With the Scottish Cup dream over for yet another season, Saints could now concentrate solely on the league and try to improve or at least consolidate the current league position of tenth. The first match of the month was a very winnable home fixture against St Johnstone who had managed just four attempts on goal against the Paisley side in the previous two matches between the clubs this season, but were “enjoying” a better run of form in recent weeks, if that is the right phrase for any game of football involving Tommy Wright.
The evening before this match, bottom club Hearts had cut the deficit from six points between them and Saints to just three after defeating Hibernian 3-1 at Easter Road, no surprise really as it reconfirms what a lot of St Mirren fans already knew and that you cannot rely on Jack Ross.
Unfortunately, the 0-0 draw that followed against the Perth side was one of great frustration, with the Paisley men hitting the post on two occasions and also coming very close multiple times particularly during a frantic end to the match, but the general lethargy of the performance for seventy minutes was puzzling at best.
With Ross Wallace making his full debut, the set pieces for the first time in several weeks were of real quality and not once did the former Celtic and Sunderland winger find the first man with a delivery, something we have been far too guilty of in the past few months, however Saints were unable to capitalise on this. The booing at full time was probably a mixture of frustration at not winning the match, this lack of urgency mentioned above and undoubtedly the choice of substitutions made by Goodwin which have a definite Groundhog Day feel to them.
Tony Andreu is our top assist maker this season with six, so perhaps it is justified that Goodwin throws him on late in matches to try and turn the game; it worked against Livingston and Ross County at home when the Frenchman set up three goals, so there is proof of this, therefore the outcry about this one is perhaps unfounded. In my opinion Andreu is far more effective coming on as a substitution than starting a match and with a lack of fit creative players I don’t think it is outrageous to put the Frenchman on. Taking off a striker for him and changing the formation to 4-5-1 when we need a win is mystifying, however.
The other frequent substitution that seems to irk people is the introduction of Junior Morias at right wing. The little Jamaican has struggled for consistency all season, but in his defence, he has had no run at all in the side in his favoured central striker position. As a substitute Morias has made little impact most of the season and having seen the utterly vital goals Danny Mullen scored for Saints at the end of last season, I think most fans are bewildered as to why the outgoing former Livingston man hasn’t had more game time as the season progresses. I doubt that would have changed though, or will when and if the season resumes.
As we made our way out of the stadium, the news broke that second bottom Hamilton had beaten Rangers at Ibrox. It’s not a bet many people would have put it on, except for probably everyone in the Accies dressing room as it transpired later in the month that the special branch is investigating the minnows for match fixing allegations, but much bigger off the field issues were happening as everyone had an eye on the coronavirus which was sweeping through continental Europe with frightening ferocity.
Saints then had the toughest fixture on the Scottish calendar when we visited Parkhead for the second time this season and returned to Paisley with our biggest defeat for five years. I made the trip along with I’d guess only around 250 other Saints fans, the smallest number I can ever remember at a match. At £30 a ticket and over officious stewarding, it is easy to see why people stay away, I did for thirteen years and that afternoon was another example of why this fixture remains completely unappealing to the overwhelming majority of St Mirren supporters.
Before the match, the stewards got themselves in a bit of a panic over a banner held up by the Saints fans demonstrating against the over pricing at the ground, and despite the Police laughing and saying there was no issue with it, the stewards insisted on removing it at the supposed instruction of the same Police who denied it immediately, and a strange argument ensued between the Police and the group of former school prefects desperate to have a tiny bit of power, i.e. the stewards. Celtic of course have evolved to the political right over the past few decades at boardroom level and their corporate heart beats to the Tory capitalists’ rhythm, making any protest about money deeply offensive to their new ideology and this can be the only real explanation of why the stewards were so unhappy about the banner.
Somewhere in the stadium, Peter Lawwell was peering out at the Saints fans from up high with his golden binoculars, muttering to Baron Livingston that once again we were unhappy with the £30 charge to watch our team at his ground. As Lawwell earned £3.5million last year, that’s £1,346 an hour based on a 50-hour week, he is about as in touch with the regular punter as Hugh Keevins is with the names of Kilmarnock’s defence, and this can only explain the ridiculous entry prices.
I was £42 for myself and my twelve-year-old son, but next season should we play Celtic at Parkhead and the prices remain the same, it will jump to £47 for one match. Where exactly do football clubs think kids get more money for turning thirteen years of age?
With the stewards still arguing with Saints fans, and the attempted removal of a man from his two young boys for daring to point out the police had no issue with the banner, the match kicked off and for fifteen minutes Saints actually handled Celtic well, with Calum Waters on two occasions managing to cut inside to the penalty area but not find a Saints man with his cross on either occasion.
As often happens at Parkhead however, the second I began to think we were playing decent enough, Celtic scored. Edouard was the architect with a curling ball over Waters to the suspiciously offside Leigh Griffith who almost miskicked the ball under Hladky and into the net. From this moment, it was a painful watch for any Saints fan as we were comprehensively outplayed by the champions elect who I doubt were even out of second gear.
Griffiths doubled the lead just before half time despite the efforts of Hladky who was performing miracles to keep the score respectable, and the Celtic number 9 would complete his hat-trick in the second half to take his career total against Saints to thirteen. Further goals from Edouard and the obligatory dodgy penalty against the new old firm from McGregor sealed a 5-0 win for the hosts made all the worse by the news Hamilton had won again, this time against Kilmarnock and Hearts had gained a point against Motherwell at Tynecastle.
This left Saints second bottom of the league, a point behind Hamilton in tenth and three clear of Hearts who of course we played next in that rearranged fixture from February, a game the media seemed desperate for the 86ers to win as of course the “natural order” DEMANDS that the Edinburgh club are successful over us, something we are used to of course after absolutely schooling Dundee United in the 2017/18 season much to the disgust of a partisan media.
By this point in the month, the dark shadow of the coronavirus had moved onto mainland Britain, and talk of a postponement dominated the lead up to the match, however the SPFL decided to play the fixture and this would be the last before the indefinite lockdown was called by the authorities, or as I called it on Twitter, the final match of the old world.
It was of course a big match anyway, but Saints knew defeat would put them bottom of the league and with the season potentially finishing early this would be more than problematic as it could result in our relegation. Thankfully, the football gods were kind to us and as we all know a club like Hearts are unlikely to bother us on such a big occasion as they are and always will be the biggest bottle merchants in the history of sport.
Saints of course went into the match without captain Stephen McGinn, vice-captain Kyle Magennis and Ryan Flynn, three central midfielders with the latter two almost certain to be playing had they been fit. By the end of the night, we had also lost Conor McCarthy, Ilkay Durmus and Cammy MacPherson to injury leaving our central midfield as Jamie McGrath and Tony Andreu, as Sam Foley had to drop to centre back to replace McCarthy where of course we have serious cover issues after Paul McGinn and Kirk Broadfoot left the club close to transfer deadline day.
The fighting spirit of the side was outstanding despite the significant losses to our team, and although there was a nervy end to the match, Hearts never looked like scoring. In fact, had Saints not have so many injuries to contend with on the evening, we would have won far more comfortably than we did, however the 1-0 win was most welcome due to the twelfth goal of the season from Jon Obika, who is proving all of his critics very wrong.
On the evening, Hearts couldn’t handle the big striker, and he bullied the two Hearts central defenders before slotting home after a fabulous through ball from Ross Wallace. It was a well-deserved goal, but as well as Obika played it was Sam Foley who was the outstanding player on the field of play as he gave a masterclass in ball winning all over the park.
In the aftermath, the universal acceptance that Saints were the better side was accepted by a gracious Hearts management team, and Saints finished the night in ninth place, leapfrogging Hamilton and Ross County in the process with eight games remaining, and in all likelihood the end of the football season Europe wide.
Within a few days, football was cancelled and not even two weeks later as I write this, the sport now seems irrelevant as the loss of life across the planet reaches unfathomable levels in the post WWII world, yet Celtic and Rangers squabble over the title as though it matters.
This may be the last update I ever publish. Obviously, I hope it isn’t, but should I post again one thing is certain and that is nothing will ever be the same again. Stay safe everyone.