Prepared to go without heating and eating, Mark McGhee said he was ready to go streaking if it meant his beleaguered team would get a victory against St Johnstone on Saturday. Desperate men say desperate things. McGhee still has his kit on. Dundee are without a win in 10.
With his comments last week, the Dundee boss took his place in Scottish football’s odditorium – a vast traveling circus. Having relegated Kilmarnock a year ago, Dundee’s odds on being the ones that make way for them are shortening all the while.
Scottish football is a very, very strange place, but is it so strange that a sudden revival and survival at Dens Park is on the cards? Five points adrift at the bottom with four to play, three of them away from home. Like Charlie Adam on Saturday, it looks like they’re going down too easily.
The team, or teams, that get relegated from the Scottish Premiership this season can have no complaints. Save for some very notable exceptions, it’s been a grim standard. Motherwell are top six and only one point off fourth despite having won just a single league game this year. Dundee United have won once in their past eight league games and yet they remain fourth.
St Johnstone are nine points worse off than this time last season. Hibs are 15 points worse off. Aberdeen, now looking over their shoulder, are 16 points worse off. Rangers are 13 points behind where they were a year ago. That was, of course, an unbeaten league season. Their regression in the Premiership this time has the giant caveat of a place in the Europa League semi-finals and the Scottish Cup final. Rangers could still turn this into an exceptional season. None of those other clubs have any kind of solace.
‘A grisly fascination about the other end of the table’
As Celtic move inexorably towards the title there is an uncertainty and a grisly fascination about the other end of the table. St Johnstone, quite frankly, are scaring the life out of St Mirren and Aberdeen, who are both still five points ahead of them.
Callum Davidson’s side have found something in recent weeks. In their past five games they’ve won two and have drawn two. They’re like a long distance runner who has captured her or his di lei second wind di lei and is threatening to overtake some of those panters and wheezers up ahead.
St Johnstone host St Mirren on Saturday. Of the past seven meetings at McDiarmid Park, St Johnstone have won five of them. The other two were draws. Davidson’s team have a momentum that his counterpart of him, Stephen Robinson, could only dream about.
St Mirren are in freefall. Jim Goodwin left behind an imbalanced squad short on creativity, but the bottom line is they were sixth in the table when he left for Aberdeen. They were 13 points ahead of St Johnstone at that stage. They were only one point off fourth place and had a game in hand on the two sides immediately above them, Motherwell and Dundee United.
They’d fallen to seventh by the time Robinson took charge of his first game. Now they’re 10th. Robinson has been in charge for eight league games. He’s won only one of them. They have a five-point advantage on St Johnstone but they look a highly vulnerable outfit.
Goodwin was getting 1.28 points per game before he exited. Robinson’s number is 0.375. Some St Mirren fans will tell you this collapse might well have happened even had Goodwin stayed, that the composition of the squad was going to catch up with them sooner or later no matter who was running the show.
Nobody can know for sure, but it has to be a reach to say that Goodwin’s St Mirren wouldn’t have been able to grind out enough points to make them safe by now. The indisputable reality facing St Mirren fans, though, is that of a manager who threw a stick of dynamite into the dressing room when publicly calling out his players and, now, a team that is toiling horribly.
A win on Saturday sets them free and as good as guarantees Premiership football next season. St Johnstone will be favorites to turn them over, though. A bit of feelgood and home advantage. If they win, the gap between them will be down to two points with three games to play. The stress at St Mirren would be off the scale.
Dismal Dons starting to sweat
If Robinson is sweating then so, too, is his predecessor, Goodwin. No team in the Premiership has taken fewer league points in 2022 than Aberdeen which, given their budget, is a thundering embarrassment. With one win and only nine points in their 14 league games this year, the Dons have been dismal.
There’s been no bounce since Goodwin fetched up at Pittodrie. If you want to compare Goodwin’s eight league games in charge with the last eight from Stephen Glass’ unhappy spell, then Glass comes out on top with eight points to Goodwin’s six. There’s a two-bald-men-fighting-over-a-comb vibe about that comparison, of course. Very little of it has been any good at all.
The new manager, you fancy, just wants to get to the end of the season with the club’s Premiership status intact before embarking on a rebuild. Aberdeen have some strong individuals but little resilience. Their soft underbelly has been painfully obvious since the final months of the Derek McInnes era and throughout Glass’ time di lui.
Chairman Dave Cormack has invested considerable money in the club but too much of what’s happened in the football department has been scattergun. His gamble on Glass was a move that backfired. In such a moderate league it’s mortifying that a club with Aberdeen’s resources are languishing where they are.
They can take a big step away from any scrap to avoid 11th if they beat Dundee at Pittodrie on Saturday. It’s been 18 years since they lost to them at home and they’ve won the past seven against them in their own place. That, and Dundee’s seeming inability to save themselves no matter what gimmick McGhee tries, will give Dons fans belief that any fear of getting drawn further into trouble will end at the weekend. You wouldn’t be betting the house on it, though.
There’s only one side in the bottom four who have some impetus and that’s St Johnstone. When Aberdeen and St Mirren look in their rear view mirror they’ll see them there. These final weeks aren’t so much about ability than character. Who’s got the stomach for it? It ain’t pretty, but it’s dramatic.