2020 is a year that will always be remembered by those who lived through it, for many reasons that no one could have possibly predicted. From a football point of view, the vast majority of it will be remembered for our teams incredibly consistent level of performance in the league, with the last match we played in this year of years taking place on Wednesday in Paisley, when we faced a team who gave us our only big disappointment of the first half of this season. “Revenge” was a word often used by our fans in the build up, the shock of being knocked out of the League Cup still fresh in the minds. Our manager paid St Mirren much more respect this time however, and the line up put out by Steven Gerrard certainly feels like the strongest one we have at the moment. A very cold afternoon in Paisley, a strange kick off time of 3pm on a Wednesday, and the stage was set for a really important game.
The two goals we scored both came in the first half, a lovely through ball was put away via a deflection, and our striker got back into goalscoring form with a simple finish following a loose back pass. The two goals came after an opening that felt very similar to the game we played against St Johnstone. Once we were two up, the game did not feel as in peril as it perhaps was a couple of weeks back. The second half was a lot about the defensive work that we have done so well at over the season, a 17th clean sheet in the league having played only 21 games. St Mirren tried to get in behind with quick runs from wide but time and again our defence was able to hold strong, a really solid display. The points gap we hold over the team in second place maintains, and as we face those opponents in our next match, the chance to increase the gap is one we can certainly look forward to.
Here is how you rated our players after our win at the St Mirren Stadium. (Apologies for only showing my ratings, issue with the site meaning we cannot currently access the total score. This will be updated in the database soon.)
Allan McGregor – 7
He was so well covered by the defensive line in front of him, to the point where he was not particularly busy in what was his 400th league appearance for the club, a testament to the importance he holds to this club and has done for a long time. However many more years he has with us, his career will go down as one of the finest in our clubs history.
James Tavernier – 7
The way that clubs are combating our wide threat now means that it is much harder for our full backs to make the impact they normally look to do in going forward. Jim Goodwin, in both games that we have played against him this month, has used his left back as a man marker for Tav, meaning his influence is significantly reduced. But what it has meant is we are able to provide attacking support from the midfield more as a result. This then means that we have to rely on our full backs defending a lot better, and I think we have seen this a lot of late from Tavernier.
Connor Goldson – 7
When we talk about our defensive record for this season, the man who I think should take the most credit for this is Connor Goldson. He has been an ever present in the team through out this season, and it is little coincidence that when a team does score against us, his performance is always lesser. This was another good consistent performance from him, nothing flashy, with the only notable moment a knock to the face he took which always leaves ones heart in ones mouth, because I’m not sure I want to imagine our defence without him.
Filip Helander – 7
Nor do I want to imagine a defence without Filip Helander in all honesty. This is the best defensive partnership, as I have stated many times before, but it is because the two players compliment each other so well I feel. People will say that they want Balogun in for a certain game due to the pace he has, but Helander is no slouch. He has had plenty of situations where he has had to chase down a ball and has always looked nippy in doing so. But it’s the fact so much of his defensive work seems effortless, like he is strolling through a game but in a really good way, that makes him someone who I feel you must keep playing in the defence when fit.
Borna Barisic – 7
I thought this was the best defensive shift that Borna Barisic has given us. Young Connolly of St Mirren was trying ever so hard to break past the Rangers defence with his speed, but whether it be a well timed challenge, holding off or even a smart foul concession, Borna stood up to the test so well. As I was mentioning with Tavernier, the attacking output is sacrificed as a result, but as much as I am growing to love the idea of an attacking full back (how could you not when it’s played such an important part in our season?) I still subscribe to the idea of a full back’s primary job being “defending”. We have had plenty of chances in the past to criticise his defensive work, but of late he is playing a lot more smart in terms of not forcing an attacking influence, and just focussing on covering his area, something he is doing really well at present.
Glen Kamara – 7
I heard Kamara be described as a magnet. It’s a lovely description. The ball always seems to find him and it sticks to him, releasing the ball at the right moments as well. I would just be repeating myself from previous articles by describing what he did again, but that in itself shows the consistency of how he is performing. There will be a number of fans out there who will consider Kamara as their favourite player at the moment, it is easy to see why. He will undoubtedly be used on Saturday, and it is the perfect game for him to be involved in, and I am sure he will make a big impact.
Steven Davis – 7
There have been some critical views around Steven Davis from some quarters, I have to say, I am really surprised by this idea. Controlling the midfield is such an important job and he continues to do this with what may seem as lack of effort but is in fact (from my perspective) just a calming presence. What is also useful is we can adapt the midfield if need be, as we seem to be more willing to move to a midfield 4 if the situation calls for it, in which case Davis is the one who moves out to the right to cover that side, and although it is not his prime position, he has plenty of experience with it as we know and remember. I think we can afford to let Zungu play this role in less important games now, he seems more settled, but for big games like Saturday (and in all fairness, this game was important given our previous meeting), then Davis is the obvious choice.
Joe Aribo – 8 – Man of the Match
Yet again, the comfortable looking Joe Aribo who has been flourishing in the middle the last few games was again looking good in the centre. He did not have the same impact that he did against Hibs or St Johnstone, of course, but if you look at a lot of our forward play, so much of the ball is going to Aribo for him to make moves, which he was doing well I thought. He is the most obvious candidate for the attacking midfielder role, and I would not look to rush back Arfield whilst Aribo is in this level of form.
Kemar Roofe – 7
God, he is just fantastic. Even when he is playing below his peak level, he still looks miles above anyone else on the pitch. He grabbed yet another goal, this time from a deflection. The ball was played into the box for him to run onto, and his finishing at close quarters is something he should be praised for more I think as he often finishes well from a tight angle. His shot does deflect off the St Mirren defender, but it’s never one you will look at and suggest it will be an own goal. As I eluded to previously, Roofe does look far better playing on the right hand side of the attack rather than being the main outlet, and I would hope we don’t look to change this at all in the coming weeks, or even months.
Alfredo Morelos – 7
The benefit of having Morelos back in the starting line up is that it allows Roofe to play in his prime position. But also, the team dynamic works a lot better with him in the side, especially when he is playing well. He needed that short spell out of the side, because again he comes back into the side and is playing much better, and his long run without a goal ended here. The St Mirren defender played a woefully short back pass to his keeper which was intercepted by Alfie, who took his time and placed the ball past Alnwick to double our advantage, leading to great cheers in all our households as Buff finally got back in the scoring groove again. And that confidence could not have come back at a better time.
Ianis Hagi – 7
His through ball for Roofe, producing yet another assist, was the exact reason he maintained his place ahead of Ryan Kent. This was something I said previously that I wanted us to try, and I’m really glad the manager decided to give it a go. When you’re up against a tight defence, his ability to find that pass is exactly what you need. It’s the same reason why I think he will not start on Saturday. We know that that lot will not have a packed defence, and the key to getting past their back line will come from set pieces and pace. I can see Ianis starting the next game on the bench for that reason, but an excellent option to bring on as the second half goes on to offer that new dimension.
Ryan Kent – 5
I really hope that the rest he got here will benefit him, because I cannot imagine him not starting at Ibrox on the 2nd. His output has not been there of late, and it is important that he feels ready and confident to go at the Celtic defence. It is about time he showed up properly. Effort is one thing, but we need him to be a difference maker now.
Bongani Zungu – 5
He certainly feels like a squad regular now, settling in and is currently in a similar situation Cedric Itten previously found himself in, only featuring fleetingly and people wondering whether he is worth it. He absolutely is in my opinion, and I can see him coming off the bench at the weekend if we are ahead to secure things.
Leon Balogun – 5
One of my worries has been the lack of option for a substitute for Tavernier in a game should it be required. With the only proper option being young Patterson, it seems less likely the manager would be inclined to use that option, but of course it makes sense that Leon Balogun could be used in such a way as well. Versatility that could really benefit us as this season goes along.