The Courier & Advertiser (Perth and Perthshire Edition)
Paton hoping to be faced by ‘good problem’
Saints midfielder would be happy with only short break
European football could leave Paul Paton barely time to look out his suntan lotion, but a short summer holiday will be a small price to pay for a career high.
If, as expected, the St Johnstone midfielder is called up for Northern Ireland’s end-of-season double header he will fly back from Azerbaijan on the day his club team-mates return for pre-season.
A quick turnaround from Irish green to St Johnstone blue wouldn’t bother the ex-Dundee United and Partick Thistle man, however.
He said: “When you look back on your career and think about what you’ve achieved, to qualify for European football with St Johnstone would be right up there for me.
“I don’t know how long I’ll get off in the summer, if anything. It must just be seven days (at the end of the season) because there’s a possibility I’ll be away with Northern Ireland.
“The day I get back from international duty would be the day our pre-season starts here.
“I would literally have had seven days off because Northern Ireland go away on the 29th of May, play on the 2nd of June in a friendly and then on the 10th of June in Azerbaijan. We’re scheduled to come back on the 10th of June.
“I’m just taking things as they come. I’ve yet to be called up by Northern Ireland, and we’ve yet to qualify for Europe. It’s all ifs and buts at the moment. I dare say it would be a bit crazy, but it would be a good problem to have.
“I’m sure the gaffer would look to get me a few days off here and there.”
Saints have a six-point lead over fifthplaced Hearts going into this weekend’s matches. Today’s clash with his old club Thistle could end the race for Europe.
Paton said: “It’s in our hands. If you’d offered us this scenario at the start of the season, we’d have bitten your hand off.
“We’ve had a great season, no matter what happens, but we’re desperate to finish the job off. It was a great achievement to finish in the top six.
“To go on and secure European football with a club of our size, fan base and budget would be unbelievable, really.
“I’ve never played in Europe before so this would be my first time if we can do it.”
Paton admitted the scars of a relegation campaign with United meant he hadn’t set his sights too high with Saints.
“The club has had a few European campaigns. I knew all about that, obviously. But I must admit that, when I signed, the only thing I was caring about was not being relegated.
“I’d just left a big club with a big budget and a lot of good players who had gone down. I know you can never take anything for granted.
“My main thoughts were ‘I’ve signed a two-year deal and I want both of those to be in the Premiership’.
“Obviously that’s going to happen now.”
Paton has become a first-team regular of late and is shortlisted for a club player of the year award. “I think I’ve done OK,” he said. “I could probably have done better. “I’ve had to adjust to a different formation from the one we played at Dundee United for a few years.
“I’m a bit hard on myself. I’m never going to grab headlines but I’d like to think I’ve contributed.
“I think I’m just making up the numbers in the club player of the year list. There are a couple of boys who deserve it more than me.
“I’m a big fan of Joe Shaughnessy. I think he’s been fantastic.”
Paton’s former boss Alan Archibald was in the running for the manager of the year award, but his current gaffer didn’t make the top four.
“Sometimes the manager and the players here can be victims of our own success,” said Paton.
“I think our budget will be less than Thistle’s and we’re challenging for Europe. I think it just gets taken for granted that will happen here.”
Regarding Archibald, linked with the Swindon job this week, he said: “Alan was a good player and when Jackie (McNamara) left I can remember speaking to the directors that he should get the job.”
He added: “When I came from Queen’s Park I’d never met anybody who was as professional – the way he looked after himself on and off the pitch, the way he trained and the way he treated the young boys.
“I looked up to him. He was a captain and leader and I knew he’d be a good manager. Everybody respected him – as I know the current players still do.
“The players here have the same sort of respect for our manager.”