GLF 74: The GLF editor looks back at the Fir Park managerial roundabout.
Out With The New, In With The Old
Despite our recent inability to keep a manager in place for a reasonable length of time, not since October 2001 (when we encouraged Billy Davies to reinvent himself as the saviour of English Second Tier clubs) have we chosen to change our gaffer mid-season (as Mr Black chose to leave in the face of administration the following year).Messrs Butcher, Malpas and McGhee were bid a bon voyage, chased out of town and lost to Celti....I mean Aberdeen respectively yet the summers of '06, '07 and '09 allowed John Boyle and co the luxury of the close season to consider and secure our next leader.With the latest of these appointments we were introduced to a certain Jim Gannon ......
Stockport fans promised us we'd bagged ourselves a gem, but with the benefit of hindsight even the manner of his arrival was telling as it was'leaked' prior to the official announcement because of ongoing contract negotiations.Also, his first game in charge was written off as not being his fault due to the short space of time before Llanelli came calling yet the post-match comments of possession dominated, failure to deliver that killer ball and slack defending was not to be the last such post-mortem.
But a couple of weeks is a long time in football and big margin wins in the return and in THAT game against Flamurtari had us dreaming of a Claret and Amber wonderland of goals, flowing football and an exciting young team.Who would have believed as we trotted out in front of 25,000 fans in Bucharest that our new leader would be our ex-manager within five months??
Unbeaten in our first five league games and avoiding defeat on our SPL travels until December was no mean feat as Gannon looked to unite his new recruits of Ruddy, Moutouakil,Coke, Jutkiewicz and Hateley with his promoted young guns like Murphy, Forbes, McHugh, Hutchinson and Saunders- at the expense of old heads such as Craigan, Sutton and Lasley.Yet it also covered up some cracks - needing every minute of the 120 to see off Inverness at home in the CIS (and the subsequent reward of the dire performance and questionable formation change at Paisley), capitulation to Hibs at Fir Park and sharing six goals at St Mirren after ditching the OTT passing game at 1-3 behind - and then our groundhog day of failing to take advantage against the ten men of Hamilton, Aberdeen and Dundee Utd.
Cue the winter of our discontent that was December 2009.Non-performance at Easter Road noteworthy only for the gaffer ordering everyone to ignore the press, spirited first half display lost in second half onslaught by Celtic with the baffling team selections of McHugh and Meechan, the long-feared skelping at Ibrox before the oft-witnessed 'decent first-half/abysmal second half' defeat to St Johnstone which triggered Gannon to question the young players' frailties, weaknesses and lack of physical and mental strength.We may never know if this outburst (with more than a resemblance to Malpas' attack on the 'Well fans after THAT St Mirren humbling) directly brought about his dismissal, but what do we take from this shortest of revolutions?????
For me in a sentence "great philosophy, shame about the approach".I don't think many fans disagree with his thoughts on promoting youngsters, giving lower league players their chance, championing the passing style and even giving the established players a right good kick up the arse.What many did end up resenting was his personal crusade against the refs and the press, his perceived persecution of any squad member old enough to have to shave each day, his alleged focus on tactics rather than fitness during training sessions (is this why we always put in dire second half performances???) and probably most of all his refusal to find the time over two dozen weeks to scribble his signature on a contract.In summary, I think Jim Gannon will rightly fall into the Harri Kaampman/Maurice Malpas camp of gone and forgotten, with only himself to blame.
So as ever, upwards and onwards to the new man in the hotseat and following our chairman's perceived logic of installing young, up and coming, ambitious, unproven and relatively left-field appointments as Davies, Black, Butcher, Malpas, McGhee and Gannon, then there was not a little surprise at the appointment of a 69-year-old who had been out of management for five-and-a-half years - but then it was only on an interim basis ......
Only involved in a supervisory capacity in our one goal defeat at Tynecastle, the icy conditions meant that Brown & Knox's official bow was delayed until mid-January when we travelled to Killie but their input was immediately visible both in our line-up and performance.
A solid back four of Hammell, Reynolds, Craigan and Hateley protected Ruddy, Lasley came in to bolster our midfield alongside Coke, Forbes and O'Brien whilst Sutton was charged with forming a partnership with Jutkiewicz.Simple, yet stunningly effective as we turned recent performances on their head, coming on strong after the interval to score three goals without reply.Before (or despite) getting too excited we quickly reprised a Motherwell favourite of collapsing meekly to a lower league side in the Cup but thankfully this seems to have only been a blip in an otherwise impressive start where at the time of writing we have picked up thirteen points from a possible fifteen, not lost a goal in that time and scored nine in the process - so what exactly has changed??
To be honest (and as with all great ideas) it has been little things such as treating the entire squad even-handedly and with respect, striking a balance between youth and experience, changing our style of play from passing to direct when required, working on our fitness so we can see out the ninety minutes in a competitive league and sticking to a shape and tactic with a settled team/squad.
An unchanged back five tells its only story as we look to clock up over five hundred minutes without conceding; as does a regular strike force which (despite a valid debate about whether or not John Sutton deserves to be a first-team starter on a consistent basis) has claimed six of the nine goals under Brown's stewardship, whilst our midfield has been built on the twin rocks of Lasley and Jennings allowing the likes of Coke and especially O'Brien to go and express themselves.
How many of our squad would we have lost by now if Gannon had still been in charge??Things look very different just now, and I would temper any fans ire if we fail to catch Dundee Utd for fourth spot and/or stay ahead of the Jambo's and Dons to claim a Top Six berth with the real danger that if we hadn't decided to part company with Gannon & co then a relegation scrap with a team full of wet behind the ears youngsters was both a realistic and terrifying scenario for the Spring of 2010.
So should we be happy??I think so.But for the grace of god we could have been in the position of Hearts/Killie fans who have to endure their turn in suffering the well-kent delights of Calderwood & Jeffries - at least with Craig Brown we have an SPL boss who gives us a certain breath of fresh air - despite needing a seat to catch it again.....
by Christopher Hutton
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