PARTYING and parting seemed to dominate proceedings at Paisley yesterday.
Scorers: St Mirren - Newton (28); Hearts - Carrick (48)
First, Hearts supporters sang themselves hoarse over the fact their relegated club’s final day in the top flight for who knows how long might also represent the same for rivals Hibs. Then, at full-time, all signs were sought as to whether the embraces and farewell gestures from the two managers, Danny Lennon and Gary Locke, could in any way indicate whether they were saying permanent goodbyes.
Perhaps predictably, the manner in which St Mirren manager Lennon spoke in the aftermath had more of the feel of a man who knows deep down he is on the way out. It is impossible to arrive at any other conclusion when his board failed to offer him a contract renewal after meeting last week. In tawdry fashion, they have left him in limbo, his fate expected to be sealed tomorrow.
Asked if it felt like yesterday was the end, Lennon veered into valedictory mode. He appeared a man resigned to losing his job. “It’s out of my hands. I can only do what I’ve done in four years at this football club. The facts are there to be seen. Whether that is good enough for the board remains to be seen.
“They know how hard I work on a daily basis but it is now in their hands to offer me an opportunity to build on the foundations we have put in place. Or they go out there and gamble with a new face.”
It seems as if the St Mirren board will follow the latter course of action. Lennon spoke of how he would “love” the opportunity to take the club to the “next level”, the top six, and, as he has in recent weeks, reeled off his achievements in winning the League Cup last year and this season bringing through five youth players from the club’s academy.
Put to him that he could leave with his head held high, he responded instantly: “No doubt, no doubt.” Asked if he could understand the doubts over him, he said: “No, because I’ve not been privy to the conversations in the boardroom.” The only briefing of him “was a phonecall from the chairman after the boardroom meeting [on Thursday] to say nothing would be decided until Monday, that’s it.”
When asked whether he deserved better than to be left dangling in recent days, Lennon offered: “I can’t get inside five people’s heads. What I can say is I have been very honourable in the way I have led this football club. My remit was to make sure this club played top-flight football. Yet, with winning a trophy and the positivity I always try to build up around the football club there comes expectations. But it just shows you. Over the four years I have been here and the five years before that, for the club to be dining at the top table is fantastic. You’d only have to ask the fans and owners of Dunfermline, Dundee, Hamilton and now Hearts, about that.”
The fans of Hearts seemed to care not a jot about going down, and in creating an almighty racket throughout appeared positively to relish the prospect. Moreover, they sang long and loudly in support of their manager. The sleepy home fans didn’t offer a squeak of backing for theirs.
Even when Hearts went 1-0 down following a fine start by St Mirren that they capped when Conor Newton followed up to drive a low effort into the net after Jamie MacDonald had beaten away a Kenny McLean shot, the Tynecastle tunesmiths lilted laughingly. It helped that, soon, news filtered through that Kris Boyd had scored for Kilmarnock to push Hibs towards the play-off. Boyd was regaled in song, and chants of “we’re going down with the Hibees” filled the stadium. Hearts were “having a party” these fans began with, then amusingly warbling to us that “when the Hearts go up to lift the Ramsdens Cup, we’ll be there”. By the end of the day, they were in serenading mood. “Que sera, sera, whatever will be will be, we’re going to Cowdenbeath.”
By then, they had turned the encounter around with the help of goalkeeper Christopher Dilo. He didn’t look too clever in slapping a Jamie Walker shot right into the path of Dale Carrick, who kept his composure to turn the ball in. He made some amends with a terrific block late on from Callum Paterson as Hearts hunted the winner that would have allowed them to crow they would have been safe were it not for their administration 15-point penalty. That eluded them, but they could still delight in having earned more points with a largely under-20 side than their rivals from Easter Road.