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Spiers on Saturday: Belief breaks Shiels' fall from the Championship

Contrary to the recent remarks of Douglas Rae, the Morton chairman, Kenny Shiels seems pretty positive and bullish to me.

Kenny Shiels acknowledges that he has made mistakes as Morton manager but is confident of leading the club to success in future. Picture: SNS
Kenny Shiels acknowledges that he has made mistakes as Morton manager but is confident of leading the club to success in future. Picture: SNS

When I met the Morton manager yesterday he openly guided me through his recent mistakes at the club, while rubbing his hands in readiness to get to grips with life in the third tier of Scottish football next season.

Shiels intends to take Morton from SPFL League 1 to the Premiership - that is his stated goal. Little tensions behind the scenes in Greenock can be lived with, he says, although changes are afoot over the summer. The adventure for this likeable 57-year-old Ulsterman goes on.

"I want to take Morton into the Premiership - and I believe I can," says Shiels. "I've been at the club four and a half months now and I've made mistakes, I hold my hands up. If it was a school report card it would say: 'Very disappointing'. But I will fix it. I'll bring the Morton fans back to the club. I know I will."

This is fighting talk indeed. The one thing I have found about Shiels since his arrival in Scotland, contrary to many people's view, is that he is open and engaging and, often, pretty severe on himself. His record since arriving at Morton is bleak: played 18, won 3, drawn 4, lost 11.

"I've made some mistakes. In January I let five players go, and brought in others who had an appreciation of the game - Garry O'Connor, Jamie McCormack and David Robertson - but who hadn't played much football in a year. It was too many.

"I feel we've dominated quite a few games that we've played in, but we weren't able to cross the line. We've played, I think, a better style of football, a modern game, but it has been so frustrating, it has done my head in. I just couldn't get the right recipe.

"When I went to Morton they were already in bottom place, but none the less, I have to look at how I have done - and it's not good at all. Now we are going into the third tier and will face a lot of teams who will camp themselves in and be very difficult to play against.

"It's going to be a massive rebuild over the summer at Morton. Around 90% of my players are out of contract. But I've been here before: two years ago I lost 18 players in the summer after we won the League Cup with Kilmarnock. So I'm facing a similar job again. It can be done."

In recent weeks a few eyes have feasted on the apparent spat that broke out between Shiels and his chairman. Rae claimed openly that his manager appeared doleful, lacklustre, and even depressed.

"I'm happy to turn a deaf ear to all that," said Shiels yesterday. "I know there were comments exchanged between me and the chairman but I'm not bothered about that now. He is actually the one that is driving me on. He has put so much into the club, and in his lifetime I'd love to get Morton into the top flight.

"That is my ambition. I really want to do it for him. We've taken a step back this season, so now we have to take two steps forward."

In recent weeks, with healthy wins over Livingston and Dumbarton, Morton have offered a glimpse of what they might do in time under Shiels. The manager claims to have the right strategy, if not yet the right players.

"We are bottom of the league and relegated but I feel we play a brand of football that is attractive and the right way to play the game. But . . . it hasn't brought success so far.

"It's now no longer talking from me that is required . . . it is action. I need to make it work again, as I've done at all my previous clubs. I must get results.

"Our last three games of the season are going to have so much influence on the title and on who goes up. We play Dundee, Falkirk and Hamilton over the next three Saturdays. One of those opponents - and possibly two of them - will be two leagues above us next season."

Down in Ayrshire so many people still associate Shiels with Kilmarnock. They still love him - the fans that is - at his former club. Shiels has had to divorce himself emotionally from Kilmarnock, and he found it hard.

"I got a bad deck of cards at Kilmarnock - there is no doubt about it," he says of his removal by Michael Johnston. "I was hard done by. But you get over it and you move on. You have to.

"Listen, when I first took over at Coleraine in the second half of the season [1994/95] we got relegated, and it was very similar to where I am now with Morton. In the first three games of the next season we won one, drew one and lost one, and some supporters were calling for my head. But then we won something like 22 games on the bounce, we went back up, we won a cup and we came within a point of winning the title that following season.

"I've got a vision of doing that again with Morton. That is my aim. If I can plan it carefully, that is the ambition."

And what of the "controversial" Shiels: the man, it is claimed, who cannot lock up his tongue and keep it quiet? Well, there are two sides to this. First, his openness in the past. Second, a newspaper trade which feasted on and magnified some of Shiels' best lines.

"I've had to learn to control myself in front of the media - I hope. I was being too straight and too honest before and it got me nowhere. I suffered for that. Maybe at my age I should have known better, but I just wanted to tell the truth.

"Quite a few things I've said have been twisted. I tried to say once on the radio that you have a distinct advantage in getting a job in Scotland as a manager if you've played for the Old Firm. It very quickly got twisted to me saying, 'you'll only get a job in Scotland if you've played for the Old Firm', which wasn't fair on me, it wasn't what I meant at all. It hurt me a bit.

"I'm honestly not a controversial person. I wish people could distinguish between controversy and honesty. If you go through my history of anything I've said, I've always told the truth. No more, no less."

After a fraught four months down the tail o' the bank, Shiels believes his standing in football remains intact.

"I'm welcomed back at any club I have previously worked at," he added. "I've left stability at every club I've worked for and I intend to leave stability at Morton as well. I've had success at previous clubs and I'm pretty sure I'll bring success to Morton. I want to make the Morton fans really enjoy their club again."

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