Lack of experienced midfielder costs Saints

It’s an old football adage that games are won and lost in midfield.

While the crucial moments generally happen inside the box, so much of the mental, physical and technical battle happens in the middle of the park.

Against Livingston in their Betfred Cup semi-final, St Mirren ’s youthful midfield was outfoxed by the West Lothian side’s more experienced grafters, with Marvin Bartley and Jason Holt going on to dominate proceedings.

Despite this, once again on Sunday Goodwin stuck by his talented young players who ultimately were outshone by their Perthshire opponents.

Craig Bryson, 34, and David Wotherspoon, 31, used every year of their combined experience to do both the dirty work and gain control of the tie. They were first to every loose ball and they put their foot in when they needed to.

In contrast, St Mirren’s Jake Doyle-Hayes, 22, and 20-year-old Ethan Erhahon were left chasing shadows at the national stadium.

Erhahon has had a remarkable season, and I’m in no way laying the blame for Sunday’s loss at his door.

Doyle-Hayes, while clearly a very talented young player, has unfortunately tailed off massively since the end of 2020 when he was man of the match on an almost weekly basis.

Once again the Buddies were crying out for an experienced midfielder to put their foot on the ball and gain some control in the tie.

Ryan Flynn, who filled that role superbly in the Paisley side’s stunning 5-1 win over Dundee United at Tannadice, was left kicking his heels on the bench.

Last year’s player of the year Sam Foley, also adept and experienced in that role, was allowed to leave earlier this season and join Motherwell.

St Mirren were crying out for a calm, confident head in the middle of the park to gain a stronger foothold in the tie but one never arrived.

If Goodwin isn’t going to put his trust in Flynn, he needs to find another experienced midfielder to help steer his young stars in the games that matter most.

Finishing touch continues to desert St Mirren

If you’d offered St Mirren boss Jim Goodwin three glorious close-range chances before their semi-final clash with St Johnstone had kicked off, he’d have likely bitten your hand off.

Cup clashes at Hampden Park are so often nervy, tight affairs that are settled by either a moment of magic or a moment of madness.

On Sunday, as well as having a stonewall penalty turned down, the Buddies managed to create three wonderful opportunities to score, two of which would have seen the Paisley side crucially take the lead.

Lee Erwin’s point-blank miss on the half hour mark was the least embarrasing of the trio, with Zander Clark doing incredibly well to rush out and close down the space to block.

Collin Quaner’s miss in the second half was much less easily forgiven.

Ilkay Durmus, who was sensational throughout Sunday’s tie and who did not deserve to end up on the losing side, put in the kind of cross strikers dream
of.

Yes he had to stretch for it, but he absolutely should have rustled the net to put St Mirren in the lead.

Any football fan worth their salt knows just how important the first goal is in any cup tie, and as soon as he fluffed his lines you feared the worst for the Paisley Saints.

As it was, and not for the first time this season, St Johnstone went on to punish the Buddies’ poor finishing by rattling in two goals in the space of three minutes.

Quaner had the chance to atone with a free header from just outside the six yard box, but again the German couldn’t convert.

Once again, in what has been a common theme this season, the St Mirren strikers simply didn’t deliver when called upon.

Better, but still not quite good enough

Speaking to Jim Goodwin after Sunday’s disappointing defeat was like chalk and cheese compared to following the club’s gutting loss to Livi in the semi-finals of the Betfred Cup.

In that particular game, the Buddies hardly showed up.

They were timid, set up too defensively and lacked the urgency and belief required to make the finals of major trophies.

Sunday’s loss to St Johnstone was a marked improvement on that dismal day, and Goodwin felt that.

While his side ultimately ended up losing out, they created a host of gilt-edged chances against one of the best defences in the league.

They were also robbed of the chance to open the scoring in the first half from the penalty spot, with Jamie McGrath almost odds on to score if Willie Collum had whistled as he should have.

That’s what made Sunday’s loss all the more tough to take.

The Buddies did so much right in the game, only to be undone by their Achilles heel.

In front of goal, they’ve simply not been clinical enough.

Admittedly some of the big decisions Goodwin made backfired.

It’s easy to say in retrospect, but removing Richard Tait at wing-back for winger Dylan Connolly was always going to leave the Buddies more exposed on that left flank. That’s exactly where Glenn Middleton found space to cross for St Johnstone’s opener.

The decision to leave last season’s top scorer Jon Obika on the bench in place of Collin Quaner came back to haunt spectacularly, although no-one could have predicted the striker would be quite so profligate in front of goal.

At the end of the day, Goodwin’s performance as a manager improved as did his players overall.

While they’re still not quite at the level required to make the top six in the league or the finals of major competitions, once again it’s steady progress for the Saints.

I don’t think you can ask for much more than that in this most remarkable of seasons.