TOMMY CRAIG has been in football long enough to recall a time when a crunching 50-50 tackle would be met with as big a cheer as a goal.

That things have moved on somewhat since then is disappointing for the venerable St Mirren manager and bad news for one of his assistants.

These are testing times for Jim Goodwin, a player fond of a tackle in the way Dean Martin liked an occasional half. Assessing Goodwin's sty le requires a range of adjectives and not all of them are complimentary. Robust, whole-hearted, committed and competitive, say his backers. Aggressive, destructive, even dirty, reply his detractors. He is a player who attracts opinions as regularly as he does yellow and red cards.

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Now 32 years old and straddling the divide between coaching and playing, his sending off against Motherwell on the opening day of the season has prompted the latest bout of soul-searching. Craig wants Goodwin to play every week but knows he cannot continue to operate in the same vein.

The difficulty is removing the occasional reckless acts from the Irishman's game without diminishing his effectiveness. The only way Craig believes it will work is if Goodwin tackles become as rare as St Mirren goals so far this season.

"We've spoken to Jim about how he can manage the game better than he has been doing," said the St Mirren manager. "Jim is a warrior and he's a throwback to 20 years ago when most of his tackles would have been applauded. People would have been out of their seats shouting, 'that's the stuff - get stuck in!'

"FIFA have gone so far as to almost ban tackling all together from the game so Jim had to adjust and even more so now. When you study his record over the last few seasons then he really has to take a good look at himself - and he is doing that.

"Against Dundee last weekend he produced one of the best performances I've ever seen from him and he hardly put in a challenge. Can he become a non-tackling midfielder? He'll need to start. I believe the fact he's taking his coaching badges will help him.

"It will have been discussed on the courses he's been on - what's a booking and what isn't. And there can be a very thin dividing line between the two. He was really, really down after the red card at Motherwell. That was probably the point that he thought enough was enough.

"I'm not blaming the referees because they're just following orders from FIFA but there's no doubt that some cracking tackles get punished when they shouldn't. Without going too far back in time, crowds used to love seeing two players going in hard for a 50-50 and meeting the ball at the same time. That's been taken out of the game."

St Mirren, still without a league point or goal from three games, will look to build on their midweek League Cup victory over Dunfermline Athletic when they host Dundee United tomorrow. "I was delighted with the result but the performance was workmanlike and ordinary," added Craig.