St. Johnstone, the SPL’s newcomers, have made a decent start to life back at the top level, and are currently sitting in 8th place. As the league gears up again for the Christmas stretch, manager Derek McInnes talks about life in the SPL and points to one win in particular that was especially significant.
Derek McInnes Interview, by Dave Bowler:
Derek McInnes: “Winning that game was very important for us against Falkirk. We’ve had five league games at home now and Falkirk was the first one we’ve had against a team that you wouldn’t expect to be at least pushing for a finish in the top six. We’d had Dundee United, Hearts, Motherwell and Rangers before that and that makes it a bit harder, but as I said to the players before the game, all of those sides have had to really fight for the results they’ve got against us and we’ve been unfortunate, we’ve probably deserved more from all those games.
“In the finish though, it’s the result that matters and we’d have sacrificed a performance for a result against Falkirk. To be fair, we got a bit of both, we were out of the traps brilliant, scored early and should have been out of sight in 20 minutes. But credit to Falkirk, they’re scrapping away down there and they got back into it. I was really pleased with the response of our players to conceding an equaliser, they dug deep and we deserved to go and get that win because we worked their goalkeeper very hard. There’s no point dressing it up any other way, it was a big win for us against a team who, with respect, tend to be at the bottom end of the division.
“It gave us a bit of breathing space but that can quickly disappear, especially as we then lost at Aberdeen, where we were a bit unlucky with close decisions. But we have to be realistic, we’re the newly promoted side and though people in the SPL have said nice things about how we’ve gone about games, we know it’s a huge challenge to stay in the league this season, but I’ve a group of players here who are really motivated to do it.”
Derek McInnes in action for West Brom at ‘The Battle of Bramall Lane’
In his playing days, McInnes played at the top level with Rangers in Scotland and West Bromwich Albion in England. Having won promotion with Albion, he well knows how different life is in the higher league. Have St Johnstone had to make a big readjustment?
Derek McInnes: “There’s definitely a gap between the two divisions, but I feel we’ve improved as we’ve gone along, our performances have got better. You get the opportunity to play a bit more in this league which suits a lot of my players. We’re second highest goalscorers in the league, we’ve scored from all over the team, whereas last season it was possibly fair comment that we weren’t creative enough at times. Teams have opened us against us this season, they’re geared up to win against a team like us who they regard as a game where they can get three points. That’s been to our benefit at times because we’ve got players who can play.
“We’ve lost more goals than I’d like but we have good attacking players, our midfielders like Jody Morris are chipping in, the defenders have got a few and we have to make sure that continues because it means we’re not just reliant on the front players like Collin Samuel. We’ve created opportunities to score more than we have, but I’m still pleased with that side of things because it gives you confidence. I think the players know we need to be more clinical against the better sides such as Aberdeen, but as long as we’re making chances, that’s a big positive.
“We’ve been in every game we’ve played, but we’ve found the line between winning and losing is much thinner in this division, and we’ve been on the wrong end of some sore ones where we’ve lost very narrowly late on, Dundee United and Rangers were examples where we were worth a draw. At 1-1 against Falkirk, it was tight for a period but we came through and won that. The season will be full of games like that, that can go either way and the successful sides will win more of those than they lose.”
St Johnstone v Motherwell, August 15, 2009
Staying afloat in the SPL might be the only aim this term, but with the recent short term acquisition of Jonatan Johansson, St Johnstone have made a few sit up and take notice with a nice flash of ambition.
Derek McInnes: “Jonatan is a guy I’ve known a long time going back to Rangers. Things didn’t work out for him at Hibs and I spoke to him after that because I know he’s always served his clubs well previously and he has that bit of experience I thought might help us, he’s a good pro, very fit. He’s determined to keep playing for his country, he’s still Finland’s top striker, he won his 100th cap just recently, and he was training with us just to keep fit for those games.
“He got a goal in the game in Germany which is no mean feat and I feared the worst then because I thought he’d get all sorts of offers, but he was keen to stay with us and I was delighted because we had a couple of injuries up top. He’s here through to January and we’ll see what happens then, but against Dundee United and Falkirk, he’s made a good contribution and it bodes well. I hope he’ll enjoy his football here which is what I did when I came here the last couple of years of my career. I really enjoyed working with Owen Coyle and playing for our crowd, and I hope Jonatan can get the same out of it.”
Jonatan Johansson’s goal against Germany
Johansson’s experience could be a key quality for St Johnstone, but McInnes isn’t taking his eye off the ball. This season is about one thing, and one thing only, as he admits.
Derek McInnes: “I said at the start of the season that if we end up 11th, that’s a result for us because we’ve had seven years outwith the SPL and we need to get some time here under our belt. It’s no great ambition, but we’re realistic, what matters is that next August we’re kicking off in the SPL again and then we can maybe raise the bar a bit more, and do that season on season. If we can stay up with a bit to spare, that’s great I’d love that. But if we do it in the last minute of the last game, I’ll take that now.”
Derek McInnes was talking to Dave Bowler for First Touch.
Reprinted with the express permission of our friends at First Touch Magazine .