‘It’s a great job, but it’s maybe only now that I’m getting to grips with it’
“It’s a great job, but it’s maybe only now that I’m getting to grips with it. At the start, maybe I had my eye off the ball on a number of things
THE language was sharp. “Get f****** Shankland on!” a St Mirren fan hollered angrily at Ian Murray on Sunday afternoon as his team fought desperately – and admirably – to get on level terms with Rangers. The words must have been familiar to Murray, a man not short on incoming advice in recent months.
The 34-year-old admits he is in at the deep end at St Mirren, a club with fans not missing an attitude or two, and nursing a residual grievance at its relegation from the Premiership last season. Currently seventh in the Championship, it has been a slow start by Murray and his team, and he confesses to his early failings along the way.
“There were maybe things that I underestimated at the start,” said Murray, reflecting on his opening, testy five months at the club. “It is a fantastic club with a fantastic fan-base, but the job is a huge challenge.
“The club had been relegated. There had been a large turnover of players. There have been budget cuts. I’m not complaining, because it’s a great job, but it’s maybe only now that I’m getting to grips with it. At the start, maybe I had my eye off the ball on a number of things.”
Well, this is interesting – a football manager happily piping up on where he has gone wrong. You don’t hear this every day. But Murray is quite open about the fact that, in his opening weeks in his new job this summer, he didn’t quite appreciate the new environment he was in.
“It had been a bit of a culture-shock for me,” he says. “I went from being Dumbarton manager, where I saw my players two nights a week at Toryglen, to seeing my players every day here, and sometimes eight or nine days on the trot.
“It’s not an excuse, but I think people maybe forget how big a change it represented for me. It’s maybe only now that I feel more in control. I think you’ve seen that in the last three or four weeks in our games.”
Pressed on this further, Murray admits that St Mirren’s sluggish start to this 2015-16 campaign was down to his own pre-conceived ideas which he foisted upon his new players. Were he to go back to August, he says, he might do things a little differently.
“In this league sometimes it’s just about blood and guts, about doing the right things: in terms of tempo, in terms of pressing opponents, doing the right things in the right areas of the park. I’ve learned now to ask my full-backs, first and foremost, to be defenders. Never mind trying to get them to play like wingers, or whatever.
“All I’m saying is, maybe I was asking too much of my players. I changed things around a lot and it wasn’t working, it wasn’t good for us. At Dumbarton every point was a prisoner.
“If I’ve made mistakes, I’ve tried to recognise them and rectify them. We had a poor start to the season, which is why we are now trying to play catch-up. But I think in recent games, in terms of performance, there has been a resurgence. Mark Warburton made some complimentary comments about the way we tried to play against Rangers on Sunday.”
No-one could accuse Murray of not trying to prepare himself properly as a manager. Even back in 2010, when he was 29 and still a player with Hibs, he took a coaching role on the side with Coldstream of the East of Scotland league, in order to get a taste of a career he was planning ahead of him. When he then got his first job with Dumbarton, and made a success of that, he seemed a man capable of controlling his own destiny.
Alex Smith, a veteran of Scottish football managers, has long held the view that a young manager should start on a low rung, reasonably out of the spotlight, so that he can “make his mistakes and learn from them away from the media glare”.
“Coldstream was just a chance that came my way,” says Murray. “I wanted to get the experience, and it was a level that I felt comfortable with. It gave me a chance to look at things, cope with difficult situations, just really dip my toe in the water. I was still playing for Hibs. I know what Alex Smith means. When I was at Dumbarton there was no real great coverage of my work, beyond a very local level. If I made a mistake there, maybe some fans would pick up on it, but no-one else nationally.
“Coming to St Mirren, as I say, is a different ball-game. Much bigger and tougher. But I do believe that now we are making progress.”
The pressure is on Murray. The St Mirren fans, quite rightly, expect to be in contention for promotion, which is not apparent in the Championship table at the moment. Murray is very clear about the onus on him, and the flak he has taken from sections of supporters this season.
“This is a tough league,” he says. “You’ve basically got eight full-time clubs gunning for four places. So four are going to miss out, plus you take it as a given that Rangers will probably win the league.
“I don’t mind criticism. You expect that. You’re never going to have 4000 or 5000 happy faces all the time. The fans will always have sharp opinions.
“But if you are going to go with decisions, then make them your decisions. Yes, there is pressure and expectation at St Mirren. You wouldn’t want it any other way.”
MAKING A BETTER FIST OF IT: Ian Murray feels St Mirren will start to flourish now that he has adapted to his role as manager