Stand By Your Man

Why Saints Were Right To Have Faith In Danny Lennon

by Johnny Connelly

(as seen on PLZSoccer.com) – 09/10/13

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You could almost hear a faint knelling of a funeral bell, as the Grim Reaper sharpened his scythe and turned his damning gaze towards the managerial career of one, Danny Lennon at St Mirren just a few weeks ago.

The buzzards were circling; such is the intense nature of football in this country. A run of half a dozen poor results at the start of the season ensured that Danny Lennon was the red hot candidate to be the first manager in the SPFL to be sacked this season.

It was unanimous, there was no debate to be had. St Mirren were playing poorly, in rut you could say, and with Lennon at the helm, they were on the brink of being pulled into a relegation battle with crisis-stricken Hearts.

Fast forward a few weeks, and the Buddies picked up a spirited draw against Aberdeen, and a huge victory in a must-win fixture against Hearts. All of a sudden, the clouds from above St Mirren Park, and the football world begins to remember that (all things considered), Danny Lennon has done an excellent job as manager of the Paisley club.

St Mirren in recent years has been a club that budgets to finish 11th in the Scottish top flight. Under Lennon, the club have invested in a new stadium, achieved their highest league finish, and won their first major trophy in 26 years when they got their hands on the League Cup this year.  

By all accounts, that’s about as good as Danny Lennon could be expected to do, given the resources available to him. 

Prior to the Hearts game, if Lennon had been relieved of his duties, it’d have been far from the biggest shock in our game over the last few years. It would have been a foolish decision, as just a handful of matches can change everything. 

St Mirren may well get relegated this season, and on the other hand, they may well finish in the top six. It’s just too early to make any kind of concrete prediction of that magnitude. We’re just 9 games into a league season, and unless there’s a readymade Sir Alex Ferguson or Jose Mourinho willing to take over, it makes little or no sense to light the blue-touch paper and instigate the uproar that ensues when a club sacks their manager. 

When Lennon was flying below the radar of scrutiny way back in August, Pat Fenlon was the man that bore the brunt of the sacking speculation. Yes, Hibs had a shocking start to the season, and yes, yet another Easter Road sacking wouldn’t have been beyond the realms of imagination, but just look at what can happen with a bit of time and support.

Fenlon’s men imploded to record a 9-0 aggregate defeat to Malmo, but now look at them. They are the form side in the SPFL, sitting in 5th place, just five points behind Inverness Caley Thistle in 2nd place, and they’ve lost just one of their last seven matches. 

The real scrutiny in football nowadays should be happening at the appointment stage, not after a club has committed to a long term deal with a new manager. The gaffer who currently finds his head nearest the guillotine is Kilmarnock’s Allan Johnstone, and perhaps rightly so.  Killie haven’t won a competitive match since 11th May, so the pressure on the management is understandable, and the patience placed in them won’t be inexhaustible. 

As much as there can be a right time to part company with a manager in some circumstances, the virtue of patience has historically been proven to pay more dividends than any knee-jerk sackings.

Can you imagine what would currently stand for the global institution that is Manchester United if they’d given Fergie the bullet after 6 months?  The biggest club in the world may never have reached their potential!

Conversely, the perils of knee-jerk sackings are all too apparent, especially in English football. The recent Paolo Di Canio debacle highlights this perfectly. Sunderland have hired and fired managers all too eagerly in recent times. Di Canio’s appointment came but a day after Martin O’Neill was relieved of his duties. The Sunderland board withstood criticism from all corners of their fan base for the original appointment, only to fire the manager after just 13 matches in charge.

St Mirren have done the right thing in backing Danny Lennon for the time being, and I sincerely hope the correct level of patience and faith is extended to all SPFL managers this season. Hibs, Hearts,  and Killie (amongst others) have experienced a turbulent few years, purely because they’ve gone through a drove of managers in that time. Hibs have had 4 managers in 5 years, Hearts have had 4 in 3 years, and Killie have had 3 in 3 years. 

Now, more than ever, a bit of patience, and dare I say it, common sense is required.

Make the right appointment, trust your judgement, and back your club to the hilt.

The SPFL – Fan Fuelled Evolution

by Johnny Connelly

(As hosted on http://www.plzsoccer.com/news)

It’s been a long, long time coming, but we’ve successfully reformed the structure of our professional football league format in this country. It’s all kicking off this week, and not a minute too soon.

That arduous, seemingly never-ending string of weeks where we find ourselves with a gaping football hole to fill is almost at an end. We kid ourselves that pre-season friendlies, and even old Youtube clips of bygone years will anesthetise us throughout the summer, but the truth is, nothing but the real McCoy will do. In Scotland, the fans need football; but more importantly, the football needs fans.

This interdependency has never been more apparent than it is now. The dark cloud of doom that lurked over Rangers throughout the Craig Whyte/Charles Green/liquidation saga served as a stark warning that all clubs can fall victim to the perils of the business aspects of the modern game. Yet, at the other end of that turmoil, we saw glimpses of the finest element of our game, the unwavering and unquestioning support of the fans.

Clubs in our country have been plagued by problems of their own, but we’re fighting through it together as football fans. The news this week that Dunfermline’s long standing threat of liquidation could be at an end is huge shot in the arm for our wavering game. The fact that the CVA came from ‘Pars United’, an ordinary group of Dunfermline supporters, further enhances the remarkability of this particular happy ending.

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The New Way – Neil Doncaster showcases the new SPFL logo at Hampden

As we prepare to embark upon the new dawn that is the SPFL, it becomes apparent that fan power is more important than ever. Last season was resplendent with hints that the fans will have the final say when it comes to football in this country.

Last season we saw something of a siege mentality at Ibrox, as Rangers fans flocked to support the team in their darkest hour. Attendance records were challenged, and dare I say it, the much maligned Glasgow club seem to be through the worst of their troubles, all thanks to the fans.

Similarly, Dunfermline looked doomed just weeks ago, probably more so than Rangers, but the collective presence of likeminded fans have all but saved their club, albeit through the means of a CVA and by virtue of an empathetic set of creditors.

The SPFL’s big focus now should be channelling energy into finding a solution for Hearts. They too will sink or swim based on the actions of their fans. The effort and commitment so far from the Hearts fans has been overwhelming, and if they could somehow meet the desired monetary amounts to satisfy the creditors, we’d be witnessing a miraculous escape for one of our country’s most revered clubs.

Clubs defying the odds to survive thanks to fan power are perhaps somewhat sensationalised examples of what the common punter can achieve in the world of football. We can however, step back and see that the fans have the power to make the new SPFL a success, despite the apparent downgrading of our domestic game since the days of Larsson, Laudrup, De Boer, and Sutton.

As fans, we’ve faced debacles like the Setanta deal and uncertainties galore, yet here we are, on the brink of another glorious season. Excitement is cascading across the country in anticipation of the big kick off. Yes, there’ll be more problems, and yes, it’s far from the polished product that our neighbours across the border take in every weekend, but it can still be glorious in its own inimitable way.

Small steps are being taken in the right direction all the time. It’s looking positive for the start of the season, as there’s no clearer indication of support than a rise in season ticket sales. 7 of the 12 SPFL Premiership clubs have reported increases in season ticket sales so far, and another 3 SPFL Premiership clubs say their sales are on a par with last season.

Even without the presence of Rangers in our top division, the clubs do have something to attract their fans this season. Celtic, Motherwell and St Johnstone have a taste of European football. They’ll be looking to maximise their involvement this term, and ensure they get to participate again next time around.

Ross County and Inverness Caledonian Thistle will strive to continue their meteoric rise, challenging for 2nd place in the Premiership this season perhaps? Hearts, Hibs, Dundee United and Aberdeen will seek to right the wrongs of last season and finish in a position that befits their club stature; while St Mirren, Kilmarnock, and the new boys Partick Thistle will be well aware they’ve been touted to go down, so they’ll have fire in their bellies, and a will to escape the drop.

The road back to the big time for Scottish football is a long one, we may never get back to where we were, but football in this country is a labour of love. We’ll forever indulge in nostalgia, we’ll forever exaggerate the glory days, and we’ll forever dream of a product better than the one we current showcase.

Our excitement for football is insatiable, there’s nothing quite like those start of the season butterflies. This time around, we’ll take the bad news with a pinch of salt and remember that football is for enjoying.

It may not be perfect, but it’s our league, and we love it.

St Mirren: Showing the way forward for Scottish Football?

Introducing the newest opinion columnist here on Hit The Byline: Ewan McQueen. Have a read below at Ewan’s first piece, as he asks if St Mirren could be a leading light for the SPL.

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It cannot be denied that Scottish football is facing a crisis and has been for some time. Fans are drifting away, the quality of players on show and the standard of play in general has considerably decreased in the last few years. Needless to say, once again our national team won’t be at a major finals this summer either.

However, amidst the darkness shines one beaming light. St Mirren football club.

No, you’re not dreaming, you have just read that. This season for me, the usually unfashionable Paisley side have led the way in trying to kick and drag Scottish football into a new way of playing and thinking.

Despite sitting 8th in the Scottish Premier League, I have been thoroughly impressed with how Danny Lennon’s side have gone about their business this season. Come May, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Saints sitting in the top six of the SPL.

And how will they achieve this? Simple, by sticking to the easy on the eye football that’s been a joy to watch for football fans across the board. The attacking style has clearly found favour with the St Mirren faithful, but has also won plaudits from fans from all corners of Scottish football.

When Danny Lennon was appointed St Mirren manager before the start of last season, many eyebrows were raised as he had only ever managed Cowdenbeath in the lower leagues and many questioned whether he could make the step up to Scotland’s elite division.

That said, he had led the Blue Brazil to successive promotions, and with St Mirren having stagnated somewhat under Gus Macpherson, some saw it as a fresh and bold appointment.

But in his first season (2010/11), Lennon struggled and just as under Macpherson, the Saints once again found themselves in the relegation mire, with only Hamilton saving them from a return to the First Division.

Last season, Lennon won just 8 games. This season in only 22 he has already won 6 and that number is unlucky not to be significantly higher. So what has changed?

To put it simply, last season Lennon didn’t have the quality of players to allow him to play slick, attractive football. Now, having made some shrewd summer signings, Lennon’s original vision of where he wanted to take the Paisley club is starting to become a reality.

Although there have been inevitable disappointments along the way, Lennon has started to dramatically reform St Mirren during 2011/12, and all of Scottish football could learn something from his team.

In every game this season, no matter who they have played or what the conditions have been, thanks to their manager, St Mirren have attempted to play a passing game. Of course, there have been some high-profile errors by doing this.  (Such as Craig Samson, the goalkeeper, even trying to play football and letting Hibs striker Leigh Griffiths nick in for a goal)

However, it is has been very pleasing to watch. Along with Kilmarnock and to a certain extent Motherwell, it’s good that teams in Scottish football’s top league attempt to play ‘The Beautiful Game’ the way it was intended to be played.

But for me there are other aspects of St Mirren that make them the so-called leaders of this small ‘revolution’. As I pointed out before, in the summer Lennon made some excellent signings that took me and many other Scottish football observers by surprise.

Lennon blended the mix of youth and experience perfectly. He signed experienced former Scottish internationalists Steven Thompson and Gary Teale, whilst picking up promising youngsters Paul McGowan and Nigel Hasselbaink in other pieces of good business.

What Lennon also did, was get rid of players that clearly weren’t going to fit into his new vision for the club such as club captain John Potter and strikers Craig Dargo and Michael Higdon. Ruthless and brave, yes, but he has been proved right in doing so.

As well as this, Lennon brought through one of the hottest young talents in Scottish football, Kenny McLean. Along with Paul McGowan, McLean has terrorised defences with marvelous trickery and creativity. Both are now said to be on Craig Levein’s Scotland shortlist and in my mind that is well deserved.

Let’s not forget that McLean and McGowan are what you term in Scotland “wee men”. They could be seen as the Xavi and Iniesta of the Buddies, by some at least.

Now before you say the men in white coats should be coming for me, I’m not saying they are as good as the Spanish duo; merely more managers should be giving young players with the ability to out-fox defences rather than just lumping it to a 6ft 4 targetman all the time. Only then in my view, can Scotland start to have a bright future.

Let’s not forget Danny Lennon is a young manager, at the age of just 41. Experience can be so vital in the game, I won’t deny that (Lennon himself made a very good move by appointing 61 year old Tommy Craig as his number 2). But the SPL was beginning to stagnate under the constant revolving door of management opportunities for outdated and exhausted managers like Gus McPherson, Craig Brown and Jim Jefferies to name but a few.

That raw energy of young managers can also help players who take that out onto the pitch. That has happened this season with Lennon, who always promotes a positive message and through the aforementioned McGowan and McLean plus other such as Aaron Mooy and Jim Goodwin (also both his signings), St Mirren are a real threat to any defence in the SPL, as the current Scottish champions have found out the hard way.

It would be criminal not to mention the Saints superb team goal at Ibrox, where despite being 1-0 behind in the last minute, they stuck to their passing principles right from the goalkeeper Samson to the striker Thompson – where the rewards were justly reaped.

Samson started the move and after a couple more passes it was moved out to David Van Zanten on the right wing who crossed for Steven Thompson who swept home against his former club. It’s well worth a watch if you haven’t done so already.

So I say, let’s hear it for St Mirren and their new found philosophy. Long may it continue and I hope it spreads throughout Scotland. In a time of constant re-invention of the Scottish game, the teams in the top flight could do a lot worse than take a leaf out of the Buddies’ book.


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