DANNY LENNON has backed Eric Djemba-Djemba and Jim Goodwin to form a formidable midfield partnership for St Mirren.
The surprise capture of the former Manchester United midfielder in midweek had prompted the suggestion that Goodwin would now be restored to central defence but Lennon insisted that is not in his immediate plans.
With Djemba-Djemba having received international clearance, the duo could be paired together at Tannadice tomorrow when St Mirren take on Dundee United in the fifth round of the William Hill Scottish Cup. Few forwards will fancy trying to break through that defensive midfield wall, with Lennon backing the Cameroonian to bring the best out of Goodwin.
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"This signing of Eric has given us a good variety in the group but the plan isn't to put Jim in defence," said the St Mirren manager. "I felt we've been lacking a bit defensively in midfield. It's an area I've constantly been looking at for someone to go in and give Jim a helping hand and Eric certainly has the defensive qualities and knows that role inside out.
"I see him as being disciplined within that role. He's a lovely passer of the ball that fits well within our philosophy. I think the biggest thing he'll bring is his experience."
Goodwin will likely come in for some abuse from the home crowd tomorrow following his elbow on United's Stuart Armstrong the last time the teams met, on Boxing Day. The incident was reviewed by the Scottish Football Association's disciplinary panel which then gave the Irishman a two-match suspension. Lennon, though, believes his captain is a misunderstood figure.
"A lot of people don't see what Jim does behind the scenes," he added. "He's a fantastic leader off the pitch. Jim has handled the stick very well and, with his experience, if anyone can handle that situation and come through it then it's Jim."
Lennon will be without cup-tied pair Gregg Wylde and Josh Magennis and suspended midfielder John McGinn but could give a first start of the year to Kenny McLean, who has recovered from knee surgery. Gary Teale will again miss out, though, with the winger now suffering from a suspected bone infection.
Lennon is unsure when Teale may return to action. "Gary seems to take one step forward and two back in his recovery. We're led to believe it's a bone infection so he's on a course of very strong antibiotics which will hopefully get to the root of the problem. He's not back training yet so you're talking the end of the month at the earliest for a comeback."
Much of the conversation around Tannadice yesterday was of the club agreeing a deal to wipe out its bank debt. United had a £3.4m term loan and a £1m overdraft but that has been settled after a group of supporters paid the bank partially with their own funds.
"The bank has been supportive of our position and has co-operated fully with our request to discharge the debt and release the standard security held over the club's property," said Stephen Thompson, the United chairman. "This restructuring will allow us to utilise the club's assets to a greater extent for the benefit of the community and we will be providing details of our plans for this soon."
There were also some whispers about how Armstrong would react to playing Goodwin for the first time since he faced up to the St Mirren midfielder's elbow. Any tensions between the pair have been tempered already, though, since Goodwin sent a message after that match to apologise for his actions.
"Jim Goodwin text me which was nice of him," said Armstrong. "I wasn't happy at the time but it was good of him to get in touch. A few of the older boys in our team know him and say he's a really nice guy out of football."