oN the back of the derby win, the feelgood factor at the club continued with a brilliant win against St Mirren last Wednesday.
With the Scottish Cup game in Paisley in mind, I have to applaud our manager. Paulo Sergio came into the Scottish game with an idea about how he wanted to play, but after a certain period, he identified that you can’t always play pure football in this country. This realisation was reflected in his team selection for last week’s game as he picked a side that was packed with reliable players, the ones you really feel you could hang your hat on to get the job done. The manager deserves real credit for diluting his preferred style slightly to ensure he had a team that were capable of getting the job done.
I think it’s safe to say there’s already a wee eye on the semi-final, as was shown by the fact the manager made four changes on Saturday. I had no doubts that he would make changes for St Johnstone. Anybody who’s been involved in the game will know that we couldn’t keep asking all these guys to keep producing the goods. When you play three high-pressure games in a week, that’s when you pick up injuries, so I have absolutely no gripes with the manager’s decision to freshen things up. Of course, when you make so many changes, you’re always going to be up against it, but it was a decision Paulo had to make, even though it probably did play a part in us losing the game. He has to protect the players from injury and burnout because the last thing Paulo needs is an injury that impacts on the team he has in mind for the semi-final. On that note, if they are all available, I would think the team for the Celtic game will be very close to the XI that started at St Mirren. The fact we now only have one game a week will help keep the players fresh for the big game next month.
I would expect Celtic to wrap up the title this weekend, so I’ll be intrigued to see if Neil Lennon can retain an edge in his squad until the semi-final. We shouldn’t have that problem, because our league position means we need to be looking to get wins in our next two games, which means we should still have an edge going into the semi. We need to beat Aberdeen to confirm our place in the top six and then by the time we face Dunfermline, hopefully we’re still in the hunt for the European places.
Getting into the top six will be a real achievement, not due to any lack of quality in the squad, but due entirely to the off-field distraction of not getting paid on time. Hopefully winning the quarter-final will bring in a bit of money to allow the boys to get their March salaries before the semi-final. I would be hugely disappointed if the players are not paid by then because they’re a tight-knit squad who have produced a mammoth effort to get into the semi-final of the Scottish Cup. They deserve to be rewarded.
Sadly our loyal fans don’t seem to be getting rewarded in terms of the procedure for renewing their season tickets. I don’t think the ‘dynamic pricing’ structure was made clear enough to the fans and I understand their gripes about how the whole thing has been handled. It’s been an ill-thought-out procedure, but sadly it’s in keeping with a lot of things about our club these days. On that note, I have sympathy for Danny Lennon, the St Mirren manager, who had a wee dig at Hearts for signing Craig Beattie at a time when the club are struggling to pay our players on time. He has a valid point and such a situation tarnishes the good name of our club, in much the same way as showing contempt for your own supporters with a season-ticket sales procedure that has put so many noses, justifiably, out of joint.