Hearts manager Craig Levein has paid tribute to his ‘fantastic’ St Johnstone counterpart Tommy Wright for working marvels with the Perth club, insisting that while others laid the groundwork, he has built on that in impressive style.
As the teams prepare to meet at Murrayfield tomorrow, with the capital club looking for their first win in nine games, Levein spoke highly of the man many had touted for the Tynecastle post in the wake of Ian Cathro’s departure.
“He is fantastic. St Johnstone, for me, are like Dunfermline, Falkirk, Raith Rovers. Those other clubs are languishing in lower leagues and I put that down to Tommy. The crowds at St Johnstone are on a par with the other teams I mentioned but the fact that he is at St Johnstone means they have been in the top six year on year on year and in Europe year on year.
“Okay, there were a couple of really good managers in there before him, admittedly, and they maybe built the foundations. But he’s certainly put up a six-bedroom house rather than a cottage!”
Since taking over at McDiarmid Park in 2013 the Northern Irishman has steered the Saints to their first ever major trophy win, enjoying glory in the Scottish Cup, and, after a sixth place finish in his debut season, he has delivered three successive top four finishes and guided them into Europe.
“I think he’s done a remarkable job. The danger is expectations, he’s done so many good things in a period of time and it’s really difficult to keep that going.
“If I was to give advice to any young manager, whatever league you’re in, it would be to finish ninth, next year finish eighth, then seventh, then sixth and that might keep you in a job,” he suggested, saying that may prevent fans and employers expecting miracles season after season. “Just don’t finish third and third and third because at some point…
“When I speak about this, my mind always goes back to Alan Curbishley at Charlton. He took them through the leagues and into the Premier League, then finished in the top half but they got rid of him because they needed somebody to take them to the next level, which turned out to be two divisions below the one they were in!
“When you get up there [with one of the so-called underdogs] you are constantly fighting against the odds and the longer you stay up there, people take it for granted. That’s something that’s grossly unfair. There are some managers who have done remarkable jobs at clubs but the expectation level that is set is not always realistic. Tommy has outdone anybody with regard to having his team playing above a level that possibly the budget would dictate.”
Nine games into the league season, a fourth win of the campaign for Hearts would catapult them up the standings, allowing them to leapfrog not only St Johnstone but also rivals Hibs, who they face at Easter Road in the first Edinburgh derby of the season on Tuesday. But Levein knows that reward will have to be well-earned against a team with a reknowned work ethic.
“I don’t always associate St Johnstone picking up points with them necessarily playing well. One of the big things about them is their determination and their grit and their ability to win points when they are not at their best.”
Hearts showed a willingness to dig in and battle for their win away to Ross County last weekend but the manager knows anything less could cost them this weekend.
“Outside of Celtic and maybe Aberdeen, the rest of us aren’t in the luxurious position of knowing we are always going to play well and win. We will need to work as hard as we have done in any match up to now to get the points.
“I know that and I can impart that knowledge to the players and make sure that we don’t lose this match due to them being more diligent or working harder.”