Feb 3 2012 by Gordon Bannerman, Perthshire Advertiser Friday
STEVE Lomas yesterday threw down the gauntlet to prolific marksman Francisco Sandaza.
The Spaniard – pictured inset right – who was at the centre of another botched attempt by crisis gripped Rangers to prise him from McDiarmid on deadline day, has been challenged to shatter St Johnstone’s SPL scoring record before shipping out at the end of the campaign.
One-time Valencia and Dundee United centre Sandaza has already notched 15 goals – 11 of them on league duty – and now Lomas is demanding a return of 25 for the season.
His SPL strike rate has already bettered the 10 posted by George O’Boyle, Nathan Lowndes and Keigan Parker.
Now his sights are trained on beating Paul Wright’s record tally of 18 racked up in season 1991/92.
Like his manager, Saints chairman Steve Brown yesterday admitted he was delighted to still have fans’ favourite Sandaza on board.
Brown was reluctant to comment on reports that the Spanish attacker had been left hanging around a Madrid airport awaiting a last-minute attempt by Rangers to agree a fee to take him to Ibrox to replace Everton-bound Nikica Jelavic, just days after Sandaza had rejected a £5000-a-week pre-contract offer.
Some in the Perth camp fear their striker has been used as a pawn in the Ibrox club’s internal power struggles and PA Sport understands no firm or creditable offer was made for a player valued at £300,000 at McDiarmid Park.
In a statement, the McDiarmid chairman said: “I don’t want to get involved in the ins and outs of this saga. Suffice to say we are delighted we still have Fran going into a vital Scottish Cup tie with Hearts on Sunday – which kicks off at 2.15pm – and for the rest of the season.
“We did have inquiries about Fran but he remains our player and we are delighted about that. We had made it clear all along we wanted to keep Fran. We didn’t want to lose him.
“He is our top goalscorer and I know our manager Steve Lomas has already had a word with him and he is totally focused on St Johnstone and our game against Hearts.
“Speculation is part and parcel of the transfer window but now we can move on. Fran is a valuable player for St Johnstone and I am sure he will continue to contribute goals between now and May.
“We have never hidden from the fact that we’d be happy to see Fran go onto bigger things.
“That means he has been doing well for St Johnstone.
“It’s not a crime to want to better yourself in any line of business.
“We have made Fran a very good offer to extend his stay here but I am sure if the goals keep flowing he will continue to attract attention.
“And if we can’t convince him to stay Fran will make the move to the right club in the summer.”
On the Jody Morris front, Saints, as anticipated by PA Sport on deadline day, did not receive a bid from Bristol City to take their captain south. And while the former Chelsea star is a close friend of previous manager and admirer Derek McInnes, Lomas has no doubts the midfielder will, like Sandaza, have an integral role to play over the next few months.
Morris was certainly in good form at the squad‘s go-karting team bonding day at a Cambuslang track.
Ironically, manager Lomas now finds his squad in better shape than ever, with the arrival of loan recruits James Keatings from Celtic and Kudus Oyenuga from Spurs coming hard on the heels of Lee Croft from Derby and Jack Compton from Falkirk.
Sean Higgins is now on loan at Ayr United until the end of the season, Stevie May has been attracting attention on loan at Alloa, one-time starlet Steven Reynolds has been released and Graham Gartland and Sam Parkin left earlier in the month. Willie Gibson’s loan deal from Crawley also ended.
Right now, the top priority for Lomas is the live Sky Sports game in the capital, where a Peter MacDonald goal eased Saints through in the cup last season.
Lomas, who hopes to have Murray Davidson and Compton training today after treatment to injuries, said: “It’s going to be tough because Hearts are a decent team. Apart from the Old Firm away this is probably one of the toughest draws we could have got.
“But you have to take on whatever comes your way in cup draws. We will certainly be going there to try to win the game.
“It’s a great stadium, a fantastic ground with great supporters. When they got a goal back against us there earlier in the season the place was really jumping. We know our first job is to try and quieten them down.”
STEVE Lomas is a man in demand. Hard on the heels of a Sunday night appearance on Sportscene, he will be guest speaker at the next Perthshire Chamber of Commerce lunch at McDiarmid on February 21