2020/21 Season Preview - St Mirren: Great Signings, But Is The Team Improved Overall?
The last Scottish Premiership game played was arguably the most important of the season, as St Mirren faced off against Hearts. A win for Hearts by a few goals would see the Jambos off the bottom of the table and put St Mirren in their place but this wasn't to be, as a Jon Obika goal cemented Hearts place at the bottom, four points behind now 11th placed Hamilton. This result would seem even bigger as the decision to call the league short saw the Jambos relegated, a situation the Buddies may have been in had they lost said game.
The Buddies would remain in the top flight for a third successive season and haven't wasted time in improving their squad for the upcoming season. The Saints have done some acute business, signing players many would not have expected them to do so. The arrival of Richard Tait from Motherwell was surprising, with the former 'Well full-back still more than capable making it quite the coup for the Buddies. St Mirren were also able to attract former Rangers keeper Jak Alnwick, a player starved of time due to the intense competition at the Glasgow side. The arrival of Joe Shaughnessy seems like a solid piece of business, with the centre-half impressing during his time at St Johnstone over a four-year spell. A single year in England has saw the defender return to the Scottish Premiership as Buddies fans will be hoping he replicates similar standards from his last stint in Scotland. Another decent addition to the backline comes in the form of Marcus Fraser, last season's captain of rivals Ross County in what seems like a surprising switch but a good acquisition nonetheless.
Although these signings are all good in their own right, it can be argued that the squad as a whole hasn't improved an awful lot. The backline needed repairing as the likes of Lee Hodson, Calum Waters and Akin Famewo have all returned to their parent clubs after all being ever-present in the Buddies backline. The new signings of two full-backs and a centre half make complete sense and are an improvement to the St Mirren squad and should fit in very well in Jim Goodwin's side. In saying that, a lot is to be seen from Alnwick who is taking over from the phenomenal Václav Hladký in goals. Alnwick is of decent quality but will be severely rusty and due to this and Hladky's previous standards, Saints may notice a considerable drop-off. Hladky was a phenomenal keeper for the Buddies, making the most saves in the league and having the 4th most clean sheets, impressive for a keeper playing for the 9th placed side. It'll take some season for Alnwick to replicate similar standards, with the defensive recruits undoubtedly going to be able to help along the way. A side like St Mirren are always going to face a large number of shots each game and Alnwick will need to be up to scratch fast in order to make Saints fans forget about their former Czech keeper.
The main issue that comes from these signings - although forced - is that the defence was never really the issue. St Mirren only conceded 41 goals last season, which is a total lower than Hearts, Hamilton, Ross County, Hibs and St Johnstone's. The Paisley side were also level with Kilmarnock and only two worse off than Livingston's and three worse off than Motherwell's. Jim Goodwin has shown his capabilities in getting the best out of his defence, showcasing it isn't the main problem for the Buddies.
What will be worrying for St Mirren is the lack of improvement in midfield and upfront. Despite the club's decent defence, St Mirren were the lowest goalscorers in the 2019/20 season with a measily 24 in 30 games. This is up 4 goals from the previous season but this same time period has saw the likes of Hamilton and Livingston improve on their goalscoring exploits, both scoring 10 more goals than at the same point the previous season. Jon Obika is relied on for the bulk of St Mirren's goals, the sides top scorer with 8 league goals. The closest to Obika was was Ilaky Durmus with 4 and Tony Andreu and Danny Mullen among 4 players with 2 goals each. Andreu and Mullen have both left the club and the signings don't show any replacement for Andreu, an attacking midfielder, and Mullen, a forward. Andreu also registered 6 assists last season with the Frenchman involved in 8 goals last season, a third of the goals St Mirren scored. The club don't score many goals as it is and haven't replaced those who have contributed which could be quite worrying for the upcoming season. As others around them improve in this area, the Buddies could see themselves struggling despite a solid defence and simply die to a lack of firepower.
The Buddies will be hoping to strike a balance but looking at their squad, the defence looks considerably stronger than the attack. There's a lot banking on these new signings hitting the ground running and replicating the defensive standards from last season. With Goodwin in charge, Buddies fans can be confident in another solid defence but issues lay elsewhere within the team and could see them fighting relegation yet again. St Mirren Chief Executive Tony Fitzpatrick has talked about a potential top 6 finish but for that to happen, the club will need to dip further into the market to find some more goals for the Paisley side.