Jun 12 2009 by Gordon Bannerman, Perthshire Advertiser Friday
DEREK McInnes might have been a rookie manager but anything other than a title-winning season would have been a disappointment.
He encouraged his St Johnstone players to share the ambition, drive and sense of purpose he’s brought to his first management role.
By the end of a campaign hallmarked by a club record unbeaten run, his team had captured the championship by a 10-point margin over Partick Thistle.
Inevitably, the 37-year-old is now being linked with bigger jobs, with speculation rife in Birmingham that he’s among the favourites for the West Brom post, along with Darren Ferguson of Peterborough, if Tony Mowbray’s move to Celtic is sealed. Watford have also had him on their shortlist.
He’s heading off for a UEFA pro licence trip to Sweden, which is hosting the U21 championships.
McInnes said: “We are keeping tabs on one or two potential signings on the home front and looking forward to the fixtures coming out on Wednesday.
“There’s a lot of doom and gloom about because of the Setanta situation and we’ll have to see what happens there before progressing things. But none of this will detract from the excitement of the new season for our fans and my players.”
While McInnes is seeing his stock rise, ironically, in August last year, with a series of morale-sapping defeats making a mockery of summer preparations, the young manager was finding his credentials and self-belief questioned.
He recalled: “I’d banged on about the importance of getting off to a good start, putting pressure on the players and myself. I wanted us to make a statement of intent.
“I’ve never been one to read too much into pre-season results but I believe it is vital to give players a bedrock of fitness to see them through the whole season. I remember always finishing strongly under Gary Megson at West Brom.
“But to lose three on the spin to Dunfermline, Partick and Clyde was as low as it could possibly get.
“It was a huge disappointment and unacceptable. We found ourselves second bottom and facing a lot of hard work. People were doubting us.
“We then lost away to Livi in the cup after extra-time but if there was an acceptable way to lose that was it. I felt the penny had dropped. The group had found the work ethic which saw us through to the end.
“We went 4-5-1 to give the defence some protection. It was back to basics for a while to foster confidence and we kicked on after a win at Ross County. That was the start of the record run. We got to the top and stayed there.
“I knew management would have its ups and downs. It’s all about how you handle the downs. The last few months of the previous season, after taking over from Owen Coyle, had gone pretty well, despite losing to Rangers on penalties in the cup semi-final. But August was pretty tortuous.
“I genuinely never had any doubts about the quality of the squad I had assembled. But we were losing poor goals and any chance of building momentum.
“The 4-0 defeat away to Partick was the worst of the lot. If that was a reflection of me and the personality of the team I had put together I was embarrassed and disappointed.
“Maybe I should have turned to former managers for advice but I wasn’t speaking to them any more often. I didn’t feel I had to. Maybe that was a fault, I don’t know. But I felt I knew myself what was required to turn it around.
“Every goal at Thistle came directly or indirectly from a set piece so we addressed it to provide Alan Main with more protection. Clubs like Liverpool, Everton, Dundee United and Rangers bring everyone back and cover both posts.
“I felt we would be alright when we went to Dingwall and won.
“It’s easy to have a real tight group of players when things are going well but we came through that spell in August intact.
“The players showed a real determination to get to the top and stay there. And ultimately it was the squad which won us the championship.”