After early-season optimism, Buddies fans were looking over their shoulders concerned about a relegation battle. Three points above the play-off spot, five ahead of bottom-of-the-table St Johnstone. Manager Jim Goodwin’s lack of tactical flexibility was a discussion point amongst supporters.
A new year, however, has brought a new look St Mirren. The 3-5-2 or 3-4-2-1 has been ditched for a back four. Their latest win, a 1-0 victory over Aberdeen at The SMiSA Stadium courtesy of Connor Ronan’s brilliant second-half strike, has lifted them 11 clear of the bottom spot. But more optimistically, just three points behind sixth-place Dons.
On Tuesday night’s evidence, that top six spot they missed out on last season by the skin of their teeth is a realistic target.
Dundee United are on their own poor run of league form, while Aberdeen are still very much a work in progress. The smattering of boos from the travelling contingent during the second half was a reflection on the error-strewn and frustrating nature of the performance from Stephen Glass’ men.
Their desire to play out from the back and build through midfield is admirable but on this occasion it wasn’t slick or quick enough, especially with the energy and intensity of St Mirren.
That was best exemplified by the returning Jamie McGrath. The midfielder had been left out by Goodwin for the previous two matches due to transfer uncertainty. Back in against the team who withdrew their pre-contract offer, he tracked Calvin Ramsay diligently from a wide left position.
Off the back of consecutive wins since returning from the winter break, the Buddies started brighter. Greg Kiltie created an opening early on before Marcus Fraser went close from a corner.
Even with the change in system and added attacking impetus with five forward thinking players, St Mirren retain a good defensive shape. Organised and hard-working they will make it difficult for all who come up against them.
Aberdeen, across the pitch they were ponderous, lacking an injection of speed in attack and someone willing to run beyond Christian Ramirez. They were one-paced and too predictable. Glass has added Dutchman Vicente Besuijen, who will provide some of those qualities and is still in the market for further additions.
Moment of brilliance
The Dons went close through a long-range Lewis Ferguson effort and a Ramsay cross-shot before the interval, but aside from a lively start to the second half, with Scott Brown having two efforts, they never looked like troubling Jak Alnwick.
It was a moment of brilliance from Ronan to grab a deserved three points for a team who showed more purpose, more intent and more intensity.
A Kiltie cut back missed everyone before the Irishman picked up the loose ball on the left-hand side of the box. He turned and curled a lovely effort past Dons goalkeeper Joe Lewis. It was his third goals against Aberdeen this season.
From there, their willingness, work-rate and desire to still attack got them over the line and right back in the hunt for a top six spot.
Aberdeen should be looking over their shoulders after an abject performance, one Dons fans made their feelings clear about at the final whistle.