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The St Johnstone curse? 9 managers who lost their jobs after facing the Saints

The time was up for Jackie McNamara after losing to St Johnstone.
The time was up for Jackie McNamara after losing to St Johnstone.

If you’re a manager under pressure, St Johnstone aren’t the team you want to be facing.

Nine top flight bosses have lost their jobs following games against St Johnstone over the last 30 years, three of them Celtic ones.

With current head coach Neil Lennon under intense scrutiny and many fans calling for his departure, there is a chance that history could repeat itself on Sunday when Callum Davidson takes his in-form Saints side to Parkhead, seeking to make it a record 11 games unbeaten as a Premiership club.

Eric Nicolson looks back on the ‘Saints curse’ sackings and resignations.


Billy McNeill, Celtic (sacked) – May 22, 1991

Billy McNeill after he was sacked.

In hindsight, a Saints win on the last day of the 1990/91 season would have made the Celtic directors’ PR work a bit easier.

The Hoops needed to beat Alex Totten’s side at McDiarmid Park to have a chance of claiming the last Uefa Cup place for the following campaign. Beat Saints they did (3-2), with David Bingham and Roddy Grant scoring the home goals.

From a Saints’ point of view, a highly successful first season back in the Premier League was fizzling out and the starting 11 wasn’t even close to their strongest one.

The result – and European qualification for Celtic – were an irrelevance. The board had already made their mind up and after a shameful and shambolic wait of 11 days, punctuated by leaks to the Press, arguably the greatest ever Celt was dismissed.

Liam Brady, Celtic (resigned) – October 7, 1993

Liam Brady and John McClelland.

The ending for McNeill’s successor was a far more traditional ‘straw that broke the camel’s back’ parting of the ways.

A class act as a player, Brady wasn’t cut out to be a Celtic manager. In fact he probably wasn’t cut out to be a manager full-stop.

The only shock was that he lasted two years and four months. Not one trophy had been won and millions in the transfer market had been squandered.

And this was no vintage Saints side that put the final nail in the Brady coffin (John Davies scored both goals in a 2-1 win) and ushered him towards his resignation.

John McClelland wouldn’t last much longer himself and his successor, Paul Sturrock, wouldn’t be able to keep them up.

Wim Jansen, Celtic (resigned) – May 10, 1998

Wim Jansen celebrates a title win with his staff.

OK, this one is stretching it a bit.

But the record books will show that the last game in charge for the man who stopped Rangers from getting to 10-in-a-row was against St Johnstone.

It is one of the most celebrated matches in Celtic’s history (an injury-ravaged Saints team were sunk by goals from Henrik Larsson and Harald Brattbakk) but Jansen had already made up his mind that he wanted out and the feeling in the boardroom was said to be mutual.

Jim Gannon, Motherwell (sacked) – December 28, 2009

Peter MacDonald celebrating his second goal in the last game for Jim Gannon.

The 20th manager in Motherwell’s history got them playing attractive football for a while and brought through several young players from the academy.

‘Loose Gannon’, though, talked himself into trouble with the football authorities, fell out with senior players and results fell off a cliff. Four games were lost in a row, a 3-1 defeat to Saints the last of them.

Motherwell described him as “not fully committed” to the club and off back across the border he went, just six months after he had arrived.

The final match is fondly remembered by Perth fans – and Peter MacDonald. The striker scored a 16-minute second half hat-trick that night.

John Hughes, Hibs (mutual consent) – October 4, 2010

The Saints goalscorers, Marcus Haber and Liam Craig, for the last match of John Hughes at Hibs.

Less than a year after the Gannon game, Derek McInnes’s Saints team produced a win that saw another manager removed from his post.

Hughes had lasted a bit longer – 17 months – and could probably rightfully feel he should have been given even more time.

Hibs only had five points on the board after seven league games but he had secured a place in Europe for them the season before.

As context, Saints were a point behind their opponents going into the McDiarmid Park match.

Their goals were scored by Liam Craig and Marcus Haber (both substitutes), with Callum Davidson and David Wotherspoon on opposite sides that afternoon.

Stuart McCall, Motherwell (resigned) – November 2, 2014

Michael O’Halloran celebrates his winning goal against Motherwell.

McCall has to be judged as an unequivocal success as a Motherwell manager by any yardstick.

A third-place league finish and two seconds represents an incredible record. His team played in Champions League qualifiers and a Scottish Cup final.

The fact that McCall came to the conclusion he had gone stale at Fir Park after a Friday night loss in Perth speaks to the integrity of the man and also shows how well the boss in the opposite dug-out, Tommy Wright, did to keep the good times coming at McDiarmid Park for even longer.

Both goals in the match that told McCall his race was run were scored by Michael O’Halloran.

Tommy Craig, St Mirren (sacked) – December 9, 2014

Michael O’Halloran was the match-winner again.

“One of the best coaches I’ve ever seen.”

Not a quote that has aged well.

If Craig was indeed as fine a coach as St Mirren chairman Stewart Gilmour described him, the players clearly weren’t paying close enough attention on the training ground.

After taking over from Danny Lennon, Craig’s team were joint bottom of the Premiership after his 19 matches in charge and without a win in eight.

He had two future Scotland heroes in his side when Saints beat them – John McGinn and Kenny McLean.

It was that man O’Halloran who scored the goal that finished another manager off.

Jackie McNamara, Dundee United (sacked) – September 26, 2015

Jackie McNamara after full-time at McDiarmid Park.

This managerial ending is a story all of its own.

So was Jackie McNamara v Tommy Wright for that matter.

It wasn’t all bad for McNamara’s United against Wright’s St Johnstone but by the time their teams met in the 2014 Scottish Cup final, it felt as if the Northern Irishman and his players held a psychological advantage over their opponents.

And that it would all end for McNamara at McDiarmid Park felt cruelly fitting.

Despite Saints keeper Alan Mannus being red-carded and United going ahead from the subsequent penalty, the Tangerines were still unable to hold on, with Graham Cummins and Simon Lappin securing the comeback home win.

The best of St Johnstone from The Courier:

United owner Stephen Thompson clearly felt that there was a strong possibility of the final chapter of McNamara’s United story being written in Perth, as he had an infamous letter tucked in his pocket which was written before kick-off.

“There is no right or wrong way with these things,” said Thompson at the time. “I’ve seen managers sacked in a phone call to their agent.

“The one thing I did do was look him in the eye and I handed him the letter so, you know, at least I did that.

“It could easily have been done by another employee of the club, or anybody. We are like any business, you’ve got to be organised and prepared for things. It could have been torn up and thrown in the bin.

“You’ve got to be organised, you’ve got a business to run and there is no ideal time for these things. We took legal advice on how to handle it and that’s what we did.”

Craig Levein, Hearts (sacked) – October 31, 2019

Craig Levein with Christophe Berra.

There was no piece of paper for Levein at McDiarmid – just a tough conversation with Ann Budge the day after his Hearts side had lost to Saints, during which he was told he would no longer be first team manager but would continue as a director of football until the end of the season.

Levein looked like a beaten man who had run out of ideas after Christophe Berra’s own goal had separated two struggling sides in a poor quality encounter.

By the time Budge got round to appointing his replacement a month-and-a-half later, Saints were the opponents once more. Daniel Stendel didn’t fare any better than his predecessor and that Perth win proved to be an even more significant moment for both teams.

RAB DOUGLAS: I make no apology for showing support for my mate, Neil Lennon

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