EVEN in enduring a slump that threatens the future of their manager Danny Lennon, St Mirren striker Steven Thompson can present a case for his club being placed alongside the very best Scottish sport has to offer.
Assessing the fact his US Open defence ended at the quarter-final stage this week, Andy Murray admitted it had been difficult reaching the “highs” following his Wimbledon win and first slam victory at New York. Thompson suggests the Paisley side might likewise have been subconsciously afflicted on the back of their historic League Cup success six months ago. That triumph has given way to one win in 13 matches, a run that split the St Mirren board on whether to retain the services of Lennon ahead of them hosting Motherwell on Saturday.
“I heard Andy Murray say that, after winning Wimbledon, his psychology shifted in terms of being able to prepare himself and push himself the way he had done,” Thompson says. “I wonder if we possibly thought ‘Oh we’ve won a cup. We’ve done it – what else do we need to do?’ Even though you’re not doing that on the pitch I wonder if that slight shift in psychology has affected us. It certainly had an effect on our results in the latter part of last season. I’ve underperformed at the start of this season and I don’t think there is any player in the team who can say he has performed to his maximum level. If you want to win a game of football you need seven players at their maximum. We’ve been lucky if we’ve had two or three. We need to look at that. There needs to be improvement and quickly. We are well aware of that.”
Equally, though, Thompson cautions that there is “plenty of time to rectify” a start to the season that has brought three league defeats, a draw and elimination from the League Cup at the hands of Queen of the South. However, the forward, who turns 35 next month, does not pretend that time is on the side of Lennon, who has been in post for two years, and whose team squandered leads in losing both at Dumfries and at home to Partick Thistle inside four days last week.
“We had a really positive meeting at the start of the week and got a lot of things out in the open,” Thompson says. “It was a good discussion on where we need to go and how to move forward. [Lennon] is a clever man and is well aware of the situation. The players need to step up to the plate too. He is not naïve enough to think everything is rosy. We need to make sure things improve. Speedily. You can’t avoid [talk of his future]. You see it in the newspapers, hear it on the radio and wherever. It’s part and parcel of the game and I think the manager has dealt with it well so far. If we were four games for the end of the season and about to get relegated it would be an entirely different scenario. We are four games in and yes it’s been disappointing but we have to believe we can turn it round or there’s no point turning up.”
Many have wondered if there was any point in Lennon turning up for his work last Monday morning. Yet, guiding St Mirren to a first League Cup win in their history, and a first major trophy for 15 years – which followed on from leading the club to their highest league finish in quarter of a century – surely seems worthy of a longer period of grace than Lennon has been afforded.
He was a man who, frankly, spoke as if he feared he was on his way out when facing the press after the Partick reverse and Thompson also isn’t interested in living off the League Cup win.
“Well, that was last season,” he says. “It seems so incredibly long ago now. I’ve certainly not revisited it. Other people talk to you about it but it’s not been at the forefront of my mind for a long time. I’ve got my own personal goals and ambitions of wanting to extend the longevity of my career. If you dwell on your past successes, possibly like Andy Murray again, you’re not going to go forward. I certainly don’t think it’s something I or a lot of the other boys sit and think about. Yeah, it was brilliant but football moves on and the thing is that it changes very quickly.
“That can be good for us because we have had a poor start. I think last year St Johnstone had a nightmare and then won five on the bounce. We had a horrendous run and did all right through Christmas. It was streaky. I guess the message is that we need to work hard and hopefully come out the other end of it. For me it’s all about confidence and the older I get the more I see that. That’s the paradox. Being confident on a football pitch while you are under that scrutiny and pressure is a difficult thing to do. Especially for the younger players.” Or, indeed, a younger manager.