DEREK McINNES spent several years piecing together a squad at St Johnstone comprising players he could trust.
He assembled a group of players he believed could continue their ascent of the SPL and results this season have proved him right. The sentimental attachment is still strong and their result is still the first he looks for but the team is now someone else’s and the rebuilding work has begun again, this time at Bristol City.
The hope is that he will be able to continue that work in the Championship. With three games to go, that is an uncertainty. But the chances are significantly better than when he took charge of the Robins six months ago. Back then the side were six points adrift at the foot of the table. Today they sit four points clear of the bottom-three relegation zone.
A points haul of one from a run of seven games in February and March had caused concern but there were mitigating circumstances. The loss of top scorer Nicky Maynard on the last day of the transfer window was a blow, as was the knee injury to captain Liam Fontaine and the snapped Achilles tendon of Marvin Elliott.
Add injuries to a couple of centre halves and the recall of on-loan defender Stephen McManus by Middlesbrough and it’s clear there have been issues to deal with.
“There have been loads of factors but I’m not here to make excuses,” said McInnes. “We should have got more results, although I do feel we have reached a better level of consistency in the last seven or eight games.” Including yesterday’s 2-2 draw at Birmingham, they have suffered just two defeats in the last nine games, but with only three matches left, the first against West Ham United on Tuesday, the last two against Barnsley and Burnley, there is still battling to be done.
“Still not a lot of room for error, the two games over Easter were always going to be pivotal, Nottingham Forest away and Coventry at home,” said McInnes. “They were games we knew we could win. There’s still work to be done but although we look at the results of the teams round about us, it’s up to us. No one is going to gift us survival, we will have to work hard for it. The biggest thing for us was that the club sold out Ashton Gate for the Coventry game and when you are in a relegation battle, that’s a huge boost. The supporters were right behind us. The players got a standing ovation going off the pitch.”
At St Johnstone he didn’t experience these kind of nervy, bottom-of-the-table climaxes. But he has enlisted the helping hands of Jim McIntyre in recent weeks and, along with assistant Tony Docherty, the trio are confident they can stay up.
“It has been totally different but I knew what I was getting into. I knew I was leaving a team I believed in and where I knew we had a level of trust and a level of performance. Every one of the players was someone I had brought to the club. We went from an easier managerial job, although I’m not saying it wasn’t tough at times, but times were good at St Johnstone and we had players I knew I could count on. Here the players are someone else’s. I knew what I was getting into and I knew this was a challenge.”