St Mirren v


ANTICIPATION of a local derby given added significance by St Mirren's surprise leadership of the first division was overshadowed by yesterday's news that Morton's Owen Archdeacon had been told that he must quit football or face serious disability in his later life.

The 33-year-old, a one-time winger with Celtic and Barnsley but who had become a stalwart of the Cappielow club's defence, will never play again because of a serious ankle injury - and immediately the Greenock club rallied in support. Manager Billy Stark said: ''It is tragic news for Owen and all our sympathy goes out to him.''

The club immediately confirmed that Archdeacon - a local lad - will stay with them as a scout. Chairman Hugh Scott added: ''This is a dreadful blow to the lad and to his family. He is such a talented player and it is

terrible that this should happen.''

Archdeacon, who began his senior career at Parkhead before moving south and then returning to Cappielow after a spell with Carlisle United, said: ''I am still letting the news and the decision sink in, but I was half prepared for it. I have been suffering for the last nine months and, after every game, I had pain from the ankle.

''But I played through it and wanted to continue. However, recently I went back to the

specialist and, when he and I saw the x-rays, there was never any doubt.

''He warned me immediately that I could not go on playing. I am only 33 and he told me that, if I did not want to need a stick to help me walk in 10 years time, I would have to stop now.

''I could see from the x-rays that it was that serious. I have a wife and family to think about and I could not take that chance. I knew I had to give up now.

''We will probably have a holiday and go away and relax before we think about the future and what I'll be doing. But I'm delighted I'll be keeping contact with football and with Morton.''

Nevertheless, it was a blow for Morton ahead of today's derby, especially as the Greenock side will also be without suspended midfielder Harry Curran, although Ian Ferguson returns with fellow striker Warren Hawke also likely to be in the 14.

Coming off the back of a 2-0 defeat of Raith Rovers, Stark added: ''We had a good win last week and want to build on it, but I hope the weather is reasonable for this will attract a lot of fans.''

St Mirren strikers Mark Yardley and Tom Brown are the Love Street worries, which means on-loan Barry Lavety could be partnered up front by the man who looks like a mini-version of himself, Steve McGarry. Manager Tom Hendrie said: ''There is buzz about the place and not simply because this is a local derby - it's because we are also top of the table.''

Indeed, St Mirren will also want to make amends for the result on Morton's last visit to Paisley, a 5-1 win for the visitors.

Now it is St Mirren who are scoring freely and can boast the best goals tally in Europe, having already hit the net 19 times - the same as Premiership treble winners Man United. However, Hendrie said: ''Strange as it may seem, earlier this week I was telling the boys that we've not been scoring as many goals as we should.

''After I made that point someone said, 'How can you criticise when we are the top scorers in Europe?' But against Ayr we should have scored five with the amount of chances we had and against Dunfermline we should have had four on Saturday.

''We've only scored one in each of these games and that was the criticism of these games because we were so much on top. Although it's nice to be top of the table, we have to be looking at scoring even more and staying there.''

The form of St Mirren forward Junior Mendes made him a marked man as his side outplayed title favourites Dunfermline last week and he recalled: ''I think I got more stick from their supporters because they thought I was diving.

''But they were all tackles from behind and the ref got it right and booked a few of their guys for it. My legs are still a bit tender from it all.''

Even so, he was raring to go again, adding: ''I have scored in a couple of games against Morton before, so hopefully I can do that again.''

BOOKIES' VIEW: St Mirren 8-11, Morton 4-1, draw 13-5.