The last time Morton and St Mirren played in a league fixture, Mark Russell was just about to turn four and hadn’t even started primary school. Today, he will hopefully line up in the eagerly anticipated first Renfrewshire derby of the Championship season. Morton last beat their Renfrewshire rivals in a competitive match in 1999 when they stunned the Saints with a 5-1 victory at Love Street.
Since then there have been five defeats and two draws for the Ton. Even the last time the two teams met in 2011, Russell was only 15 but now the youngster will almost certainly be in Jim Duffy’s line-up for tonight’s match. That game was a thriller but unfortunately ended in a 4-3 defeat for the Ton at Cappielow but Russell will be hoping he can help the team to a Renfrewshire derby victory.
As a child, Mark Russell was brought up in Paisley and attended Gleniffer High School. During this time, the youngster played for Gleniffer Boys Club and St Mirren Boys Club before being picked up by Morton in 2013. Russell made his first appearance for Morton in November 2013 when he came on as a substitute against Dumbarton. He went on to make five starts and eight substitute appearances that season and had started to become a useful option to have in the first team squad.
Although 2013/14 was Russell’s first taste of first team football, last season was undoubtedly his breakthrough season for the Ton and his impressive performances earned him a place in the League One team of the year alongside Declan McManus. Russell was an almost ever-present in Jim Duffy’s starting line-up in last year’s title winning campaign and is a shining example of the benefits of a good youth system.
Mark’s displays last season were so impressive that there was rumoured interest from the likes of English Premiership sides Swansea and Sunderland. Although Mark’s preferred position is in midfield, he has been a consistent performer at left back. Despite this, he is often found breaking up the left wing and putting dangerous crosses into the opposition box as well as popping up with the odd goal.
The 19 year old will be no stranger to the rivalry between Morton and St Mirren having grown up alongside many St Mirren supporting friends and took some time to answer a few questions. With the previously mentioned speculation from other clubs, Russell commented on being at Morton again this season; “I’m delighted to keep my place and just keep playing, I’m just really enjoying it. I’ve just brushed the speculation aside and focussed on what I’m doing here. I’m happy at the minute. “Last year was amazing, I couldn’t have asked for a better season to be honest. “The last game of the season against Peterhead was brilliant. All of the build-up and then going a goal down and to come back and win the game. Scoring made it even better. I couldn’t have imagined a better breakthrough season and to finish it off like that was pretty special.”
Russell also admitted he was shocked to be named in the League One team of the year; “I was delighted to get in the team of the year, it was another bonus on top of winning the league and enjoying the full season. I didn’t expect it at all and to be honest I hadn’t actually heard of it before then but it was great!” Russell has started all of the Ton’s games this season and has maintained his position as first-choice left-back from last season.
On how the team’s pre-season and first few competitive games have gone, Mark said, “I think we’ve had a good pre-season. Obviously the Dumbarton game didn’t go as planned but against Falkirk we were a lot better and I think we’ve got a good chance this season.” “Once some players come back from injury we’ll have more competition for places and we’ll improve. We could maybe strengthen the squad but I’m quite happy with it as it is.” “We’ve had a tough start to the season but we were quite happy to get a point against Falkirk”
Like many of the fans, Russell is also relishing the opportunity to play in bigger games and in better stadiums this year. He said, “I’m looking forward to going to Ibrox and Easter Road but just to be involved in all of the games.” Tonight’s match will probably rank higher than any other game in terms of excitement for the fans and Russell is no different. He said, “I’m really looking forward to the derby.
Obviously I’m from Paisley so a lot of my pals are St Mirren fans and I played for them when I was younger so I’m definitely looking forward to that. They’ve not given me any stick yet but that might change nearer the time.” Much like the other players interviewed so far this season, Russell admitted there is no set target for the team this year and they are just looking to do as well as possible. He said, “As a team we just want to do as well as possible and finish as high as we can and show how good we actually are. For myself I just want to keep playing and playing as well as I can. I want to play at the highest level but I’m happy just now at Morton.”
Although he was brought up in Paisley, there is no doubt that Mark will be determined to play a big part in helping the Ton win the first league Renfrewshire derby since March 2000. With a big crowd a certainty and the television cameras also in attendance, the match is sure to be a great spectacle which has been worth waiting 15 years for.