Being an avid St Johnstone fan, I had to try my hand at managing them on Cm
2000/2001. After looking at the squad, I knew I was in for a long hard
season. The only three good players in the team were Tommy Lovenkrands, Alan
Main and Mohammed Sylla although Nick Dasovic and Keigan Parker turned out
to be pretty good later on.
With such a poor squad, I knew I was in for a tough battle with relegation.
With a budget of only £20,000, I had to sell players (Paul Kane for 25k and
J P McBride for 380k). The stingy board still only let me have 50k and so most
of my signings came from free transfer. In came Lee Bullen (released by
Dunfermline) and Andy Baird for 35k from Wycombe. Also in came John Price on
free transfer aged 16.
Pre season friendlies were against Fort William and Brighton. It all started
so well with a 4-0 victory over Fort William but then suddenly reality hit
as I was thrashed 3-1 by Brighton. My first four league games were all
defeats by Rangers, Celtic, Dundee and Hearts. It was then that I decided to
try the combination of Parker and Lowndes up front. What a decision, 2 wins
and a draw followed which left me in 11th place. I sold Graeme Jones for
450k as my wage bill was getting ridiculous and I was heading for
Up until christmas my form was embarrassing, in particular a 4-2
defeat to Partick Thistle in the League Cup. By the time the winter break
arrived, I was 12th, 9 points adrift of St Mirren in 11th. The Board were
getting restless and I received two votes of confidence before my Scottish
Cup 3rd round clash at home to Falkirk. Two days before, I'd somehow managed
to get Richie Partridge on loan from Liverpool until the end of the season.
Matchday arrived, with Partridge playing on the right wing. The match was
very boring although St Johnstone did have most of the possession. It all
ended controversially with Parker being brought down in the area in the 83rd
minute. The referee said no penalty but luckily the linesman was on my side
and the decision was reversed. Up steps Partridge... 1-0. Through to the 4th
round. Partridge had an amazing influence as we won our next 4 games
including a 1-0 win over Celtic at McDiarmid Park. He was named MOM twice
and scored three goals.
Just as I thought things were all turning round, it
all went back to square 1. Unfortunately, we were drawn against Rangers in
the 4th round of the Scottish Cup and were easily defeated 4-1. By the time
May arrived we were lying in 11th place, 2 points ahead of St Mirren and 5
points behind Dunfermline. We had six games left as the league had just
split into two groups of six and we had to play off to decide who would be
relegated. Dundee Utd, Aberdeen and Hearts were safe in 7th, 8th and 9th
positions respectively. The final battle was between the bottom three.
Hilariously, Partride was injured in training and sidelined for three weeks
which meant he missed 4 of the last 5 games. Luckily Parker and Dasovic hit
good form, we beat Aberdeen and Dunfermline both 2-0 which left us still in
11th position but 4 points ahead of St Mirren with 3 games to go ( Dundee
Utd away, Hibs home and St Mirren away). A last minute header from Lowndes
earned us a point at Tannadice but unfortunately St Mirren won at Hibs,
closing the gap to 2 points. With Partridge still injured for our match
against Hibs we were convincingly beaten 3-0. With St Mirren drawing, it
meant that relegation would go right to the wire with a dogfight on the last
St Mirren had a far better goal difference than St Johnstone which
meant that we had to win to stay up. Partridge was back but with a condition
of 75% which meant that I could only put him on the bench. The match started
badly with Graham Fenton scoring for St Mirren in the 9th minute after a
poor back pass from Alan Kernaghan. Brilliantly we grabbed an equaliser just
before half time with Dasovic and Lowndes combining to beat the goalie. Half
time score 1-1.
I decided changes had to be made. I changed the tactics to a
more attacking and passing style and also brought on Partridge as a
replacement for Paul Hartley. Nothing happenned for 30 minutes of the second
half which meant that we were heading for the first division on goal
difference. Suddenly disaster strikes, and Darren Dods hauls down a St
Mirren striker in the area. A red card for Dods and a penalty for St Mirren.
Up steps Graham Fenton again ... and hits the post, the ball is scrambled
away St Johnstone hit on the break, and a lovely through ball from Partridge
sends Baird through one on one. Baird hits it straight at the keeper, but
Parker scrambles in the rebound to make it 2-1 to St Johnstone. To cap an
exciting match, Fenton gets sent of for a two footed challenge on Lowndes in
the 88th minute.
Luckily we hold on for the final whistle and survive
relegation by 3 points. I had survived my first season in charge by the skin
of my teeth and am determined to do better in the second season. I have 5
new players coming in on the Bosman ruling which should boost my squad. St
Mirren have been replaced by Livingston for the new season and I am hoping
to finish in the top six. Long live the Saintees!!