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'Sometimes I wasn't even getting replies to job applications'

Published on 4 April 2012

TRAITS that Steve Lomas likes in people: honesty, endeavour, ambition.

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Traits he doesn't like? Laziness, deceit and duplicity. "Football is full of what I call Turkish knife throwers, people who speak with forked tongues," he says colourfully. "I don't like that behaviour and it's devious. I'm not saying if you speak your mind you're not tactful, but if you've got something to say, front up about it."

Lomas, then, is very much a what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of guy and so far this straight-forward approach has served both he and his new club well. St Johnstone fished around when they went looking for Derek McInnes' replacement and, while Lomas may not have been their first choice, he met all the requirements outgoing chairman Geoff Brown was looking for in a manager: young, ambitious, and accepting of the club's restrictive financial budget. Brown had moved away from hiring the usual old faces when he gave Owen Coyle and then McInnes their shot at management and, based on the Northern Irishman's record in the five months or so he's been doing the job, it seems he's struck gold for the third time with Lomas.

Steve Brown, the new chairman, must already be terrified of trying to continue his old man's hot streak when the time comes to find Lomas' successor. For the chances are that the 38 year-old will one day follow Coyle and McInnes back down south, when a Championship or League One chairman suddenly remembers there's that club in Scotland that keeps churning out these young managerial whizzkids and picks up the phone to Perth, especially if Lomas starts the new season as well as he has performed in this one.

There were questions of whether Lomas, whose only prior management experience was at non-league St Neots Town, would be able to continue the dazzling start to the season St Johnstone had enjoyed under McInnes, but he has done more than enough to establish his own credentials. Top-six football has long been secured and there is every chance Lomas will lead his team into Europe next season, barring an unlikely Rangers reprieve.

"If we could finish fourth that would almost be like us winning the league," he tells Herald Sport. "We're enjoying it, and we're where we are on merit, but we have to be realistic that it ain't going to happen every year. But European football would be brilliant and merited for the lads for the effort they've put in."

Lomas' enthusiasm and determination bubble over as he talks about tackling his first major managerial role. It is in part motivated by a desire to prove people wrong. Lomas was a big Premier League name as a player with Manchester City and West Ham United, but never traded on that reputation when a move into coaching followed, preferring to do his badges and get his hands dirty in the distinctly non-glamorous worlds of non-league and youth football. Despite his obvious dedication, it seemed nobody wanted to give him a shot. "I went through a stage where I wasn't even getting interviews for jobs," he reveals. "That was hurtful. I hadn't been a player who had come out the game and then just expected to walk into a job. I had done all my licenses and badges, I had been out watching games, and worked in non-league for the experience.

"So I felt, what have I got to do to get a chance? I was trying to do all the right things and people were going straight from hanging up their boots into jobs. I had been a captain at every team I'd been in and I liked to think I had been a leader. I felt I had worked hard just to get a crack at it. Sometimes I wasn't even getting replies to applications. But I believe if you want something bad enough, if you keep knocking at the door, it will happen for you. Maybe fate played a good card for me in giving me the opportunity to come to St Johnstone. That's all credit to the former chairman and the new chairman, who have shown a willingness to avoid the same old faces on the managerial carousel who have had eight or nine chances at it. If I'd had eight or nine chances then I think I would call it a day."

The hard work, in some ways, starts now for Lomas as he tries to shape his squad for next season. Key players such as Jody Morris and Fran Sandaza are out of contract, while trying to entice new signings is made all the more difficult by the club's depleted scouting network and a tight budget. "We've got quite a few out of contract and that's the difficult side of things, as we haven't got much of a scouting system here. We've been looking at possible options and going to games, but we have to have a list as long as your arm, as we know we probably won't get the first two or three targets. That's something I'm learning as we go along, but it can be frustrating."

Lomas hopes Morris and Sandaza could be persuaded to stay, but admits he has no problem with players wanting to move on to a higher level. It is an attitude he applies to his own career. "I wanted to play at the highest level and would love to do the same as a manager. But I'm not so stupid not to realise that there are stepping stones you've got to take along the way. And once you start getting ahead of yourself, you end up being brought back down to earth quickly."

For now, then, he's happy where he is. "This job pretty much engulfs your life. I can't be any other way anyway – it's always all or nothing with me. But I wake up every day delighted that I've got the responsibility of managing an SPL club."

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