Derek McInnes is as divisive now as when he was appointed five years ago. …
The Ulsterman has been a huge success as St Johnstone manager and arguably the most successful in the club’s history. He joined as assistant manager to fellow Ulsterman, Steve Lomas in 2011 and after a relatively successful two years, Lomas left for Millwall. This prompted chairman Steve Brown to promote Tommy Wright to the managers’ role; a decision which has turned out to be successful beyond anyone’s expectations.
A Scottish Cup win, consecutive top six finishes leading to five trips into Europe, with a 95-74-85 W-D-L record, Wright has won over 41% of his matches in charge.
I wrote a piece recently, critical of St Johnstone’s recent form and transfer dealings as the fall from top 6 to eighth was completely predictable when looking at the age and decreasing physical ability of a squad whose game plan requires being able to overpower opponents, something which had been successful across the years previous.
This article was possibly harsh in some people’s eyes, but when you look at the past history of St Johnstone, every period of success has resulted in relegation within a couple of years and a struggle to get back up. This is a concern for not only me, but many other St Johnstone supporters.
When we look across Wright’s tenure, we can look at some key games, and see them being pivotal moments. It is obvious that the 2014 Scottish Cup win has made Wright untouchable and he will choose the day he leaves, but this is one of many fantastic results he achieved. Other notable results are wins in Europe against Rosenborg and Luzern of Norway and Switzerland respectively, a league win at Ibrox in December 2017, a win away to Celtic in March 2015, a 5-1 win away to Aberdeen in 2015, and many Tayside derby victories against the Dundee clubs. These have all shown that Wright can get results in big games against stronger opponents.
Tactically, Wright has set up to be hard to beat first, and protecting the goal as much as possible. They average 44% possession and play around eight key passes per game, showing that they don’t create much in the way of chances, but are generally clinical finishers when given the opportunity
When setting up in a low block, Wright generally favours a standard 4-4-2, but will change to a 4-4-1-1 if a playmaker needs marked in midfield. This may depend on the personnel available, as this season we have seen Wright go for physicality in attack by using a target man to hold up the ball while a counter attack is sprung.
St Johnstone tend to attack with direct attacks from wide areas, partly due to being a cautious attacking team and can control transitions better from wide. This also leads towards having decent crossers over the years in Easton, Wotherspoon, Foster, Swanson, Alston
We have seen a level of tactical flexibility, as shown in the 3-1 win away to Rangers in December 2017, moving from 4-4-2 to 3-5-2 to nullify Rangers attacking fullbacks by engaging higher up the field and blocking the centre. This turned the game in Saints’ favour and showed that Wright can analyse the game and make the necessary changes.
How will St Johnstone evolve now that Wright has lost assistant manager, Callum Davidson, and possibly losing goalkeeping coach, Paul Mathers, to Stoke City and Sunderland respectively? Will long time U20s coach, Alec Cleland, be promoted to the first team, and how will that effect the dynamic in terms of match day preparation?
It has been an incredible five years under Tommy Wright’s leadership, success on the field has led to better stability off the field, Saints are reported to have cash reserves of over £2million in the bank and are looking like a club who can spend to get the right player in if the situation dictates.
Despite the criticism that I, and many other St Johnstone fans have made about the style of play and transfer business, Tommy Wright has kept the club, most importantly, miles away from a relegation scrap. He has been successful in winning big games, has a great record against Dundee and Dundee United including beating the Arabs in the Scottish Cup final.
Wright has also managed to generate good sales revenue by giving game time and exposure to Stevie May and Michael O’Halloran, has recruited players who were undervalued in previous clubs who are now core players such as Brian Easton and Joe Shaughnessy, all while working well with established players such as the now released Chris Millar and the reliable defender Steven Anderson.
Overall, Wright can be considered one of the best, if not the best, managers in St Johnstone’s history. He will likely choose when it is his time to move on – perhaps for the Northern Ireland job, or if ever a club in a decent position in the English Championship was to make an approach – and I feel that he has done everything to deserve his status as a legend of the club.
Win another Scottish Cup and I think a statue outside the ground will be in commission.
Thank you for the good times, sir Tommy. Here’s to another successful 5 years.