Tommy Craig a poor fit for St Mirren lead role

With just three wins from his 19 games in charge, Tommy Craig has now been replaced. Picture: PA
With just three wins from his 19 games in charge, Tommy Craig has now been replaced. Picture: PA
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FOOTBALL club boardrooms have never been widely regarded as environments where logic is allowed to flourish.

But even by the often haphazard nature of so many managerial appointments, St Mirren’s decision to put Tommy Craig in their hotseat at the end of last season was the product of truly bizarre reasoning.

For regardless of how highly he is respected throughout the game as a coach – and it would not take long to compile a lengthy list of glowing testimonials to him from high-profile former players who worked under him – there was nothing on Craig’s CV to suggest he was suddenly equipped to be a successful frontline manager. In two caretaker spells in charge of Hibernian, stepping in for John Blackley and John Collins respectively in 1986 and 2007, he had identically unimpressive records of no victories and three defeats in four matches each time.

Then in the 2009-10 season, when he followed in Collins’ footsteps as manager of Belgian club Charleroi, he compiled a lamentable ledger of just two wins and 14 defeats from the 19 games of his tenure before he was dismissed.

Unfortunately for the St Mirren board of directors and the club’s supporters, Craig has simply added further weight to that damning statistical evidence by duly turning out to be an exceedingly poor fit for the role he was given in May.

With just three wins and 13 defeats from his 19 matches at the Paisley helm, it takes Craig’s combined career record to five wins, eight draws and 33 defeats in management.

The alarm bells did not take long to start ringing for Saints fans this season. The first five Premiership fixtures under Craig were all lost, his team only managing to score their first league goal of the campaign in the fifth of those defeats at Kilmarnock on 13 September.

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There was brief respite and flickering signs of hope during a subsequent four-match run which featured wins at Partick Thistle and St Johnstone either side of a creditable display in losing 2-1 at home to Celtic and a spirited 2-2 draw against Aberdeen at Pittodrie.

But if it suggested a significant change of fortune could be achieved under Craig, it proved wholly misleading. St Mirren lost five or their next six league matches, a sequence only interrupted by earning a point at home to fellow strugglers Ross County.

Having already exited the League Cup at the third round stage away to Partick in September, Saints then fell at their first hurdle in the Scottish Cup when they were crushed 4-0 by Inverness Caledonian Thistle in a fourth-round replay last midweek.

Saturday’s 1-0 defeat at home to St Johnstone, which kept them joint-bottom of the table and saw the attendance at St Mirren Park drop below 3,000 for a league fixture for the first time this season, proved the final straw for chairman Stewart Gilmour and his directors who confirmed Craig’s departure yesterday.

They may also have cause to reflect ruefully on the skewed rationale which led them to name him as manager in the first place.

In deciding to effectively dismiss Danny Lennon by not renewing his contract in May, Saints’ board were seeking an injection of freshness at the end of a season in which they had flirted consistently with the relegation play-off position.

But if Lennon had been judged to have reached the end of his shelf life at the club after four years in the job, it made no obvious sense to those outwith the St Mirren Park boardroom to simply promote his assistant to the job.

Craig, brought to Saints by Lennon as his right-hand man in the summer of 2011, had certainly underlined his credentials as a coach by helping the younger man engineer one of the greatest moments in the club’s history.

The League Cup final triumph over Hearts at Hampden in March 2013, bringing St Mirren their first piece of major silverware for 26 years and only the fourth of their then 136-year existence, was a source of great kudos for both Lennon and Craig.

In Lennon’s case, the credit it bought him among St Mirren supporters was rapidly used up amid general disenchantment with the team’s performances last season. It was difficult to then understand why Gilmour and his colleagues felt that Craig, while rightly sharing in Lennon’s successes, should be exempt from his perceived failings.

Craig sought a degree of continuity and support from the dressing room by appointing two of the club’s most experienced operators, Gary Teale and Jim Goodwin, as his player-coaches. But it was the lengthy absence through injury of another of the older hands, striker Steven Thompson, which perhaps most significantly impacted on-field fortunes under Craig.

With Teale placed in interim charge for Sunday’s visit to champions and Premiership leaders Celtic, a crucial decision now faces a St Mirren board whose long-standing pursuit of new ownership of the club appears no closer to a positive outcome.

Whoever they name as their next permanent manager, their choice is unlikely to raise as many eyebrows as the appointment of Craig did seven months ago.

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