Thursday 3rd August 2017

AS part of Sons 24, we are once again taking an in-depth look at the nine teams who stand between Dumbarton and the points they need to achieve their goal this season.

Our third preview is one which, around the turn of the year, seemed highly unlikely to be part of #Sons24. St Mirren looked down and out, struggling and adrift at the wrong end of the Championship table, before a remarkable recovery which saw them survive. Having endured two seasons of great escapes since relegation in 2015, the Buddies are hoping for greater things this time around.

Please note that the views in this article are not necessarily those of Dumbarton FC, its board or any staff.

Dumbarton v St Mirren: Saturday, October 14; Saturday, January 13.

St Mirren v Dumbarton: Saturday, December 2; Saturday, March 24.

Last season’s meetings with Dumbarton:

Saturday, September 17 2016 – Dumbarton 1 St Mirren 1
Saturday, November 5 2016 – St Mirren 0 Dumbarton 1
Saturday, February 4 2017 – Dumbarton 2 St Mirren 2
Saturday, April 8 2017 – St Mirren 1 Dumbarton 1

Season 2017/18 so far: Betfred League Cup sectional matches –

Saturday, July 15 – Stranraer 1 St Mirren 5
Tuesday, July 18 – St Mirren 0 Livingston 1
Saturday, July 22 – Partick Thistle 5 St Mirren 0
Saturday, July 29 – St Mirren 5 Airdrieonians 0

Signings: Gregor Buchanan (Dumbarton); Harry Davis (Crewe Alexandra); Dale Hilson (Queen of the South); Jordan Kirkpatrick (Alloa Athletic); Ian McShane (Ross County); Gavin Reilly (Hearts); Craig Samson (Motherwell); Ross C Stewart and Ross M Stewart (Albion Rovers);

First four league games: Falkirk (H); Morton (A); Livingston (A); Dundee United (H).

The run-in (last four league games): Brechin City (A); Livingston (H); Morton (H); Falkirk (A).

Analysis: “This season really should not follow similar lines to the last one for St Mirren, whose push for promotion should be a lot more solid. Lessons will have been learned about the challenge of the Championship and the players who are still on the books from last season have a year’s experience of that level under their belt. A title push still looks some way off, but things look a lot more promising than they did 12 months ago.”

That was what we wrote about St Mirren as part of last year’s #Sons24 season preview – and for more than the first half of the season, it looked well off the mark. If anything, the Buddies were struggling even more than they did in the 2015/16 campaign, despite a squad which, on paper, looked decent. They ended February at the two thirds mark of the season five points adrift at the bottom – and that was after a 2-0 win away to Ayr United, who finished the season there. Jack Ross’ installation as manager was having some effect, but as the games went on, it looked like it wasn’t going to be enough. St Mirren looked for all the world like they would spend this season playing in Scotland’s third tier for the first time since the old SFL went to three divisions in 1975.

But whatever happened down Greenhill Road during the season’s final third, it worked. Of the 36 points which remained to be taken, St Mirren took 22, and finished in seventh place. They are undefeated at home in the league since Saturday, January 28, have reached a cup final and are more or less unrecognisable from the team who had a place in this season’s League One with their name on it earlier in the campaign. After nearly two years, this was the St Mirren that the Championship had waited to see.

So where do they go from there? Could a team that has finished in the Championship’s bottom half in both its seasons since relegation from the top flight seriously push for promotion? Why not? The loss of Stevie Mallan to Barnsley is unquestionably a blow, but not one that anybody could claim is unexpected given the youngster’s emergence at Paisley in the last few years. However, the retention of key players has boosted them – most notably Stephen McGinn, whose return from down south really sparked things in the final part of last season.

Much of the Buddies’ transfer activity so far has been players who have done it at part-time level and who are making the step up to full-time. That sort of move doesn’t work out for everybody, but ultimately they don’t know until they’ve tried. And given that Ross has now signed Jordan Kirkpatrick for three clubs (including Dumbarton as assistant to Ian Murray), he knows what he’s getting from the forward, who scored 17 goals for Alloa as part of an ultimately unsuccessful promotion push. Of course, Gregor Buchanan’s ability is also well known at Dumbarton.

One part of the #Sons24 analysis of last season was correct – points were harder for Dumbarton to take from St Mirren than they were in season 2015/16. It seems strange, given that Sons were unbeaten against the Paisley men, but all six points (a win and three draws) were hard-earned, especially in the sides’ final meeting in April. In fact, had Jamie Langfield not kicked the ball straight to Joe Thomson on November 5, we could well have ended up with a full house of draws between the teams. They were very well matched.

This season, Sons will once again have to graft for any results against a St Mirren side who just might be about to flex some muscle as serious candidates for promotion. If the now ex part-time players can make the transition to full-time, and the team stays in the league form it ended last season in, this lot are going to take some stopping by any team.

Verdict: It is a big jump to go from a half-and-half season to pushing for promotion within a year but can you really afford to ignore them as contenders? This time they really should get it right and push for the top four at least.

Join the debate @dumbartonfc and #sons24

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