him noticed and he was moving on to Sunderland in the summer.

That left St Mirren having to rebuild, which wasn’t helped by Celtic signing Lewis Morgan from them back in January. He was sent back on loan to finish the season in Paisley, but was at Celtic through pre-season with injury being a bit of a barrier for him sadly.

St Mirren appointed Alan Stubbs, but despite it being only September they’ve already moved to replace him. On the face of it, it seems harsh. St Mirren’s start to the season included an opening day win over Dundee, but was then followed up by defeats at Ibrox and Tynecastle, as well as defeat at Pittodrie in the League Cup. That’s a tough schedule.

Their other defeat though came at home to Livingston, who themselves had changed their manager already. Did that give them encouragement to follow suit? Perhaps. The suggestion is that the dressing room was not a happy one and St Mirren were going nowhere, so Stubbs was moved on and on his place came Coleraine manager Oran Kearney.

There’s a lot of managers from the north of Ireland in the Premiership now. Kearney joins Stephen Robinson at Motherwell, Tommy Wright at St Johnstone, Neil Lennon at Hibernian and of course our own Brendan Rodgers. Five out of twelve is a lot!

Coleraine were runners up to Crusaders in the League last season, and sat second behind Linfield going into the international break. In the eight years that Kearney was in charge there, his proudest moment was undoubtedly winning last season’s Irish Cup where they beat Cliftonville 3-1 in the final.

So we have something of an unknown for tonight’s match. A new manager was enough to give Livingston a lift to win two games in a row, St Mirren will be hoping likewise. But we have our own goals to aim for of course too.

After four games were four points ahead of the teams that finished second, third and fourth last season. It would be good to at least maintain that for a while, especially with Aberdeen due at Celtic Park at the end of the month.

We’re also still three points behind Hearts, and their goal difference is already five goals better than ours. Even a win tonight would have to be a hefty one to see us go top of the league before Hearts play away at Motherwell tomorrow.

We have another busy schedule ahead though. Before Aberdeen, we host Rosenborg in the Europa League, visit Kilmarnock in the League next weekend, and go to St Johnstone in the League Cup. Even after Aberdeen there are visits to Red Bull Salzburg and St Johnstone again before we reach another international break.

That’s not a lot of free time and several key matches to play. You’d imagine we’ll be using our squad again through these matches, although I’m not sure if the first game of that busy schedule is when we’ll see it.

But it still leaves some interesting choices. A fit again Odsonne Edouard or century bhoy Leigh Griffiths? Both perhaps? Cristian Gamboa or Mikael Lustig? When do we get to see Daniel Arzani and Filip Benkovic?

And of course the big question. How bad will referee Andrew “I’m only in this job because I’m son of Hugh” Dallas be? Because you know whatever he gets wrong will be fully backed by the review panel next week regardless of how bad it is.

Trust Scottish Football to manage to get less transparent with time.

Krys (Twitter @krys1888)

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