Steven MacLean didn’t get a win in his first game as interim boss for St Johnstone.
But he got the desired reaction out of his players, stopped the Perth Premiership bleeding and Saints could rightly consider themselves unfortunate not have got the full new manager bounce against Hibs.
Courier Sport assesses MacLean’s big day in the dugout.
Team selection and tactics
It wasn’t often that I was able to predict a Callum Davidson starting XI so you can excuse me feeling proud of myself that the team I posted on Twitter on Friday as that which would be best-suited to give MacLean the performance he and Saints needed was the one he picked.
FWIW, if Mitchell is injured, this is the team I'd go with tomorrow – Matthews; back four McGowan, Gordon, Considine, Montgomery; midfield Wright, MacPherson, Phillips, McLennan; up top Spoony off May. 4-4-1-1, boys who will leave everything out there.
— Eric Nicolson (@C_ENicolson) April 21, 2023
It was a balanced back four and a midfield capable of starting on the front foot and maintaining a high tempo pressing game.
Saints were indeed the better and more offensive-thinking side in the early stages and got themselves something to show for it.
The struck the right balance between attack and caution.
The 10 minutes after Hibs equalised was the only spell of the match when they became a bit too passive.
If there are selection changes when Saints’ season resumes in just under a fortnight, there won’t be many.
It can provide the same against bottom half of the table opponents.
In-game management and substitutions
James Jeggo’s red card was the biggest moment in the match both managers had to react to.
Broadly speaking, what followed the sending off early in the second half was as you would expect.
Lee Johnson, in the knowledge other results were going Hibs’ way in regards to making the top six, was happy to adopt a ‘what we have, we hold’ mindset.
MacLean, sensibly given a point was essential to change the narrative at McDiarmid Park and Hibs are a pacey counter-attacking team even a man light, opted to make like for like positional substitutions as the half progressed.
Saints gained their strong grip on the match in the last quarter by going through the gears one by one rather than through a gung-ho, carving out several excellent chances while doing so.
Melker Hallberg and Jamie Murphy both made an impact.
Zak Rudden being thrown on for the last five or 10 minutes when a ‘fox in the box’ type would have been most useful was perhaps the only other roll of the dice I would have made.
Playing for him
Commitment should be a given in every game, for every manager.
However, for whatever reason, the collective work-rate had alarmingly dropped off in this Saints team during Davidson’s last two matches in charge.
On Saturday, it was back to where it needs to be for the remainder of the season.
Drey Wright could perhaps have tracked his runner a bit more effectively in the build-up to the Hibs equaliser but the hosts still had sufficient numbers to cover.
It was a good goal.
And, in the main, the Saints players ran, ran and ran some more.
Pressing was sensible and decisive.
That endeavour was encapsulated deep into stoppage time.
There was the potential of a Hibs breakaway through the middle. For a second it looked like Matthew Hoppe might be able to land a cruel sucker punch but four players in blue and white swarmed on one in light green to ensure he had nowhere to go.
It was a sight to gladden the heart of a coach.
A high work-rate standard has been (re)set.
Managers come in all different guises but there’s one thing that connects all the good ones – authenticity.
When you’re a coach, you fall in line with how your boss sees your role on the sidelines.
But as the main man, you need to be yourself.
Players will see through anything else and pretending to be somebody you’re not isn’t sustainable.
Saturday was undoubtedly the real MacLean.
He was an effervescent figure inside (and outside) his technical area.
Saints fans would have loved to see MacLean push Johnson back into his when tempers were getting frayed after the Connor McLennan-CJ Egan-Riley incident before half-time.
Some interims just don’t look like a manager. They give off the vibe of a man keeping a seat warm for someone else, still trying to make their own mind up whether this is actually the job for them.
That wasn’t MacLean. He was to the manner born.
His work before and during a high-stakes game is clearly the most important part, but a manager’s day doesn’t stop on the final whistle.
Getting the right messages across in front of cameras and notepads matters.
MacLean, armed with statistics to back him up, made the right points in his media interviews and in a positive, bullish manner.
— St. Johnstone FC (@StJohnstone) April 22, 2023
That assurance will become increasingly relevant as the heat gets turned up.
I would think Steve Brown has seen enough to realise MacLean is the man to see this job through until the summer.
The players lifted their games for him, the team improved as a whole and there was a point to show for it.
The only realistic window to make another change would have been over the next fortnight before Premiership football resumes.
There’s been nothing to suggest Brown is minded to do so.
It’s highly likely MacLean will be the Saints head coach through to the conclusion of the season.
That would be the sensible call on Saturday’s evidence.
And, despite the fact that two teams have closed the gap on them in MacLean’s first weekend in charge, there’s now performance and perception-based logic to hope and expect that the new manager bounce will get steadily higher.