IT IS more than St Mirren followers who will feel grateful to the Paisley club right now – the club’s first ever League Cup success a fortnight ago being the one human interest story in the Scottish game that doesn’t centre around the misery of existence.
Yet, even after seemingly celebrating for that full fortnight, the unexpected moments just keep spinning off from the cup success. Celtic players will stage a guard of honour for their hosts when the sides meet in Paisley this afternoon. That will be all new for Gary Teale.
“That’ll probably be a bit awkward for them I’d imagine and I would never of thought that would have happened,” he says. “It’s obviously nice as Celtic and Rangers over the years kind of win everything, so if that happens and they do that it’ll certainly be a nice touch and something I’ll enjoy.”
Teale, in the veteran category, has enjoyed a new lease of life in recent months at the Paisley club. It seems only the formalities have to be completed for the winger to sign a contract extension tying him to a club who have cut the reins.
“I’ve probably had a wee bit more freedom like I’ve had for the majority of my career, and the gaffer’s just let me be a winger and given me a wee bit more licence to get forward, though don’t get me wrong, you still need to put in the shifts and track back when the full-back goes. But he’s given me that licence just to get one v one against the full-backs and be putting balls into the box and when you’ve got big Thommo [Steven Thompson] in there or Izzy [Ismael Goncalves], since he’s come in, it’s a dream really. Nine times out of ten they’ll put it in the back of the net.”
Yet St Mirren remain in 11th place in the Scottish Premier League because, nine times out of ten, they have not been able to follow up good displays, or good wins. “Our target at the start of the season was the top six and we’re obviously going to fall short of that, which we’re disappointed with but [now] if we can finish seventh we’ll look on it as a good season.
“It’s the consistency – we’re up there one week then a wee bit lower again the next. After the Celtic cup semi we actually won three games in a row, and I don’t think this team, and certainly before that as a club, have had results like that. So it’s something we have to aim at in these remaining games.”
Manager Danny Lennon is aiming higher in the longer term. Yet, just as Ross County and Inverness Caledonian Thistle might be jealous of St Mirren’s history-making in the League Cup, so Lennon can only be envious of their status among the SPL leaders.
“I look at them and don’t think they have any better football players than us but at this moment they have a wee edge on winning mentality, and completing the job,” Lennon says.
“I certainly think the way we want to play is the hard way, that is only my opinion and I’m not saying the way other teams go about their business is right or wrong. We know that when we go a little bit more direct we become very ordinary. And when we do that, we don’t win football games.”
Lennon’s first trophy win, and the first achieved by St Mirren in 26 years, is a satisfying achievement for a make-the-best-of-it character. “You certainly think it is something you could get used to very easily,” he says, admitting he turns over the thought that, early in his managerial career, he might already have experienced a moment he will possibly never top.
Yet, having presided over back-to-back promotions with Cowdenbeath, Lennon’s achievements with St Mirren – he last season guided the club to their highest top-flight finish in more than two decades – indicate a team figurehead deserving of respect.
His propensity to mix up his words, or invent the odd one, have maybe sometimes caused his labours not to be treated with the seriousness they warrant. Furthermore, in course-and-distance coach Tommy Craig, he has an assistant whose contribution has been central to St Mirren scaling heights that for so long had seemed beyond them.
Lennon petitions that tangibles such as silverware are not the only means to measuring the “progress” he craves for St Mirren. Three of his cup-winning side were loanees, Newcastle United providing Paul Dummett and Conor Newton, with Ismael Goncalves on a short-term contract from Rio Aves. St Mirren want to produce their own players, he says, but the fact that clubs “trust and believe” in the football environment they are creating in Paisley, can be considered a vindication.
“Although their clubs are bigger than us on paper, we have given them experiences they could not have had at their own football clubs at this time,” he points out.
With Newton having not been offered new terms by the St James’s Park club, Lennon is hopeful that a permanent deal can be agreed with the midfielder who netted in the 3-2 final win over Hearts. A victory embraced by the entire Scottish football community, Lennon has a touch of the Frank Sinatras about him when reflecting on it.
“The League Cup was the people’s cup, nobody would have imagined it would have been a St Mirren and Hearts final, and what an occasion both sets of fans, and players, made it,” Lennons says.
“Sometimes we needed a little bit of luck along the way. Each part of our journey was very difficult. We had Ayr United in the first round, and were professional against a team who put us out in quarters last season. Against Hamilton we scored in the last minute. We then went to Aberdeen and were written off, but deserved to go through, even if on penalties.
“No-one gave us a chance in the semi-final against Celtic and then in the final we faced a big organisation, a massive club, in Hearts. They brought a lot to the game and could have had it out of sight in the first 20 minutes.
“But it shows you the character our boys have. I certainly believe the way we did it, we did it our way.”