St Johnstone head to Kilmarnock looking to rack up their first win of the season.
An opening day point at Dundee United was followed – after the postponement of last weekend’s clash with Aberdeen – by a midweek defeat to Rangers.
The Perth side found themselves at the bottom end of the Premiership table as a result.
But there were signs at Tannadice and Ibrox that Callum Davidson’s vision for Saints is starting to come to fruition.
Kilmarnock are, like Saints, desperate for their first win of the campaign after following up their day one defeat to Hibs with draws against Celtic and Ross County.
Killie have looked a solid outfit.
But St Johnstone’s preparations will have targeted a number of areas in which they will feel they can do damage.
Killie took the field in Dingwall in an adaptable 4-5-1 formation, which switched easily to a 4-3-3 when the opportunity presented itself.
In Danny Rogers, the Ayrshire side have a goalkeeper determined to prove he is worthy of a regular Premiership start after being freed by Aberdeen in the summer. The 26-year-old has spent multiple seasons out on loan, mostly in the Championship, but found chances at Pittodrie hard to come by.
Directly in front of him, a centre-half partnership of Stuart Findlay and Kirk Broadfoot offers a solid blend of youthful talent and hard-bitten experience.
Take another step up the park into the centre of midfield and Killie have yet more experience – not to mention toughness – in Irish duo Gary Dicker and Alan Power. With Power and left-sided midfielder Aaron Tshibola able to tuck in when required, Killie at their best have a very solid looking spine, with plenty of width offered by forward-minded full-backs Ross Millen and Calum Waters.
At the top end of the park, Nicke Kabamba harries, holds-up possession, links play and gets into the box, ably supported by the evergreen Chris Burke and the likes of Rory McKenzie, Greg Kiltie and summer signing Mitch Pinnock, all of whom are willing to drop back and provide additional cover when out of possession.
Alex Dyer’s side look effective in the forward areas, with main striker Kabamba continuing to prove himself a handful on a weekly basis.
The Englishman possesses a deadly combination of height, strength, pace and trickery and the likes of Saints defender Liam Gordon, who operates in the centre of the Perth side’s trio of centre halves, will need to keep the 27-year-old on a tight leash.
Allied with Kabamba’s bustling presence, Killie’s full-backs, with their willingness to drive forward and fire crosses into the box, present another danger to St Johnstone, along with the long- established threat of Burke, who has bagged three goals in the first three games of the season.
When Killie are set in their shape, they can be tough to play through, much like St Johnstone themselves and, with Kabamba as an out ball, they are capable of breaking quickly, with support coming from midfield and out wide.
On opening day, Killie struggled against the speed and directness of Hibs’ Martin Boyle, which may give Saints boss Callum Davidson food for thought.
With Michael O’Halloran available for selection after serving his suspension and loan star Isaac Olaofe showing up well from the bench against Rangers, the Perth side have pacey options in attack.
Using the ball well after turning over possession will also be essential for Saints – an area in which the likes of Jason Kerr and Ali McCann’s expertise on the ball could help them catch Killie out of position.
Killie ‘keeper Danny Rogers has also looked shaky on a couple of occasions in his first three outings.
Given his lack of Premiership game time, that’s perhaps understandable, but the way he charged from his area against Hibs, only to lose the race for possession with Boyle, who then scored, suggests the former Aberdeen man may be prone to the odd rush of blood to the head.
Rogers also looked suspect last weekend when allowing Celtic’s Ryan Christie to crash a low free-kick past him from around 40 yards – and Saints may seek to target him from set-pieces.
It’s a subject Saints boss Callum Davidson was unwilling to be drawn on pre-match, but Kilmarnock’s playing surface splits opinion.
Some believe the Killie players’ familiarity with its peculiarities (they train and play on the pitch) give them an edge at Rugby Park.
Others argue that’s no different to the home advantage theoretically enjoyed by every other team in the country.
Last season they claimed 23 points at home – just under 70% of their total of 33 – suggesting they are a far stronger proposition when on familiar surroundings.
Meanwhile, Saints have not found Rugby Park a particularly happy hunting ground in the last few seasons, with three defeats, one draw and one victory (in August 2017) from their last five visits.
Nicke Kabamba will be front and centre for Killie – and at the forefront of the Saints defenders’ minds.
But the most potent danger lurks just behind the big striker in the form of Chris Burke.
At 36 years old, the former Rangers, Cardiff City and Birmingham City man shows no signs of becoming less effective.
On the contrary, he has started this season in deadly form.
Three goals in three games have him joint top of the Premiership scoring charts, alongside Hibs’ Kevin Nisbet and Celtic’s Odsonne Edouard – and all three were different types of strikes.
On opening day at Easter Road, Burke rifled home a stunning long-range free kick, against Celtic last weekend he notched from the penalty spot and, in midweek, he cut in from wide on the right before firing high past County keeper Ross Laidlaw.
If Callum Booth keeps his place on Saints’ left flank, he will have to remain conscious of Burke’s whereabouts at all times.
In defence, Jamie McCart, Liam Gordon and Jason Kerr also won’t be able to switch off if they aim to shut down Killie’s main man.