Jan 25 2011 by Gordon Bannerman, Perthshire Advertiser Tuesday
DEREK McINNES is refusing to let the shocking state of the McDiarmid Park pitch degenerate into a saga which distracts his players from the task in hand.
The Perth club, seeking to close in on sixth-placed Motherwell with a three point return tonight (Wednesday) in the Fair City, are bracing themselves for a hefty summer bill to solve deep-rooted problems.
Until then, the St Johnstone manager is resigned to coping with the troubled surface as Saints face a spate of home games, including a vital Scottish Cup clash with Partick Thistle.
“It is a real frustration for us all but we are not apportioning blame here. We have all been shocked by the deterioration that has taken place,” said McInnes.
“The chairman, Geoff Brown, wants nothing more than to have a surface the players want to play their football on. Everything possible is being done to make it better in the short-term.
“It’s far from ideal and the pitch didn’t help us on Saturday against St Mirren, although it would be wrong to say that was the only reason we didn’t win.
“But there is no point moaning and bleating about it. We just have to try to overcome the conditions which face us. The bigger goal for us all is to make sure we get the results at home.
“We know what to expect from now to the end of the season. We just have to get on with it and have to approach it with the right mentality.
“I was asked about the state of the pitch after the weekend game and it would have been foolish to ignore it.
“But now we all have to move on and focus on the importance of winning our home games. That is vital to this club and hopefully we can do just that.”
The pitch took a battering in back-to-back games with Celtic in late October and that prompted the club to commission turf specialists.
Their report indicated that the problem lay several feet beneath the surface and could only be fully addressed come the summer.
Despite hosting just two games since mid-November, a combination of snow, ice and the pressing need for undersoil heating has done it no favours.
McInnes yesterday pleaded with Perth fans to show patience and back his players to the hilt at McDiarmid.
He said: “It is vital that we maximise our home advantage in the weeks ahead and I’m hoping our fans take the condition of the pitch into account and maybe cut the lads some slack when they see a misplaced pass.
“We have a few big games coming up in Perth and the supporters have a big role to play in giving the players the sort of backing they will respond to. We are all in this together.”
Saints are hoping to avoid SPL sanctions by pressing on with their short-term strategy to improve the park.
On the injury front, midfielder Jamie Adams is doubtful after being floored by a sickness bug. Skipper Jody Morris is ready after suffering a back muscle spasm.
Saints are on a good run, with just one defeat in their last eight games. And after suffering two previous defeats from Motherwell, now being managed by McInnes’s former Rangers teammate Stuart McCall, this provides a chance to make amends.
“Motherwell got a good win over Hibs at the weekend. Stuart is trying to bring in some of his own signings after losing a few players. But they are still what you expect from a Motherwell team, with experience, pace and a goal threat. But we want to be tough opposition for any team we face.
“We know we have to ask more questions of Motherwell than we did of St Mirren at the weekend. There was a flatness about our performance and a sense of frustration and disappointment because we were expected to win. But I didn’t feel at any time we were going to lose a goal and that is really pleasing. It provides us with a solid platform. But the onus is on us at home.
“We have put in a couple of poor performances against Motherwell this season, for whatever reason, but we go into this one in far better shape.
“On the plus side we have only lost to Celtic in our last eight matches, we are unbeaten in four and there have been plenty clean sheets.”
McInnes admits he may have to tweak his game plan to take account of the McDiarmid surface.
“I want us to be free-flowing and we went 4-4-2 on Saturday with Collin Samuel pushing up and down on the left. We tried to be positive and fluid but it just didn’t happen for us.”
Teenage striker Stevie May could come into contention for his first start if McInnes opts to freshen-up his frontline in pursuit of goals, with just five from nine home matches so far this term.
The manager said: “I have been fair with everyone at the top end of the park. Stevie is a player I have gone on record as saying has goals in him and who will have a good career with St Johnstone.
“But it is about the right game and the right time to start him. It is certainly something I am considering.”