Monday 25 September 2017

New boy Lomas is learning his trade quickly while shaking up old Scottish order

Former West Ham midfielder's enthusiasm a welcome boost to SPL, says Ewan Murray

Spending time in the company of Steve Lomas is quite an experience. There is something of the hyperactive about the St Johnstone manager.

Lomas' squad have quickly become accustomed to the Northern Irishman's colourful ways. The former West Ham and Manchester City midfielder talks -- and fidgets -- at such a pace that speaking with him can itself become tiring.

Such behavioural traits illustrate enthusiasm and vibrancy, welcome traits in a troubled football scene. If the St Johnstone squad approach today's match against Celtic with the same level of appetite their new manager seems to have for his job, damage could be done to Neil Lennon's quest to reclaim the Scottish Premier League title.

The recent temptation for Scotland's top-flight clubs to source left-field managers often belies the experiences of those coaches. In Harry Redknapp, Lomas had a manager who made a strong enough impression for a flame-haired twenty-something to eye a career in the dugout.

"My most enjoyable five years were at West Ham," Lomas says. "A bit of Harry would be in me. He is a bit underrated. Everybody thought he was a wheeler-dealer but at West Ham he had to be, he couldn't afford to get players in at the top level so had to unearth some nuggets.

"He bought John Hartson from Arsenal for £3m, everyone thought it was too much money but he sold him for £7.5m. He bought Eyal Berkovic for £1.5m, sold him for £4.5m. He is a shrewd cookie and I think always a little bit undervalued."

Lomas himself may have some chicanes to negotiate in January. St Johnstone, like so many other SPL clubs, are not averse to trimming their wage bill.

The manager is coy on the detail of that scenario although the sale of players -- Francisco Sandaza and Murray Davidson have been linked with bigger things -- would not upset those at board level. Being brutally honest about it, the recruitment of Lomas to replace Derek McInnes was a tacit admission that St Johnstone are far from flush. Lomas has only been in situ since last month, but has already had a crash course in fluctuating SPL life. The Perth team claimed a creditable draw against Rangers in the manager's first match in charge, followed by successive victories over Hibernian and Hearts. Sceptics will point to proof of an inadequate league -- one where fine form is only ever temporary -- in Motherwell defeating St Johnstone 3-0 last weekend before struggling Aberdeen claimed a 2-1 win in Perth on Tuesday evening.

In the midst of securing that point at Ibrox, a hand gesture from Lomas towards the fourth official triggered action from the Scottish FA. The outcome was a one-match touchline ban. "It was something out of nothing," Lomas insists. "I was a bit disappointed but I don't want to dwell on it. It would be a dull place if everybody was the same, wouldn't it? I won't be up in front of them [the SFA] again."

Lomas insists he would relish the collection of points from both halves of the Old Firm. He and Lennon have been acquainted since they were 12 years old, playing together both throughout Northern Ireland age groups and as trainees at City. Last season, as Lennon was subjected to threats towards his personal safety -- including an attack during a match at Tynecastle -- Lomas looked on with concern.

"When you are in football, nothing surprises you," Lomas says. "I've seen a lot of strange things. Some things went on last season that weren't good for Scottish football, looking from the outside in. But let's not look at the negative again, let's look at the positive. It seems to have been sorted out. Nobody should have a fan running on the pitch at you, that's simply a no-no as far as I am concerned, no matter how passionate things are."

The man raised in Coleraine has a theory on those who follow the major Glasgow clubs. Lomas is unwilling to admit which of the pair he paid the closer attention to in his youth but offers a synopsis on those who will. "You are either Man United, Liverpool, Rangers or Celtic in Northern Ireland. I'll say no more on the matter," says the 37-year-old. "Let's have it right -- both of the supporters are just the same. It's just a different religious view, really. When you narrow it all down, that's all it is. They are both working-class supporters, they both love their club, they are just steeped in different traditions. It makes me laugh when people try to make it more than what it is. When you cut it all away, they are very much the same."

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