Sunday, 15 September 2013

On the Precipice

Much has been made of Danny Lennon’s record since he led St Mirren to their first ever League Cup triumph in March earlier this year. The statistics surrounding the run since then have been done to death, so I won’t bore you with those. Instead, we will take a look into some of the reasons why so much is going wrong for the Paisley side.

For starters, the squad is weaker than it was six months ago. From that cup winning eleven Ismael Goncalves, Craig Samson and Paul Dummett all left the club during the summer. The team may have found itself in even worse shape had the services of Paul McGowan and Conor Newton not been retained.

David Cornell, who, from his early season form, is a downgrade on Samson in goal. And you don’t need me to tell you just how much weaker the defence is without Dummett. The Welsh Under 21 international excelled at left-back last season, and centre-back when required.

The likes of Dougie Imrie, Sam Parkin, Lewis Guy and Graham Carey, less prominent names, followed, leaving the squad thin just about all over the pitch, particularly in attacking areas. Jake Caprice and Stéphane Bahoken increase the options but it is far too early in their St Mirren careers to assess their potential impact.

Another new signing, Gary Harkins, seemed a good addition to the squad in theory. In practice Danny Lennon has failed to get the best out of the former Dundee playmaker. When stationed behind Steven Thompson in attack - who, it must be stated, has scored only once in his last sixteen league matches - their partnership lacks pace. Experimentation with Harkins in one or two other positions has also done little to inspire.

Perhaps it all could have been different for St Mirren had referee Kevin Clancy not unjustly awarded Inverness Caledonian Thistle a penalty when the ball struck David van Zanten’s arm on the opening day. Any hopes of salvaging a point were then doomed within seconds when some cataclysmic ball retention saw them concede directly from the restart.

Within another ten minutes it was three. They have failed to recover since.

A draw at home to Kilmarnock, their sole point thus far, was followed by another thumping in the Highlands. This time Ross County was the ruthless opponent with the lack of confidence and motivation evident in the St Mirren ranks a particular concern.

For the third goal in another 3-0 defeat, Richie Brittain was given the freedom to run around twenty-five yards without anyone tracking him before latching onto a Graham Carey corner. When he strikes to score there are five defenders stationary and within the six-yard box. Additionally, for the second goal, a Brittain penalty, only two St Mirren players are bothered about any potential rebound giving the County captain an easier time following up David Cornell’s save.

Lennon’s side took the lead in their next two fixtures but lost both 2-1. One of these came against Queen of the South in the League Cup. This result all but banished the sole remaining defence of the St Mirren manager: that his side were the holders of the competition.

The most worrying aspect of St Mirren’s situation is the downbeat post-match interviews given by Lennon. Week after week we hear to tired platitudes and clichés from a man who sounds like he lacks fresh ideas or the motivation to find any. Facing the media on Saturday slightly bucked this trend but still done little to convince. Lennon bemoaned a penalty decision – even though it was, eventually, called correctly – then went on to take the positives from the new system they had been working on.

That may not suffice for the St Mirren faithful, who are growing increasingly impatient with their team’s inability to trouble opposition goalkeepers. Just a single shot on target was achieved during Saturday’s defeat. A distinct lack of strikers, apparent since the end of last season when Lewis Guy, Sam Parkin and Ismael Goncalves left the club goes a long way in explaining why St Mirren have scored at least three goals fewer than every other team in the division.

And constantly switching formations and shoehorning players into different positions, hoping that it will just all click into place eventually, is not the way to get the best out of your squad of players.

The season is still young, St Mirren have played a game less than most, the new signings are still to be given their chance and Darren McGregor’s return from long-term injury should improve the side. Unfortunately for Lennon, the responsibility for halting St Mirren’s decline and acting upon these few positives will likely be handed on to one of the current BBC Sportsound regulars within the next few weeks.

The little under three years between Danny Lennon’s appointment as manager and the cup success consisted of a steady progression of the playing squad and an valiant, if not always effective, attempt to instil a purer form of the game. However, one league finish of 8th, two in the bottom three and another that is heading in the same direction does not bode well. Even for a club with only modest ambitions.

The cup win was a high that was above and beyond the remit of the St Mirren manager even if it masked another terrible league campaign. Since then Danny Lennon has poorly negotiated the transfer window and seems unable to instil a system, or a confidence in his players, to compensate for the squad’s reduced quality. The way things are going at St Mirren Park, he will not see another transfer window to rectify the situation. 

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