Friday, December 23, 2011

SPL Advent: St Johnstone

Day eleven. Guided by a star of wonder, the SPL Advent takes a trip to Perth.

Perhaps we should all read a Christmas lesson from the good book of McDiarmid Park.

St Johnstone have lost both a talented young manager and a steady, long-serving chairman this season.

And, so far, it's been more evolution for revolution.

The boardroom succession was from father to son as Geoff Brown decided to retire.

His final task was to find a replacement for Derek McInnes.

When McInnes left for Bristol City there was sadness but also an acceptance that such departures are the norm for clubs like St Johnstone.

He went with best wishes and was invited to suggest a potential successor.

Steve Lomas was one of the names that McInnes, although maybe not many other people, put forward.

And so it was that Lomas joined the rogue's gallery of SPL managers.

A surprising appointment? Perhaps, given his low profile in Scotland and his lack of experience.

But they know what they like and like what they know in Perth.

McInnes was charged with evolving the blueprint put in place by another ambitious young manager. Lomas will be given the opportunity to do the same.

A solid stability about these Saints. And it seems to work.

No chasing of impossible dreams, no hissy fits, no financial panics, no existential crises.

Just steady progression. Onwards and upwards but not at the sort of pace that will bring on dizziness.

The Lomas succession appeared miraculously seamless. There was a goalless draw at Ibrox - the manager proving his passion with a quickfire ban for "gesturing" - and then back-to-back wins over Hibs and Hearts.

Three straight defeats since then have proved that life in the SPL is perhaps as not as easy to adjust to as Lomas was making it look.

Yet St Johnstone remain in fourth place. The chasing pack are tight behind them and Motherwell look to have inched too far ahead in third. In a league where most clubs are capable of beating each other there's little to suggest that another wee run won't have the Saints securing not only a top siz place but a top four place.

Some clouds remain on the Perthshire horizon. Those last three defeats all came at home in the space of just eight days.

Played ten, won three, drawn one, lost six. It's not a great home record. 15 of the 20 goals they've conceded have been scored at McDiarmid Park.

Compare and contrast with an away record that's seen them win four and lose only once. That includes wins at Celtic and Motherwell and, arguably, an unpunished dive at Easter Road is the only thing that's robbed them of an unbeaten run on the road.

As with Motherwell we can only wonder how much tighter the top of the league might look if away form could be replicated at home. That's all ifs and buts, the thwarted dreams of living in a duopoly.

What we can say is that St Johnstone really do need to stop this current run if they're to keep ahead of the teams below them and have any hope of engendering some anxiety in Lanarkshire.

And Lomas is going to be tested. Maybe these three straight defeats are about more than injuries to Cillian Sheridan and his strike partner Francisco Sandaza.

They are missed though. Sandaza, top scorer so far, has been one of the success stories of the season and it's asking a lot of Marcus Haber to replace them.

What wriggle room will the January transfer window give Lomas? And will he use it wisely?

There's more to this management lark than wearing a scarf and suggestion a match official is a wan...

Still, this mini-slump apart, I'm reasonably impressed so far. There are teams in the SPL with more to fear going into 2012.

From now on, our troubles will be miles away.


More wins, particularly home wins, and deliverance from injury worries.

Those were Steve Lomas' whispered wishes when he sat on Santa's knee at St John's Shopping Centre.

Probably.

And if he's going to be scouting round for talent in January, the signings need to be both affordable and effective.

Let the progress continue...

The Scottish Football Blog blogathon took place in November in aid of Alzheimer Scotland and the Homeless World Cup. You can still donate to help two great causes.