THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT

On Saturday I watched Saint Mirren clinch the Championship Title.

12 months earlier I witnessed the Buddies perform the Great Escape when they avoided relegation to League One on the final day of the season.

There is one, and only one, reason for this amazing turnaround in the Paisley side’s fortunes and he goes by the name of Jack Ross.

Sure, chairman Gordon Scott and chief-exec Tony Fitzpatrick deserve praise for the way that they have helped galvanise the club since they took control and players like Stephen McGinn, Lewis Morgan and Gavin Reilly obviously also played their part but the manager has been the catalyst for the club’s revival.

When he arrived at the Paisley 2021Stadium the team were bottom of the pile and bereft of confidence and cohesion.

Previous gaffer Alex Rae might have turned it around with a bit of luck and another transfer window but wasn’t given the chance.

Instead the directors decided that they would look to Alloa Athletic manager Jack Ross and since he arrived he has hardly put a foot wrong.

His first couple of months were spent rebuilding the confidence of the players – and the fans. Who can forget his ‘debate’ with the punters following the Queen of the South defeat in early January last year?

That was the watershed; when the fans saw how much it meant to him too.

With an influx of players throughout that transfer window, including the signing of the inspirational skipper Stephen McGinn, things started to change on and off the pitch.

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Me with Stephen McGinn after the final whistle on Saturday

Four straight wins including a victory over Champions elect Hibs and, more importantly, against fellow strugglers Ayr United at Somerset Park changed the dynamic.

Suddenly the Paisley Faithful had something to believe in and were witnessing the turning of the tide.

Between that game in Ayrshire and the end of the campaign Ross guided the Saints to safety; taking 22 points from the 36 on offer. The job was done.

Or so we thought.

Come Season 2017-18 we wondered how the Buddies would fare with most pundits and punters suggesting a season of consolidation and perhaps a charge to the Premiership Play-Offs was a possibility given a good wind.

Instead, following some very decent recruitment including the addition of Craig Samson, Liam Smith, Ian McShane, Gavin Reilly and Harry Davies to name a few, the Buddies bounced into league action with a convincing 3-1 win over much-fancied Falkirk.

A 4-1 pumping at Cappielow the next week however put the Buddies’ gas at a peep.

That only sparked them into real action with six wins from the next seven league fixtures. They sat on top of the pile and, in truth, seldom looked like being anywhere else.

Blips at East End Park in the middle of September and a home defeat to Dumbarton in early December were the low points of an almost perfect campaign.

In fact, ironically for the Saints, their home form has been the backbone of their league success with 13 wins from 16 games and only one defeat at the Paisley 2021 Stadium.

That’s the House that Jack has built and although other clubs have been welcome, very few have left with anything.

Craig Samson has only picked the ball out of his net nine times in Paisley and actually broke the club’s home clean sheet record with eight on the bounce – incredibly he’s not conceded at the 2021 this year yet.

All-in-all it has been whirlwind 18 months for St Mirren and their fans.

You wouldn’t know it looking at their manager though.

He retained his cool, calm demeanour following the game when I was interviewing him and was quick to heap praise on his players for their efforts and achievements.

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Interview over – time to relax

You get the distinct impression that this won’t be the only time this young man gets the chance to celebrate as a gaffer in the madcap world of football management.

Last week I wrote about John Lambie being a man who had a huge influence on everyone he worked with in football. Jack Ross is not unlike him.

Minus the pigeons, cigars and expletives of course.

 

 

MANAGER OF THE YEAR

We have reached that time of the season when the players and football writers will be asked to choose their players and managers of the year.

While there is plenty of debate about who has performed best ON the pitch there can be no argument about who has delivered the most from the technical area – Steve Clarke.

Yes, even if Brendan Rodgers delivers a back to back treble I’d argue that the Killie gaffer has actually achieved more during the season than his Celtic counterpart.

Sure, football is about winning trophies and competing at the highest level and there is no doubt that a ‘Double Treble’ would be worth shouting about but, when a manager’s impact on a club is as significant as Clarke’s has been, there is no competition.

When he took control of the Rugby Park squad back on October 14th his team sat bottom of the pile without a win from their first eight fixtures, had amassed only three Premiership points and scored just five league goals.

Fast forward five months and Kilmarnock are now sitting in fifth spot and have only tasted defeat on four occasions from the 25 matches he’s presided over.

More importantly, Killie have won 13 of those games and beaten both Celtic and Rangers at Rugby Park. They also won at Ibrox last weekend and had previously picked up draws against Celtic and Rangers in Glasgow.

That’s progress of huge proportions.

From cannon fodder to top-six certainties you would have to say Steve Clarke has worked wonders in Ayrshire in a relatively short period of time.

Brendan Rodgers on the other hand has NOT taken Celtic forward this term.

Of course, an invincible season was always going to be difficult to surpass but there is no doubt that his team have gone back the way and most Celtic fans will recognise that.

How far back will vary from punter to punter but I’d suggest that Rodgers has a major job on his hands to even get his squad back to last year’s levels.

Sure, the Hoops will still win the league by a distance and will ultimately be the power brokers of Scottish football for the foreseeable future but that’s not the manager’s mantra.

No, he wants to develop players and teams by improving individuals. He wants to continually challenge the standards at his club. He has spoken about creating a legacy during his tenure.

And, he wants to provide all of that with an attractive brand of football.

Well, this season was clearly not on the Sat-Nav route to those destinations.

Less impressive performances, a drop in standards by individual players, unresolved defensive frailties, ropey recruitment and a few humblings in Europe are all confirmation of the step backward from that all conquering group of last term.

Let’s face it, it is not likely to be panic stations around Lennoxtown but Brendan Rodgers will know himself that some things have not gone to plan.

For that reason I think Steve Clarke is the pick of the managerial bunch.

In fact, if I was to pick anyone other than Clarke it would be Jack Ross.

The St Mirren gaffer grabbed the Paisley side by the throat and literally dragged it out of the car crash it found itself in last season.

He placed the squad in intensive care and has gradually resuscitated the entire fabric of the club to such an extent that he will take the Saints back into the top flight next term.

That too is progress and in any other year it might just have been enough to get the nod.

Sadly for Jack Ross and the rest of Scottish football’s gaffers Steve Clarke has eclipsed them all.