After three and a half years in charge of St Mirren, Danny Lennon’s position is looking as precarious ever. However, after leading the club to their highest ever SPL finish and gifting the club with their first piece of major silverware in 26 years only seven months ago, why is it that a large section of the club’s support are calling for a change at the top, when on paper he should be classed as a Paisley hero.
Lennon was appointed manager of the Buddies in June 2010 on the back of achieving back-to-back promotions with Cowdenbeath, propelling them from the Third Division to the First Division despite the club having significant financial complications. Lennon replaced Gus MacPherson at the helm after he was controversially dismissed after seven years in charge and becoming the Saints’ most successful manager in half a century. Fans were left fuming at the decision to replace MacPherson, who had taken the club from First Division anonymity to being an established SPL club, with a Challenge Cup victory and a League Cup Final along the way, with Lennon who had no experience of managing in Scotland’s top flight. Due to the circumstances surrounding his appointment, Lennon had an uphill battle ahead of him to win over the fans.
The main aim for Lennon’s first season in charge was to preserve the Saints top flight status and the summer was littered with uninspiring signings as he raided the lower leagues in an attempt to assemble a suitable squad for his first assault on the SPL. Although he did accomplish the aim of keeping the club in the SPL, it was achieved rather unconvincingly as the Buddies finished eleventh in the league, 7 points ahead of relegated side Hamilton. Fans seen this as somewhat of a step in the wrong direction having finished tenth the previous season under MacPherson. The jury was still out on Lennon, however the following season he would go some way to convincing fans he was the right man for the job.
The signing of former Scotland international Stevie Thompson, who is also a life-long St Mirren fan, as well as the arrivals of Gary Teale, Paul McGowan, Graham Carey and Nigel Hasselbaink, left Saints fans eagerly anticipating the season ahead. The first few months of the season saw the team playing some of the best football the fans had seen for years and had the Paisley faithful dreaming of a possible top six finish. A run of eleven league games without a victory between December and March left their top six hopes hanging by a thread, however Lennon did manage to guide them to an eighth place finish, their highest ever SPL finish, as well as cup runs to the quarter finals of both major cup competitions. The majority of fans were delighted at what had been achieved but some supporters were still unhappy as if it weren’t for the mid-season loss of form, anything could have been possible for the Saints.
Season 2012/13 was approached with great optimism as Lennon sought to build on last year’s league position. This season seen a highly useful link between the Paisley side and Geordie giants Newcastle United established, meaning the Toon would send some of their young talent on loan to Paisley to gain some invaluable first team experience, with Paul Dummett and Conor Newton being the first players to take advantage of this link. Another loan signing, Isma Goncalves from Portuguese side Rio Ave, along with Dummett and Newton became integral parts of the squad that went on to lift the Scottish Communities League Cup, knocking out Aberdeen and Celtic before defeating Hearts in an enthralling final. It was a day that no St Mirren fan will ever forget as it was the club’s first major trophy for 26 years and it went along way to erasing the painful memories of the 2009 final where they lost 1-0 to Walter Smith’s nine-man Rangers. The exciting cup run was the only thing that kept Lennon in a job however, as they ended the season in eleventh place with only one home league victory in 2013.
The Saints’ poor form continued into this season and they went without a victory until the eighth game, allowing crisis club Hearts to eat into the 15 point deficit they began the season with due to their financial difficulties. Post-match booing became a familiar sound at Greenhill Road as fans became increasingly frustrated at the lack of results. The longer the Buddies went without a win, the more the pressure mounted on Lennon and he was forced to answer questions on his own future. When quizzed by journalists about his position, he came out fighting and made it clear in no uncertain terms that he feels he is the right man for the job.
“If I did not believe that I was the man for this job, I wouldn’t be sitting here. If that decision is taken away from me and I’m no longer required at this football club, then my question would be: What is it that they want the new man to come in and achieve? Do they want them to come and make sure the team survives? I’ve already done that every season I’ve been here. Do they want successful cup runs? I’ve been in four quarter-finals and won a national cup. Or is it to simply finish higher up the league? I’ve already given them their highest SPL finish ever.”
And he’s right. On paper, Danny Lennon has enjoyed an extremely successful tenure in Paisley and has played his part in writing the history of the club. He will always be the man who guided the club to their first ever League Cup victory. But as we all know, football is a game that is not played on paper and Lennon’s league record is nothing short of abysmal with only 28 wins in 134 games. With the strength of the squad he has had at his disposal over the last two seasons the club’s league position should have been a lot better. If it wasn’t for Hearts’ points deduction the Saints would be rock bottom of the league and you can’t help but think that Lennon would have been out of a job weeks ago. Just as the board felt it was time for a change when they relieved MacPherson of his duties, it may now be time for change again before Lennon’s status as a St Mirren legend is destroyed.