Nobody said that life would be easy back in the Scottish Premiership for St. Mirren after The Buddies romped to the Scottish Championship title last season. The top-flight always provides a different set of challenges and a much stronger competition, particularly for the traditionally more modest clubs.
Frequent changes in management don’t tend to help much either. Jack Ross did an excellent job of guiding St. Mirren back to the Premiership, recognised for his efforts by also being named PFA Scotland Manager of the Year. However, the talented young coach was then lured away by Sunderland, tempted to take on a bigger project and the next step in his managerial career.
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There was plenty of optimism when Alan Stubbs was announced as St. Mirren boss in June, while the team also got the Premiership campaign off to a positive start with a 2-1 victory against Dundee. However, three straight defeats against Rangers, Livingston and Hearts were also accompanied by the Scottish League Cup exit against Aberdeen. St. Mirren moved swiftly and opted to sack Stubbs, hoping a change at the helm would improve their fortunes.
Not without some irony, St Mirren chief executive Tony Fitzpatrick turned to a candidate he’d interviewed in June, one that had been overlooked in favour of Stubbs. The club officially announced the appointment of Oran Kearney as manager on 7th September, with the former PE teacher and Coleraine coach delighted to finally get the job.
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The tenure of Kearney got off to a flying start with a hard-fought 0-0 draw against title favourites Celtic, but subsequent results have shown the difficulty the Northern Irish coach faces in turning things around. St. Mirren lost the next seven games on the trot, cementing their place as one of the Scottish football betting favourites for relegation at 13/8 odds, although the Buddies boss is bringing in additional help to aid their cause.
Boasting an excellent track record in Scottish football, 61-year-old Jimmy Nicholl is joining the St. Mirren backroom staff, where he will help the younger manager by imparting his wealth of knowledge and experience. Nicholl was Graeme Murty’s assistant at Rangers last season, taking over as caretaker manager towards the end of the campaign. He is also currently assistant to Northern Ireland national team manager, Michael O’Neill.
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Amongst those already welcoming the move is 27-year-old defender Lee Hodson, who has shared time with Nicholl at Rangers and with the Northern Ireland squad. “I know Jimmy very well and he’s a good character to have around the place, especially if morale is a little bit down,” he told The Scottish Herald during a recent interview, certain the vastly experienced coach will help bring a more positive atmosphere to the squad.
As for the future of Kearney at the helm, irrespective of results, it appears that St. Mirren are keen to keep faith in their managerial choice, as they battle the odds to avoid relegation. Conscious that he took control of a side he didn’t have a hand in building, the club may well afford Kearney the opportunity to bring in new signings during the January transfer window, giving him the chance to mould the side a little more to his liking.