22 points separate Championship leaders St Mirren and a Dunfermline side that still have hopes of achieving a top 4 place. Having not defeated a full time club away from home all season in any competition, a win over the division's top side might seem unlikely. Talk of being "the better team" now has to be replaced with achieving positive results or the season will soon dwindle away into mid table obscurity.
Here is the current Championship table:
THE OPPOSITION: ST MIRREN
Last 6 League results:
This time last season, St Mirren were in a relegation battle, seemingly doomed at Christmas but after a radical squad overhaul in January, they eventually pulled away from bottom position and then also avoided the ninth place relegation play-off place. They carried their improved form into this season and have been the most consistent team in what is an average season for Championship football. St Mirren are well-organised and know how to win games: they are rarely spectacular but are very effective.
Saints' most recent game was a 1-0 home win over Brechin City. Sections of the home support showed frustration at their side's inability to record a more decisive victory, with the only goal coming from a Kyle Maggenis free kick that hit the bar and rebounded off the head of Brechin keeper Patrick O'Neil and into the net. Saints also missed a penalty and were fortunate not to concede an equaliser when Liam Watt's 22 yard shot hit the post. The 3 points stayed in Paisley and manager Jack Ross, a realist who had a previous run-in with home fans early in his tenure when the team were at the foot of the table last season, remarked that "the result is of ultimate importance. I would pay tribute to the vast majority of our supporters but there are others who need to understand that it is not easy to win games."
Last 6 League results:
Dunfermline go into tomorrow's game as 3/1 outsiders (source: Oddschecker) and without a win against a team outside the bottom 3 since October. The January transfer window saw 5 players join the club and although the new midfield 3 of James Craigen, James Vincent and Tom Beadling have freshened up the team, ultimately results have not improved and it's now 61 days and counting since the last Pars victory.
Some encouragement can be taken from the recent results of games against St Mirren. Since the start of last season, the teams have met 7 times. Dunfermline have won 3 of those games, and drawn 2. St Mirren's 2 wins have been in the most recent 2 meetings. The last time out at Paisley, there was a crucial game-changing decision when a penalty award to Dunfermline was overturned by referee Stephen Finnie, correctly as video footage later showed but nevertheless a huge moment in the game at the time. Saints won the game 1-0.
A repeat of the resilient performance from November 2016, when Dunfermline won 1-0 in Paisley, could be enough to record a long overdue win.
I would retain the midfield 3 but have Tom Beadling play in a defensive midfield position that would allow Joe Cardle to be brought back into the starting 11. Beadling has previously been the more defensive-minded of the 3 central midfielders. Cardle should provide a creative spark that has been missing; I would also ditch the role that Nicky Clark has played in recent games (behind the front 2 strikers) and move Clark back up front alongside Declan McManus.
Preferred starting 11, based on comments above:
Full match report will be posted tomorrow evening.