Mind the gap - then go out and widen it

And suddenly, there’s a gap.

Saints have made a habit of picking up big wins at Easter Road in recent years, very often with goals clinching the points right in front of the away end – who can forget Steven Maclean running into the stand behind the crowd going wild, Joe Shaughnessy bulleting in a late header or even Paddy Cregg’s sensational goal off the back of one of the best bits of one-touch football I’ve ever seen Saints play into that same net.

And so it was on Saturday. We rode our luck with the Hibs penalty shout in the first half and Dimitar Mitov pulled off yet more heroics – but Adama Sidibeh showed incredible composure to open the scoring early in the second half, while we exploited some serious weakness at defending set-pieces for Tony Gallagher’s winner.

Combined with Ross County’s result we’ve now got a small but important cushion over the Staggies. Four points ahead with six games to play – and at the weekend Rangers are the visitors to Dingwall. Given the stage of the season and the tightness of the title race, anything but a win for the Glasgow side would be unthinkable – or at least so we might hope given our current predicament.

All of that means Kilmarnock’s trip to McDiarmid Park on Saturday could be hugely significant in how the rest of our season plays out. We all want drama and excitement in our football – but I think we’d all love the prospect of the pressure coming off of our league status as soon as possible and the chance to start planning ahead now for another Premiership season.

A win would potentially put us seven points clear with five post-split matches to play. That’s a very healthy margin and one that even a draw in the head-to-head with County after matchday 33 would surely render insurmountable barring a miraculous set of results for the Highland club in their other four games.

Never say never – but a win against Killie puts us a giant step closer to safety, and you’d certainly hope we’d have enough to at least stumble over the line with an advantage of that size so close to the end of the season.

So putting our rose-tinted glasses on, what do we want to see for the remainder of the season if – and it remains a sizeable if - and when we do make ourselves safe?

For me, the rebuild needs to start as soon as possible. Anyone that isn’t in the plans for the 2024/25 season no longer gets game time. Guys like Fran Franczak – who looked so promising in his early appearances but who has been injured then benched ever since – get minutes. For Franczak in particular I think that is critical – does he stay here next season and try to make an impact aged just 16, or do we get him out on loan for six to 12 months? Let's get him on the pitch as much as possible in a blue shirt this season and see where he is.

It would also be a good opportunity to at least try to be a bit more forward thinking – change the system, try and be a bit more dynamic in possession, take more risks when the pressure isn’t on.

This is all obviously contingent on things going well over the next two or three weeks. We have an extremely tough game against a team with an excellent coach who do many things very, very well. They have attacking talent that I would love to see at Saints – the likes of Matty Kennedy who was brilliant during his stint in Perth – and a robust defence.

Then we come into the post-split fixtures – with a mish-mash of games against the likes of Ross County scrapping for their lives and the rest likely in a relative dead-rubber scenario, with Livingston basically already down and the rest with nothing to play for but pride.

Keep the head and safety can be assured sooner rather than later. A nice calm end to the season would be ideal and give us the platform to do so much better next season. We’ve been used over the last 15 years to stability and continuity. That isn’t really an option this summer. There needs to be a fairly healthy turnover of players and more of an identity to the team starting next season. Another disastrous League Cup group stage can’t happen.

Things can look upwards for next season – but that process has to start now.