ONLY political wranglings between Vladimir Romanov and George Burley prevented Steve Lomas joining Hearts in summer 2005. The Northern Irishman was eager to play alongside Rudi Skacel, Paul Hartley, Julien Brellier, Takis Fyssasand other luminaries in the legendary team of season 2005/06. That he didn’t remains a source of some regret.
Lomas discussed a prospective move to Edinburgh after leaving West Ham at the age of 31. He trained at Riccarton, impressed Burley and his coaching staff, however, a deal did not materialise. He wasn’t officially given a reason why and returned south to sign for Queens Park Rangers. Six years later, Lomas finds himself back at Tynecastle as manager of St Johnstone and wondering what might have been.
He gives the impression he’d have been right up for a tilt at the SPL under Burley. Hearts were like greyhounds out the traps in 2005 and stormed to the top of the league until constant dogfighting behind the scenes involving their owner and manager eventually overspilled. Burley left the club with interference over new signings contributing to his dismay.
Lomas suspects Romanov opposed his arrival that summer. Burley saw him as a Premiership star who could imbue Hearts with a multitude of experience. As a midfielder with 45 Northern Ireland caps, he was certainly ready for the challenge.
“I was at West Ham and I had a year left on my contract,” Lomas told the Evening News. “I had a bit of a disagreement with Alan Pardew [then West Ham manager] so I came up to Hearts and trained for a few days. George wanted to sign me but I think there might have been goings-on behind the scenes that I wasn’t party to. It didn’t materialise in the end and I went to sign for QPR.
“I could quite easily have been a Hearts player, I nearly signed for them on a two-year deal. I think I’d have enjoyed being a Jambo. It was definitely something I was interested in. I’ve always liked Edinburgh as a city because it’s a lovely place. Hearts and Hibs are two fierce rivals. I enjoyed my little excursion there and I realised what a good club it is straight away.
“They had some good players, like Paul Hartley and Elvis [Steven Pressley] and people like that. Rudi Skacel had just signed and they had a big tall boy up front who wasn’t a bad player. [Edgaras] Jankauskas I think it was. They had a decent team and a decent set-up but it didn’t materialise for me. Obviously there were things going on behind the scenes and George left not long after that, so, in hindsight, it was probably a good thing not signing.
“I’m looking forward to going back there with St Johnstone this weekend because these are the places you want to go to. Hearts is a very good club with great tradition and great fans. Tynecastle is what I would call a proper football ground.”
Lomas expects a proper football game this weekend, too, although he must watch it from the stand. The Scottish Football Association imposed a one-game touchline suspension for misconduct during his debut match in charge of St Johnstone, a 0-0 draw at Rangers.
“We can take confidence from our point at Ibrox and I don’t think it would have been too unjust if we’d gone away with three points,” he continued. “It will need another performance like that to get something tomorrow. We are going there to be positive and we are going to influence what we can do on the day. We can’t affect what way Hearts are going to line up, we want to try and impose our game on Hearts. We want to take the game to them and try to get a result.”
Hearts regained a modicum of confidence with last week’s 2-1 victory over Inverness whilst St Johnstone were beating Hibs 3-1 in the second game of the Northern Irishman’s tenure.
“I’ve seen quite a bit of Hearts and it will be a tough game because they’ve got some decent players,” said Lomas. “It’s always going to be hard at Tynecastle and we know they had a win there last week. We’re going to have to be on our mettle again. But listen, we will go there full of confidence. It’s a great place to go and play football. There is a good set of fans there who support their club passionately.”
Overseeing such an encouraging start has already seen Lomas attract attention. Drawing at Ibrox was the perfect beginning following Derek McInnes’ departure to Bristol City, and the St Johnstone players showcased their character last week by coming from behind against Hibs. In fact, the Perth club have lost only once in their last six outings.
Lomas feels the fortnight without football immediately after his appointment helped, as inclement weather and an international break left him time to assess his new squad.
“We’d have preferred the Aberdeen game to go ahead because it then adds another fixture during the Christmas period. But the break gave us a chance to have a look at everyone, including players who hadn’t been playing much. It’s been very positive.
“The players had a little bit of an unsettled period, which happens when a manager goes and another one comes in. It’s very hard for the temporary manager, Alex Cleland, because the boys are psychologically a bit indecisive. They had a couple of indifferent performances but they’ve certainly bounced back well.
“If you sort yourself out individually and come together as a team, that takes care of the result. Sometimes you will be unlucky, but if you are better than your opponent you generally win the game. There are players not in the squad who have been fantastic since I’ve been here. Guys like David Robertson, Sean Higgins and David McCracken. That shows the players that, if they don’t perform, we have boys ready to take their slots in the team.”