‘If you don’t like what you see in the mirror don’t blame the mirror’
Celtic excluded, no Scottish manager other than Danny Lennon savoured major silverware success in the year now careering to a close. And no other manager stared deep into the abyss without being swallowed by it as was true of the St Mirren boss in 2013. In guiding his side to a 4-1 win over the seemingly unstoppable Dundee United the other day, a tumultuous period for Lennon has, near its end, provided him with one of the real pearler performances of his three-and-a-half years in charge. Which surely makes the never-less-than affable 43-year-old Scottish football’s man of the year.
Lennon has spoken of his pedigree and CV looking more than decent after 2013, which he proudly states was marked out by a League Cup triumph that brought St Mirren their first win in the competition, and first major honour in 26 years. These impressive stats he trots out feel rehearsed. No doubt because he would have used them in pleading his case to his board when an abysmal start to the season brought six defeats and a draw from the club’s first seven fixtures. That meant the defence of the League Cup lasted just one tie and left the club with just one league win in eight months. Lennon claims he never felt he lost the support of the directors, the players or the fans during that desperate period. Yet he also offers an admission.
“Hand on heart, you’ve seen managers go out the game two or three matches before the length of time I had to come through our sticky patch,” he says. “But I always believed that given time we could come out it and I always believed in that group of players – and that any other manager coming in would have had a difficult act to follow.”
He has followed what seemed like his final acts in charge with a whole new bright chapter. Four wins from five games across October and November made for the best winning run by a St Mirren team in five years. And his team’s record in their 13 encounters ahead of hosting Hearts today reads six wins, four draws and only three defeats. All the reverses have come in away games against sides in the top five, with St Mirren now lying eighth.
Lennon knows, however, these sort of runs have to become the norm rather than the exception if St Mirren are to finish in the upper echelons. “If you are ever going to have a season of note, you have to hit those runs two or three times,” he says. “We have to pick up that momentum. I am not going to lie, we want to finish top six. Every season I have been in charge there has been some sort of progression. If we continue to produce the level of performance and the focus that we did against United, we can achieve that.”
Lennon is too polite to say so, but feels what is being achieved at St Mirren isn’t attracting the deserved attention from a wider Scottish football public. He sees it as right to commend the Tannadice club for their exciting crop of talent. However, St Mirren are more than doing their bit and only Lennon, it seems, wants to talk about that. His starting XI against United contained five players – John McGinn, Kenny McLean, Marc McAusland, Sean Kelly and Jason Naismith – who were home produced. More than their Tayside visitors, in fact. Even in these straitened times, few Scottish clubs can boast that half their first team have graduated from the youth set-up. “It works well within the club’s philosophy of affordability and, more importantly, has given us players who have great enthusiasm and can hold their own.”
There are many elements that make Lennon a wholly likeable sort, but his conduct throughout his team’s confidence crash is another reason he stood out in 2013. Even when the pressure on him became unbearably intense and it seemed certain he was facing the sack, he continued to answer journalists’ questions with the same good grace that has always characterised his media dealings. This is practically a first in our trade.
“We all know the pressure within football and the media. I respect everything guys in the media do. There’s a job to be done there just like I’ve got to do here. When it gets a little bit personal that’s when it can get a little bit frustrating because some people don’t really know who you are. But I can understand and respect the pressure guys in the media are under – to meet deadlines, to have to fill the paper.
“Yet, you’ve always got to be true to your fans and they want to hear from their leader. What I’ve learned in my time in football is if you’re out there facing the media and facing the public you speak the truth. I’ve heard many people look for excuses. But look no further than the mirror – and if you don’t like what you see in the mirror don’t blame the mirror.”