ST JOHNSTONE fans must be happy right now. Still unbeaten in the Premiership table, Michael O’Halloran returning to the club on loan and came within ten minutes of ending Celtic’s long domestic unbeaten record stretching back to May 2016.
The biggest reason for them to be happy, however, is that they have retained the services of manager Tommy Wright again despite several pundits saying he should be the new Hearts manager.
With the Hearts set up putting a lot of big contenders off, so much so that it led to Craig Levein reverting from Director of Football to return to the dugout, Wright was quickly discounted once again, much to the delight of the St Johnstone board, who are no doubt bracing themselves for the Northern Irishman taking on a new challenge given his record.
During Wright’s four years in charge since he stepped up from being Steve Lomas’s assistant to become his own man, St Johnstone have finished sixth then fourth for three consecutive years, qualified for European football on three occasions and, of course, lifted their first major trophy with the Scottish Cup victory in 2014. What is more remarkable about their success is that St Johnstone had the third lowest budget in the top flight in that time, only Partick Thistle and Hamilton spend less than the side from McDiarmid Park.
Despite overseeing such a consistent performance, Wright is continuously overlooked for other jobs both in Scotland and in the riches of English football.
With Robbie Neilson and Alan Stubbs both landing jobs at MK Dons and Rotherham respectively, and Alan Archibald being linked with the Swindon job, it is bizarre that Wright doesn’t get considered for these positions given what he’s achieved on the budget he has to work with. It is also arguable that Rangers should’ve considered taking on Tommy Wright when they were looking for a replacement for Mark Warburton, something even more evident the more unconvincing they appear under Pedro Caixinha.
The only job where there was an approach was from Dundee United in 2015 following the sacking of Jackie McNamara, ironically carried out after St Johnstone defeated United in a league game at McDiarmid Park. That was turned down by the club and Wright signed a new contract, a wise move given the fall of United since then.
To his credit, Tommy Wright doesn’t complain and doesn’t comment on speculation regarding other jobs. He gets on with his job quietly and works hard to maintain the consistent form on the small budget he’s being asked to work with, something he does very wisely.
Looking at their transfer activity, there are not many failures in the list of players brought in by Wright, building his reputation as a shrewd operator. Whenever a key player moves on, he’s very good at identifying a replacement, such as bringing Joe Shaughnessy to replace Fraser Wright and bringing O’Halloran in to fill the void left by Danny Swanson. You rarely see Wright make wholesale changes, just little tweaks when he realises a player is either on his way or past his peak, and brings in suitable replacements to fit the style that’s given St Johnstone steady performances in his tenure.
The Saints fans will be more than happy that Wright is content in Perth given they have went through their most successful period in the clubs history, but realise that one day he will realise that he will not be able to take them any further on the realistic budget they work on. Wright did allude to that in the aftermath of the disappointing Europa League exit to FC Trakai of Lithuania, when he hinted that they had little time to get players in during the five week gap between the last game of the season and the Trakai matches. Post-match, he sounded frustrated that he couldn’t get the bodies in that he required to help Saints progress to the latter stages, maybe having O’Halloran at that point might’ve been the difference between them going out and advancing to the latter stages.
Tommy Wright has worked wonders at St Johnstone in the four years he’s been at the club and it’s incredible that his good work has gone unnoticed by the hierarchy of other clubs requiring a new manager. One day, there will be a chairman who takes the chance and give him that opportunity.
St Johnstone fans will be hoping he stays longer than most people are predicting so they can continue preparing for European away trips for years to come, and ruffling some feathers at the top sides in Scotland in the process.