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ERIC NICOLSON: Glenn Middleton saves his best for St Mirren – so could he be St Johnstone’s hero in-waiting again?

Glenn Middleton has been a thorn in the side of St Mirren.
Glenn Middleton has been a thorn in the side of St Mirren.

Callum Davidson had very big expectations for Glenn Middleton this season.

The St Johnstone manager made it clear in the summer he would be keeping a space free in his squad for the Rangers forward as long as possible in the hope that a second loan deal could be agreed.

And he talked up the prospects of Middleton elevating the double-winning Saints, while enhancing his chances of becoming that rarest of beasts – a footballer playing at McDiarmid Park who gets selected for Scotland.

Those very big expectations have not been met.

As the club finds itself still in the thick of a relegation battle with April turning to May, the under-21 international doesn’t have a league goal to his name and of his 24 league appearances, 10 have been off the bench.

Could this weekend, and the visit of St Mirren, be the turning point?

In terms of Middleton’s skillset – with Michael O’Halloran out of the picture – he feels like the player who would naturally best complement Callum Hendry.

It is a partnership that has been tried, though.

And it didn’t work out well.

Away to Hibs, Middleton managed a mere five touches in an hour of football.

Glenn Middleton's Opta numbers when he played against Hibs.
Glenn Middleton’s Opta numbers when he played against Hibs.
Glenn Middleton's Opta touch map at Easter Road.
Glenn Middleton’s Opta touch map at Easter Road.

It’s the sort of statistic – and performance – that would stick in a manager’s mind.

So there would need to be a leap of faith made by Davidson to give it another go in a match of this importance.

Hendry and Ciftci have got results

Hendry and Nadir Ciftci may be alike in terms of wanting the ball to their feet and lacking Middleton’s turn of pace but you can’t argue with the results for the team when they have been the starting partnership.

Saints have only lost one of five – and that was against Rangers.

All logic points to this being the sixth occasion that the Hendry-Ciftci forward combination will get the nod.

There’s plenty of logic that points to Middleton reviving his season, and accelerating his club’s push to Premiership safety, against Saturday’s opponents, though.

He has thrived against St Mirren more than any other team in the top flight.

The assist for Chris Kane in the Scottish Cup semi-final and the stunning free-kick that followed it made him a Perth hero and a Paisley nemesis.

At the business end of last season, even when he wasn’t playing against the Buddies he was putting a dagger through their hearts by scoring the goal that settled the top six head-to-head.

Still good against St Mirren this season

And even in the current campaign, Middleton has largely played very well against St Mirren.

When he came off the bench in the 0-0 he was the best player on the pitch for those 25 minutes and hit the bar in the dying minutes.

And in the last fixture, which ended in defeat for Saints, he tormented right-back Richard Tait in the first half and earned the visitors their penalty opener.

The double-winning campaign was punctuated by moments when attacking substitutes changed the game in the Perth side’s favour, particularly towards the end of the season.

It’s been a while since that has happened in 2021/22.

In fact, the last forward to do so was Middleton at Livingston three months ago, setting-up Ali Crawford’s winner.

He saved his goals for when they really mattered for St Johnstone last season and for when they inflicted greatest pain on St Mirren.

The opportunity is about to open up to do so again.

Shaun Rooney: St Johnstone legend hits Opta CAREER high as prospect grows of becoming Perth talisman AGAIN

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