LITTLE over a fortnight after undergoing surgery, Tommy Wright faces another unwelcome appointment this afternoon as he prepares to present himself at a Scottish Football Association disciplinary hearing.
Sunday’s Scottish Cup semi-final clash with Aberdeen might have been switched to Ibrox, but the St Johnstone manager has still managed to ensure himself a fixture at Hampden.
Both Wright and Jackie McNamara, whose Dundee United side face Rangers on Saturday, are at risk of being banned from the dug-out for their teams’ semi-final assignments this weekend, following a touchline flare-up in March. The managers have been charged for breaching disciplinary rule 203, which refers to “misconduct at a match by leaving the technical area” as well as “adopting a threatening and aggressive attitude towards an opposing member of team staff”.
Wright isn’t looking for sympathy, and nor does he want special treatment. However, his recent health scare, which led to him spending two nights in the Perth Royal Infirmary for a gall bladder operation, means it is understandable if he believes there are more important things to worry about than the threat of disciplinary action.
In any case, St Johnstone have done well enough during his recent absence from the dug-out, winning three times and drawing once in their last four fixtures. However, due to the potential historical significance of Sunday’s clash, Wright is desperate to be free to take a seat on the sidelines as St Johnstone aim to claim a first Scottish Cup final place since a group of cricketers, in search of something to do in the winter months, formed a football club in 1884 .
“I’m going there with no previous,” Wright pointed out, ahead of today’s hearing. “This is my first offence and I hope they will look kindly on that. I’m planning to be in the dug-out but there is nothing I can do.
The 50-year-old, speaking at the club’s media day at McDiarmid Park, added: “I have already apologised for my actions and I’m sure I will get a fair hearing. I will have to deal with it whatever the outcome. If I do get a ban I will just have to be in the directors’ box. I’m hoping that won’t be the case.”
It would be a harsh judgement that condemned Wright – and McNamara – to missing such a big day in the histories of their clubs. It is a particularly significant occasion for St Johnstone as they seek to deal with the type of hoodoo that once bedevilled Dundee United. In the case of United, it was in finals where they struggled to gain the desired result, failing to win in ten attempts at Hampden Park between 1974 and 1991. It is overcoming the hurdle of semi-finals that St Johnstone have found troublesome and their record now stands at seven consecutive defeats at the last four stage in the last 15 years.
But the tale of woe stretches back further, and includes the League Cup semi-final clash against Rangers in 1961, one which St Johnstone contrived to lose despite a two-goal lead. A report from the game is pinned to the wall in the Muirton suite, where yesterday’s press conference was held. “St Johnstone’s glorious failure in League Cup duel with Rangers,” runs the headline.
Wright points out that the current group of players have only contributed to one of these failures. Given that it was a 4-0 loss to this weekend’s opponents, the defeat could hardly be termed “glorious”, although this recent League Cup semi-final clash was a lot closer than the scoreline suggests.
But there is no doubt that semi-final ties have represented a problem for St Johnstone. The Perth club’s last Scottish Cup semi-final three years ago was effectively over at half-time, by which time they were 3-0 down to Motherwell. In charge back then was Derek McInnes, who will be plotting his old club’s downfall this weekend. Only four players who played that day remain at St Johnstone, and one of them, Murray Davidson, is currently injured.
However, Wright stressed that previous semi-final defeats were not his concern. “We were only involved in the League Cup once [v Aberdeen] and you can’t turn the clock back. The biggest motivation for us is simply getting to a final.”
“Some of the players – Dave Mackay, Chris Millar and Steven Anderson – have been involved in others and I’m sure they don’t want to experience it again. They will use that as motivation because it is painful to lose a semi-final and get so close. This is a magnificent occasion and we have to make sure we keep our focus.”
Wright opted to prepare for the recent League Cup semi-final at Tynecastle as though it was just another league game. On the eve of this Sunday’s tie, he confirmed that St Johnstone will be staying overnight in a hotel. They have accepted Celtic manager Neil Lennon’s offer of training facilities at Lennoxtown on Saturday.
“We just tried to change it up a bit,” said Wright. “Everything will be as low key as possible because the players know the importance of the game. They know they can create history by even getting to the final. I don’t think I need to be putting any other layers on that.”
But there is some extra pressure – applied by the St Johnstone chairman, no less. Wright revealed that Steve Brown has demanded that he wins a cup in his first season as manager after being appointed Steve Lomas’s replacement last summer. It is quite a challenge considering St Johnstone have not won a major trophy in their history.
“The chairman told me he wanted a cup from me in my first season as manager, so if we win it I’d only be meeting his target,” smiled Wright. “I’d be delighted if we can get to the final and win it.
“But it’s not about me, it’s about the players and the people associated with the club. It’s the players who can get us to the final and the players who can win us the cup. I think what it means to managers is often over-hyped. I’d be most satisfied to see the players, the staff and the fans happy if we can do it. That’s what it’s really all about.”