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  • Writer's pictureAlastair Blair

Where do Saints go now…?

Updated: Oct 23, 2019

Travelling to whatever it is that Love Street’s called nowadays, I heard Jim Goodwin, the St Mirren manager, explaining why he was changing his formation to 4-3-3. His view was that given that his team hadn’t scored enough goals in recent weeks it was necessary to be a bit more forceful and try to attack more. What he failed to add, whether through politeness or because it was only too obvious, is that he had clearly watched St Johnstone’ earlier games this season and identified that the defence is the weakest part of our team. His forwards proceeded to bully our full backs and centre backs into submission and St Mirren deservedly won the match.

Talking during the match and afterwards, the general consensus was that the second half at Paisley was as bad, if not worse, than the first half against Livingston earlier on this season. And the obvious answer to the question posed at the top of this blog is, well, we’re destined for the Championship. Our form is dire and if we can’t win at least two out of our next four games (bearing in mind that one is at Ibrox) then it may be too late and we’ll be cast adrift. And once we’re submerged and gone under, we’ll find the Championship, as Mr Cosgrove perspicaciously noted in Off-the-Ball last weekend, an Alcatraz from which escape is very difficult.

Some Saints’ fans are calling for the manager’s head. It is a custom nowadays to do so when there are any setbacks and then amplify those demands on social media. The press then descends and gleefully adds to the feeding frenzy. The period of grace any manager enjoys then depends on the noise made by the fans, how much the media like the manager, the size of the chairman/board’s cojones and his (the manger’s) track record up to the point at which it all went pechos arriba.

The puzzle, for me at least, is that I do agree with, I think, most fans, that we have a good group of players, albeit there is, as the manager conceded at the recent AGM, a very young back-four. In particular, he commented on how Jason Kerr misses the influence of Joe Shaugnessy. It has been clear for some time now that we are missing an old soldier (or even a middle-aged one) in central defence.

For those fans who think Tommy Wright is past his sell-by date, I have a couple of questions. Firstly, given that history shows us that, in general, replacing a manager makes no difference to a club’s fortunes when it is in the doldrums as we are just now, why should we rush to do this? Even Paul Sturrock, unquestionably one of our better managers, could not keep Saints up when he took over in the 1993-94 season.

Secondly, if Tommy Wright were fired, we would have the same problem every club has in these circumstances; namely that a new manager, inevitably, would not rate some of the players and want to change them. In case you haven’t noticed, the club made a loss last year: there is hardly any money available for the players we have, so unless we are prepared to eat into financial reserves (which might be more realistically saved for what would probably be a lengthy stint in the Championship), where is the money coming from for the players that the fans would demand? Also bear in mind that Tommy Wright has only just started a new contract and is, I understand, one of the best, if not the best, paid St Johnstone manager ever. To make him redundant would therefore cost a lot more money. Yes, if we have to push the boat out for a Jim Weir type then I suspect that money would be found, but only once one or two of the current squad had made way.

Thirdly, again assuming the manager were fired, we’d be casting around for a manager who has a track record of taking teams from the bottom of a league and getting them up the table. There are very few of these, and coincidentally, one of the best if a man called Tommy Wright. Check out his record in Northern Ireland and you’ll see what I mean…

I have learned enough about Saints’ history to know that the success we have had under Mr Wright is unusual. Moreover, it has partly been down to the absence of Rangers and some of the other “big” teams from the top flight over the last six or seven years. Now some might say that made it easy so the manager wasn’t doing that great a job after all. This is pish, because it applies equally to all teams of a similar status to St Johnstone in that period. The difference is that we did it while others failed to, and a huge part of that is down to the manager. As Mr Cosgrove noted in his article on the BBC website, our manager, the greatest manager in our history no less, has earned a period of grace. Ultimately though, that is down to the chairman and I am pretty sure the manager is aware that the latter’s goodwill will not last forever.

Currently, my view is that, for the reasons cited above, it would not make any great difference if we were to change manager now. Those fans who are calling for his head may feel better if he goes - until we are perhaps stuck in the Championship. And, to return to the club’s history again, more often than not, a change of manager in adverse circumstances has not done the trick and it’s taken several iterations before we manage to turn things around again. At present, I’d stick with Tommy and encourage everyone to support him. Shouting abuse at him and the players, whether at a match or on social media, is hardly going to make things better. Indeed, just to go off at a tangent for a minute, I understand that a Saints ‘fan’ has said on social media that he would be prepared personally to carry out violence against one of the players whose performances he doesn’t rate. If this is true, I hope he is identified and banned for life. Fighting amongst ourselves is the quickest route to disaster I can think of, so get behind the team and the manager. If he doesn’t turn us around then it will be up to the chairman to make a rational decision and (like his dad) not be overly influenced by the fans but rather do what he thinks is best for the club. But if everyone acknowledges that we’re in a relegation dog-fight that can be won - and if the manager does get it right - then the experience involved will, I think, make us a much better team in the next few seasons. All of which is a simple way of saying, give Tommy more time: he has earned it and I hope most Saints’ fans will join me in sincerely hoping that he can do what’s required to avoid relegation.

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