Saturday, August 9, 2014

2014-15 Premiership preview - St. Johnstone

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LAST SEASON: 6th, 53pts

NOTABLE INS: Kyle Lander (Livingston), Adam Morgan (Yeovil Town, loan)

NOTABLE OUTS: Chris Iwelumo (Chester City), Zander Clark (Queen of the South, loan), James Dunne (Stevenage, end of loan), Tim Clancy, Patrick Cregg, Nigel Hasselbaink, Wade Joyce

LAST SEASON'S BEST XI (departed players crossed out): Mannus, Mackay, Anderson, Wright, Easton, Wotherspoon, Dunne, Davidson, Croft, Maclean, May

In true Shooting Stars form, the question is: "Stevie May: True or False?"

It looks like the answer is 'false'.  Scotland's answer to the Divine Ponytail is set to move to England this weekend, leaving St. Johnstone short of a twenty-goal-a-season striker just hours before the new season starts.  That's not exactly ideal.

May's partnership with Steven Maclean was a joy to watch; they were a duo who complemented each other beautifully, who between them were capable of scoring just about any sort of goal against any sort of team.  But May's departure feels rather a lot like Perth are being left with Art Garfunkel, while Paul Simon goes off on his own.

So, no pressure on Adam Morgan, then; the former Liverpool youngster was brought in on loan from Yeovil Town this week and will probably be expected to lead the line alongside Maclean.  The alternatives are Michael O'Halloran, who was quite effective out wide or up front last season but doesn't seem a huge goal threat, or young Chris Kane, who scored plenty of goals on loan at Dumbarton last season.  It's a big ask for any of them.

The large transfer fee is likely to be spent in true St. Johnstone style - in a business-like way to safeguard their future rather than on the playing squad.  Heck, manager Tommy Wright's reward for back-to-back top six finishes and a sensational Scottish Cup triumph was to told that his budget wasn't going to be increased.  Whilst Wright has publicly expressed his displeasure with the inability to strengthen the squad, the situation is hardly grim, for the Perth Saints had concentrated on keeping together the bunch which have brought them their recent successes.  Their performances in the Europa League against Swiss side Luzerne suggested that they will pick up where they left least it until it became clear that May was offski.

Whoever plays up front won't lack service, with David Wotherspoon, Lee Croft and hopefully Murray Davidson - if the latter can bounce back from a nasty knee injury - around.  A bit of steel wouldn't go amiss though, and the failure to make James Dunne's loan a permanent move was a huge disappointment.  Chris Millar and Gary McDonald are servicable but unremarkable central midfielders, so Wright is depending on youngster Scott Brown (no, not that one!) to fill that role.

If there might be problems in attack, it's a long time since there were any complaints about the St. Johnstone defence.  If they do decline this season, one suspects it will be because veteran defenders Dave Mackay and Frazer Wright finally start to slow down.  I suppose the latter never had pace anyway, but the former, one of the most underrated players in the Premiership, is now 34; can he still produce week-in, week-out like in previous seasons?  But at least Wright's central defensive partner Steven Anderson signed a new deal - he was terrific last season.  Having converted full-backs Tam Scobbie and Gary Miller as their backups is hardly ideal, but both do offer decent cover for Mackay and Brian Easton, who is solid enough at left-back.  And in goal is the consistently excellent Alan Mannus, one of the better keepers in this league.

Given the size of the home support at McDiarmid Park, St. Johnstone have really rather punched above their weight in recent years.  That's because they are a seasoned, dedicated bunch who are hard to beat.  It's only couple of years since they rebounded from losing Francisco Sandaza's goals to finish third in the table, after all.  I doubt they'll manage to repeat that, but it would be a shock if they ended up at the wrong end of the table.  Even without May's pizzazz, they'll probably be in the top half again.  Although they probably won't get the plaudits they deserve for it.

THE SQUAD (players born after 1 January 1993 in italics)
Goalkeepers: Steve Banks, Alan Mannus
Defenders: Steven Anderson, Brian Easton, Dave Mackay, Gary Miller, Tam Scobbie, Frazer Wright
Midfielders: Scott Brown, Liam Caddis, Lee Croft, Murray Davidson, Gary McDonald, Chris Millar, Craig Thomson, David Wotherspoon
Forwards: Dylan Easton, Chris Kane, Kyle Lander, Steven Maclean, Stevie May, Adam Morgan, Michael O'Halloran


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