ONE feature of St Mirren’s season of defiance is that they have won games in places where, traditionally, a draw would have been well received. Two of their three victories away from home in the Scottish Premiership have taken place in Edinburgh, and those victories have not been unconvincing.
Danny Lennon performed a neat body-swerve yesterday when asked if his team’s performances in their 2-0 success at Tynecastle in October and the recent 3-2 win at Easter Road had anything in common, apart from the obvious. It was as if he felt that by underlining the secret to St Mirren’s success in those matches, he might set them up for a fall when they drive back to the capital tonight for their encounter with Hearts.
One of his players was happy to get deep into conversation with Hearts, however. As a young player himself, a 20-year-old academy graduate but still a fresher in the first team, Sean Kelly knows how difficult it can be to retain confidence and rhythm and remain upbeat in the dark days of a losing run.
The Buddies themselves were in a world of uncertainty prior to a victory at Hearts that kickstarted their season. They had failed to win any of their opening eight games, including a League Cup defeat by Queen of the South, and that headline-grabbing result allowed manager Lennon to breathe.
It was Gary Locke’s turn to exhale last Saturday, when Hearts enjoyed their first win in 11 games, an even more barren spell than St Mirren’s, but one that had most pundits reaching for mitigating factors. Kelly could understand why there was talk of Hearts suffering from “burnout” after a busy festive period bereft of joy.
“I’ve enjoyed playing most of the games but I don’t know how it would be playing with mainly young boys around you,” he said, comparing his first season in the top flight with the experience of Hearts, where a transfer embargo has been in operation. “We’ve got experience in the likes of Jim Goodwin and Steven Thompson who can help you through it. It’s not so much the physical side of things because you should be ready physically, but it’s the mental aspect. If you lose a couple of games and your head goes down, how do you respond?
“I feel for the youngsters a bit because I see how much help the young boys at St Mirren – the likes of myself and John McGinn – get from Jim Goodwin, Steven Thompson and David van Zanten.
“They’re constantly talking to us. I know Hearts have got some experience with Jamie Hamill, Jamie MacDonald and Danny Wilson, and if they had a few more of them I’m sure it would benefit the youngsters.
“It’s the experienced players at St Mirren who give us confidence. We’ve had Gary Teale and Lee Mair, there’s always been someone there to keep you on the right track.”
St Mirren’s ability to emerge brilliantly from the darkness and stun higher-rated teams seems never to lose its ability to surprise.
“We were on a bad run before the win over Hibs and it was getting tough but the experienced guys know what it takes and every day in training they’d come in with the same attitude and mindset to try and lift the place,” explained Kelly. “I’ve had bad games and come in on a Monday morning but the older guys constantly talk to you and try to push you through.
“Hearts seem to be coping well enough with that, as they showed at the weekend with their win over Ross County who were probably the in-form team in the country at that time outwith Celtic.”
Lennon said that he was continuing to work tirelessly to add to his squad, concentrating on “two areas” where he wanted to “create competition”. He predicted that if his two mooted deals can be done, one signing will be on loan and the other on a permanent basis.