St Mirren captain Andy Webster believes the rejuvenation of the Paisley club on and off the field this summer can propel them towards upsetting the odds in the Ladbrokes Championship.
Saints are ranked among the also-rans by the bookmakers who firmly regard Hibs and Dundee United as the leading contenders in the second tier title race this season.
But veteran defender Webster, buoyed by both last month’s takeover of the club by the St Mirren Independent Supporters Association and manager Alex Rae’s close season recruitment, insists he and his team-mates will be serious promotion contenders.
“There will be a lot of teams who will fancy their chances this season and we are one of them,” said the former Hearts, Rangers and Scotland man. “The important thing for us is to try and get off to a good start and build a bit of momentum early on.
“We showed a good run of form in the tail end of last season so if we can start well this time, hopefully we can keep it going. With the squad we have got, we will be more than capable of challenging. We are looking to compete and we feel we have the players who can compete with anyone else in the Championship.
“There is a positive vibe around the club at the moment – both among the players and staff at the training ground and with the things going on off the park as well which will hopefully stand the club in good stead going forward.
“We played reasonably well in our Betfred Cup group matches, so we are looking to take that forward into the league campaign. The manager has done some good business over the summer, especially with bringing in experienced lads like David Clarkson and John Sutton.
“We struggled with inexperience at the start of last season. Without that experience among your squad, it is harder for the younger players to go out and express themselves.
“It’s great to bring in someone like John. If you have a goalscorer at any level, your team will be successful.
“We’ve now got John, along with David, Lawrence Shankland and Ryan Hardie. If we score the goals they are capable of scoring, we will win a lot of football matches this season.”
Following relegation from the top flight in 2015, last season proved a largely dismal experience for Saints who managed only a sixth place finish in the Championship.
Consolation for their supporters came in the resumption of regular Renfrewshire derby meetings with Morton which saw St Mirren remain unbeaten in the four games against their Greenock rivals.
The sides face each other at the Paisley 2021 Stadium in the opening league fixtures of the new campaign this Saturday.
“It doesn’t come much bigger for us than the derby to kick it off,” said 34-year-old Webster. “We are at home and and are relishing it. It definitely gets the juices flowing.
“The highlight for me at St Mirren last season was when we went down to Cappielow on 2 January and Lawrence Shankland scored the winner.
“You know what it means to people, so we know on Saturday we have to be bang at it. That’s why you live as a footballer, to be involved in these kind of games. We know it will be really competitive and difficult. Those are the challenges you face in derbies and we are up for it.”