Jun 19 2009 by Gordon Bannerman, Perthshire Advertiser Friday
DEREK McINNES might be in Sweden and chairman Geoff Brown is enjoying a short continental break – but on the home front excitement is already building in the countdown to the SPL season.
The eagerly awaited Clydesdale Bank Premier League fixtures list was unveiled at McDiarmid Park this week, with striker Stevie Milne taking a break from fatherhood chores to talk-up St Johnstone’s prospects for the forthcoming campaign.
With his manager still being strongly touted on both sides of the border for the vacant West Brom post vacated by Tony Mowbray, whose switch to Celtic was finally concluded in midweek, Milne remained hopeful that McInnes would lead his First Division champions into SPL action on August 15.
Saints will unfurl the First Division flag on home turf re-sown since the end of the season, with Motherwell providing the opposition at a stadium frozen out of top flight football for seven years.
West Brom’s intentions on the managerial front will become clearer over the next few days but Midlands contacts have again confirmed McInnes is among potential candidates being discussed in the Baggies boardroom.
The Perth manager, in Sweden pursuing coaching qualifications at the Euro U21 Championships, continues to ignore newspaper stories linking him with a potentially lucrative return to a club he once skippered.
McInnes stressed: “It is still just speculation so not worth commenting on.”
Instead, he preferred to focus on the countdown to the new season in Scotland, saying: “I know the authorities try to fix-up a home game for the champions and I’m glad that’s been possible.
“The unfurling of the flag will be a sideshow but recognition of the players’ achievements last season. And it is important for the fans.
“Our focus will be on beating Motherwell. It should be a great occasion for the club and the supporters.
“They have waited a long time for SPL football.
“Everyone can now start anticipating the new season. It will be a challenge but a nice one for us all.”
The first away game, ironically, will see McInnes lead Saints to Celtic Park if he is still in post.
That will be Mowbray’s first home game in charge.
McInnes said: “Going to Celtic Park is always difficult and obviously it will be their first home game under Tony. But it’s exciting for us all. The players have worked hard to earn the right to play in the SPL.
“Many of them have missed these big matches and some have never experienced them.
“We had a wee taste in cup games against the Old Firm and the lads will relish the atmosphere.”
The Perth manager plans to hook-up again with chairman Geoff Brown early next week to assess transfer targets.
But word from Paisley is that St Mirren are ready dig deep to lure keeper Paul Gallacher from Dunfermline. He had been linked with interest from McDiarmid Park.
Meanwhile, Stevie Milne admits he’s never looked forward more to a season.
The striker and his wife Leeanne welcomed baby Lucia recently, joining three-year-old Sophie who figured in the title celebrations.
“It will be great to go and play against Celtic and Rangers. But we have to concentrate on that first home match with Motherwell and look for a winning start,” he cautioned.
Like anxious fans, Milne has watched the mounting speculation linking West Brom with a move for his manager but he said: “Hopefully the gaffer will still be here at the start of the season. He will have a point to prove as a young manager in the SPL.
“Other teams like Hamilton and St Mirren have done well after promotion and we certainly aren’t going into the league thinking of coming back down.”
THREE of St Johnstone’s first five Clydesdale Bank SPL games are away from home. After a McDiarmid opener with Motherwell, Saints head for Celtic Park, face Hearts in Perth and then hit the road for matches against St Mirren and Hibs.
The first Tayside derby with Dundee United is at home on September 26. Rangers come to town on October 17.
The Boxing Day game is away to Motherwell and on January 2 Saints head for Falkirk.
Saints fan Michael Ross yesterday complained bitterly about Saints supporters facing two away trips over Christmas and New Year with a midweek home fixture sandwiched between them.
He said: “This is all wrong. Teams that are away on Boxing Day are also away on January 2. One of the holiday fixtures should have been at home. It’s a nonsense.
“No one seems to think of the fans. It would have been better to play on the Saturday and Monday holiday at New Year, rather than squeeze in a game on December 30.”