in Alan Stubbs
Alan Stubbs’ appointment as St Mirren manager has been met with a renewed sense of…
Unlike most clubs that win promotion to the Scottish Premiership, St Mirren have been front and centre of the media’s gaze over the course of the summer months and while we still haven’t seen the Paisley side play a single competitive game in the Premiership, we already know quite a lot about this newcomer to the top division.
After taking the Championship by storm last season, St Mirren have had to deal with the unwanted consequences of success – mainly, bigger or richer clubs wanting not only their key players but also the manager that built such a successful, attacking team.
Out went Jack Ross and a number of key players and in his stead the newly-promoted side have turned to Alan Stubbs. And, whether fans like it or not, the former Hibernian manager has set about making his own mark on a team that looked perfectly set for life in the Premiership just a few months ago.
For the most part, it didn’t at all. St Mirren finished the Scottish Championship as comfortable winners with a 12-point gap between themselves and Livingston in second place. Yet that’s largely where the problems began to arise.
By January, clubs were beginning to take notice of what Ross was achieving at St Mirren Park and before they knew it Celtic were leading the charge to sign Lewis Morgan. The young star of Ross’ side would go on to score 18 goals and create 13 assists before he finished up the league campaign and made the short move to Glasgow to join the Scottish champions.
Ross would then follow suit when Sunderland came calling and as we’ll note in a moment a number of other key players have also left the club this summer for one reason or another. In a sense, St Mirren were almost too good last season and the individuals that helped create that superb achievement have mostly left for greener pastures.
As previously mentioned, St Mirren have had to not only deal with losing their manager and best player but have also lost numerous key players within their squad. After a contract mishap, top goalscorer in the 2017/18 season, Gavin Reilly, decided to move on to Bristol Rovers, while left-back Stelios Dimitriou opted to remain in the Championship by moving to Ross County on a free deal. Central defender Harry Davis also left for Grimsby Town.
This, naturally, has left Stubbs with quite the rebuilding exercise on his hands. Not only have the club lost their top goalscorer, but they’ve lost their dynamic attacking midfielder in Morgan as well as a first-choice left back and a handy central defender. Sure, Scottish clubs are used to a high turnover of players each summer, but allowing so many key players to leave at once was hardly the most helpful way of acclimatising to a new and tougher division.
With one month still to go of the transfer window there are plenty of signings still to be made, but for the most part, St Mirren’s dealings in the summer window have been slightly underwhelming.
Stubbs has seemingly focused on bringing in midfielders, with Kim Kellermann and Jeff King arriving from England on free transfers and going straight into the starting lineups for the club’s League Cup matches. The former Hibs boss has also brought in central defender Josh Heaton from Darlington to sure up the middle of the back line, as well as Cole Kpekawa to replace the departed Dimitriou at left back, and Partick Thistle’s Paul McGinn who arrives as a right back. Youngsters Matty Willock in midfield and Hayden Coulson as another left-back have also arrived on loan.
However, St Mirren still haven’t really managed to bring in much firepower to make up for what has been lost this summer, with the completely untested Cody Cook from Truro City proving to be the only, real forward signed. If the Paisley side can cap off the transfer window with a few forwards then Stubbs may be able to chalk up his pre-season preparations as a success but as things stand there are still notable holes in this squad.
As one of the Premiership teams not taking part in European qualifiers, St Mirren have been hard at work in the preliminary League Cup group stages and it is there that we’ve seen Stubb’s new-look side succeed and falter in almost equal fashion.
The Buddies couldn’t have hoped for a better start to the season after beating Steve Clarke’s Kilmarnock 3-2 on penalties, but then we saw the Paisley side scrape past lower-league opposition in Spartans and Queen’s Park. A 6-0 win over Dumbarton probably quelled a lot of mumbling in the stands, but it remains to be seen just how this relatively untested team settle into life in the Premiership.
Despite no real additional firepower, Stubbs has managed to get two goals out of the young Cammy Smith in just four games, while Danny Mullen and Ross Stewart have also managed to grab goals before the league campaign kicks off. Stephen McGinn has already doubled his tally of one goal from last season in the group stages and new signings Coulson and Kellermann have also managed to get on the scoresheet too. So, although Morgan and Reilly haven’t yet been replaced, there are still goals in this team that Stubbs may be able to take advantage of in the league campaign.
What may also help St Mirren’s cause this season is the fact that many of the teams around them in the bottom half of the Premiership table look in notable disarray at the moment. Hamilton look utterly abject after picking up just six points from their group, while Dundee looked anything but assured in their own group. And even the better-prepared clubs like Motherwell and Kilmarnock haven’t exactly hit the ground running either.
Despite a shaky summer, St Mirren still have a decent squad and in Stubbs they certainly have a manager who knows the Scottish top division and has a resolute record within the SPFL. Although avoiding relegation is, ultimately, the most important task one would assume the Buddies should be aiming to put a number of points – and other clubs – between themselves and a return to the Championship in May.