We can’t blame Stevie G for that last night and in truth, the way he’s come out after the game, not thrown anyone under the bus and taken the wrap for that performance shows the measure of the man and how he’s learned from the last two seasons.
Sure you could question signficantly Bassey coming in to replace Barisic, Itten starting in place of Defoe (although I think those were both with the physicality of St Mirren in mind) and ask why Arfield was taken off instead of Aribo, but I don’t think anyone can even dare to criticise the manager for tonight’s blip considering the season that he and the players have given us up until now.
That said, there is one position that could do with being reviewed, not just based on tonight but it’s something I’ve said for a number of weeks now. Big Fil simply HAS to come back in to the backline. Yes, he had his own personal horror show against Benfica, responsible for two or arguably all three of their goals but up until that he literally hadn’t put a foot wrong. With him and Goldson in defence, we lost two against Hibs and one against Galatasaray (in what was still an outstanding defensive showing). The only other goal we’d lost prior to Benfica was the O.G against Motherwell and by that point Helander had been taken off and replaced by Balogun.
We’ve now conceded eight goals in Balogun’s last eight games and those include the 8-0 and 4-0 hammerings we dished out which could have easily been 8-2 and 4-2 had Balogun’s mistakes been punished the way Helander’s were in Portugal. For clarity, this isn’t a criticism of Balogun per se, he’s done a solid enough job and is definitely a good option to have. I know that the last time it was suggested, there was a lot of disagreement on this and many fans were adamant that Balogun was their first choice.
Of course, Helander has had his issues with covid lately and so may still be getting back to grips with training and full fitness. It has to be said that his positional awareness is normally (Benfica game aside) exceptional and we are a far better side defensively with him in it. I’m not saying to drop Balogun completely (the way Helander has been in recent weeks) but especially after his head knock, it’s absolutely time to recall Fil to the starting lineup and let those guys both work together along with Goldson to help us rebuild that defensive fortress and replace what has recently been something of a gift shop.
Final word though – to reiterate, regardless of what he chooses to do, who plays, who doesn’t at this stage we should all, every single one of us be fully behind Stevie G. The fact of the matter is that if four months ago you were told that come December 16th we’d be 13 (minimum 7) points clear at the top of the league and topping the Europa League group with the only blip being a dodgy defeat away to St Mirren in the “diddy cup” not one of us could say we wouldn’t have been absolutely thrilled to bits. Perspective, we go again on Saturday with a chance to go SIXTEEN points clear.