League Cup final: Lennon said they could be legends
ST MIRREN manager Danny Lennon revealed he had given the half-time team talk of his life as his club defeated Hearts 3-2 at Hampden to win their first League Cup.
Hearts had taken an early lead through Ryan Stevenson and were well on top before Esmail Goncalves equalised shortly before half-time. A goal by Steven Thompson seconds after the restart put the Paisley club ahead, and, when Conor Newton made it 3-1, the game seemed over. But a second goal from Stevenson six minutes from time produced a rousing finale, which left the winning manager feeling drained but still ecstatic.
“I’m very proud, emotional, and absolutely thrilled,” Lennon said after his team had lifted their first trophy since the Scottish Cup in 1987. “I thought Hearts played a fantastic game, mostly in the first half. They played the game, we played the occasion, in the first half.
“We got into the players at half-time and reminded them that, if they wanted to become legends, there was a game of football to be played. There was a wee bit of emotion, a bit of raised voices and some comforting words. But, more importantly, reminding them that these opportunities don’t come very often. Some players will play their full careers and never get an opportunity to play in the national stadium in a national cup final. So my message to them was make sure that it was a day that they could remember for the rest of their lives. They gave us that and they gave everybody associated with our wonderful football club a day they can cherish for the rest of their lives.”
Striker Thompson, a boyhood St Mirren fan, will particularly cherish it, and Lennon had a special word for the veteran at the break. “I said to him: ‘It’s written for you. You’re living your boyhood dream at this moment in time.’
“It was a wonderful finish [for the goal]. Stevie’s a top player; he’s had a wonderful career. It’s Roy of the Rovers stuff for him. We knew we hadn’t started, and we made a little tactical change with two up top. That stopped [Andy] Webster controlling the game from the back and allowed us to get up the pitch and make one or two passes. I just felt [Mehdi] Taouil was starting to control the game in the first-half. We were our own downfall in the first half. We didn’t pass the ball but, once we had calmed down, we got back into it.
“We got off to a fantastic start in the second half and got ourselves into a good, comfortable lead. But a good-quality side like Hearts were always champing at the bit and their aerial presence put us under a good deal of pressure. They were a wee bit more direct than they’re used to, and it caused us one or two problems.”
It perhaps caused Lennon one or two palpitations in the closing minutes after Stevenson had pulled Hearts back to 3-2, and the manager admitted it had been tense at the death.
“It’s never a good time to concede a goal. I was kicking every ball, winning every header, every tackle – I’ve never won as many headers in my puff before. Their supporters brought a lot to the game, along with our own, and it was certainly the people’s cup final. I’m absolutely delighted that we’re bringing the trophy back to Paisley for the first time in this club’s 135-year history, and I’m absolutely thrilled for the board of directors for having the belief in me.
“There’s no amount of alcohol will get me any higher tonight than I am at this moment. I’m on Cloud Nine.”
Hearts manager Gary Locke had to deal with the disappointment of losing the final just a day after being named as the club’s full-time manager on a deal that runs to the end of next season. “It is a sore one,” the 37-year-old said. “Myself, the staff and all the players are really hurting. If we could have got a second goal we probably would have gone on to win. I think we hit the woodwork two or three times. It just wasn’t meant to be.”
Meanwhile, a claim that Hearts are close to agreeing a deal to sell the club has been dismissed by Tynecastle sources as “very premature”. BBC Scotland said that talks between representatives of owner Vladimir Romanov and Supporters Direct were “at an advanced stage” and that a deal could be concluded before the start of next season.
Supporters Direct Scotland (SDS) head Paul Goodwin has been talking to the club for months but, if anything, the timescale appears to be slipping. Last month director Sergejus Fedotovas said the club could be sold “by the end of the season”.
SDS have been acting on behalf of the Hearts Supporters’ Trust, the only fans’ group who have not made an alliance with the Foundation of Hearts, which includes representatives of the two largest groups, the Federation of Hearts Supporters and the Hearts Shareholders’ Association, on its steering group.
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Monday 20 May 2013
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