DANNY LENNON believes opposition managers and players are using Jim Goodwin's reputation against him after St Mirren successfully appealed the red card shown to their captain in last month's match against Hibernian.
The Irishman was sent off by referee Kevin Clancy for a challenge on Kevin Thomson in the first half of the game, despite appearing to make only minimal contact with the Hibs midfielder.
A Scottish Football Association disciplinary panel yesterday agreed, downgrading Goodwin's sending off for "serious foul play" to a booking for "recklessly dangerous play".
The 32 year-old played in the draw against Partick Thistle last Friday night pending his appeal and will now also be free to face Ross County tomorrow in a crucial match in the battle to avoid the relegation play-off place. The Paisley side sit seventh in the SPFL Premiership table but are only two points ahead of 11th with three matches of the season left.
Goodwin was issued with a two-game ban in late December after being caught on camera striking Dundee United's Stuart Armstrong with his arm and Lennon believes opposition figures are now looking to capitalise on his player's reputation.
"I certainly feel it's the right decision [to overturn the red card]." said Lennon. "I believe that things with Jim since his retrospective ban from Boxing Day have been blown all out of proportion.
"He's a great player and a great guy, and we need people like Jim in our game. Unfortunately players and managers have tried to use that situation to create an unfair reputation for Jim and gain an unfair advantage in matches. They know what qualities he has and that he's a big player for us. That's the ugly side of the beautiful game."
Lennon has spoken to Goodwin to make sure he doesn't give referees any reason to take action. "That's the whole-heartedness of the player. He lives and dies by the sword. There was a hefty challenge on him in the game against Thistle last week but he accepts that. You never see him complaining. But he knows when he has to temper things. When he stays on his feet he stays in control. With other managers and players trying to put referees under pressure, we ask Jim not to put himself into any of those types of positions."
St Mirren go into tomorrow's contest against County in good form, undefeated in their last four outings. A victory, combined with certain other results, would effectively ensure their safety but Lennon wasn't of a mind to start looking too far ahead. "Only two points separates the five teams and it's very exciting. We've won and drawn our last two games which has seen us go from 10th to 7th. That shows you how fine the margins are in the bottom half of the table. We've hit decent form and we're just ahead at this moment in time. But to continue that and get over the line, we must keep showing our key strengths."
The long-term future at St Mirren is even more uncertain, with Lennon among a number of figures whose contracts are set to expire at the end of the month. A decision has been taken to put those matters on to the back burner until the season is concluded although Lennon conceded that there will be a number of players whose performances - and their imminent availability - will have attracted potential suitors.
One who falls into that category is Kenny McLean. The midfielder has endured an up-and-down season but has scored in St Mirren's last three matches. With his deal set to expire, a number of clubs have expressed an interest in him, with Lennon labelling the chances of St Mirren holding on to the 22 year-old as "slim".
"We are realists." said Lennon. I certainly know that if I was the manager of another football club he would be a player very much on my radar. Kenny can go all the way in the game."