Quite literally, it was the best season in the club’s history. St Johnstone hadn’t even made a Scottish Cup final before they defeated Dundee United 2-0 at Celtic Park, claiming the first major piece of silverware in the process. In the league it wasn’t bad either, finishing sixth to earn a third successive top six finish. There was a slight feeling of ‘what could have been’ with regards to the league after Steven MacLean missed four months of the campaign. Had the striker stayed fit throughout then Saints could well have been pushing Aberdeen and Motherwell in the battle for second place. Not that too many of them were dwelling on that in the aftermath of the marquee match in May.
The one thing supporters didn’t want to happen was finalised yesterday as Stevie May left McDiarmid Park to join Sheffield Wednesday. As early as mid-April the club were in discussions with the striker over a new contract but a deal was never agreed. St Johnstone seemed to want another year or two so they could guarantee a bigger sum and perhaps another year of service. May was happy with that as long as he was one of the club’s best paid players, an eventual sticking point for St Johnstone. The supporters are not happy. May is undoubtedly the club’s biggest star. It’s only right he be paid a wage to reflected that. In defence of the club, July revelations that they had only broke even despite the Scottish Cup financial windfall indicates that they didn’t have the money for May.
The only addition so far has been the signing of Kyle Lander. The youngster signs from Livingston, a club with a terrific reputation for breeding young attackers. Chairman Steve Brown announced in July that the club didn’t have the money to bring in any new players, saying that their calculations following the Scottish Cup win were wide of the mark. However, expect one or two to come in following May’s departure.
With the exception of their top goalscorer they’ve still got a strong core having signed up a number of last season’s talents in January, but there are problems with depth, particularly as good squad players like James Dunne and Nigel Hasselbaink have been allowed to leave.
*Since this was written they’ve signed Adam Morgan on loan from Yeovil.
One season was enough to guarantee him a special place in the hearts of St Johnstone fans for decades to come. Whenever a team are greater than the sum of their parts, which St Johnstone have been for the past few years, it is a credit to the man assembling them. There wasn’t much pace in the squad, the midfield lacked a true talisman, and they didn’t score many goals in addition to those netted by May and MacLean. Despite those problems they always looked likely to finish in the top six and were able to make up for years of heartbreak with the success at Celtic Park.
Away from the pitch Wright carries himself with dignity and always comes across well in interviews. He is a great credit to the club.
There were times when the supporters questioned his tactics in the months following MacLean’s injury. But, in fairness, while results dropped, you could scarcely imagine another manager doing a better job with the hand he had been dealt, particularly after Murray Davidson went down too. The real test, however, will come this season. Wright is responsible for the meteoric rise in the May’s career and now he’ll have to be the victim of that success. How he reshapes the team in May’s absence will be crucial to their chances this season.
May has the required talent that he would have been a sensation anyway, but his development was surely helped by playing alongside Steven MacLean. The veteran is a great presence in the training ground, has a terrific work ethic and displays a high intelligence on the football field that every striker should aspire to emulate.
May didn’t perform well at all in the cup final. MacLean, on the other hand, was outstanding. The fact that St Johnstone still won against the slightly favoured Dundee United shows that the team can still be considered a viable threat against the better teams in this league even without May. A headless chicken who just runs fast and can score 10 goals would not be replacing the quality that May possesses, but it might be enough to keep them a top six club should the new man’s strike-partner remain fit for the duration.
Have St Johnstone blown the chance to progress as a club?
People have criticised the club in recent weeks ever since it appeared that a move for May would be on the cards. Outsiders thought they should have strengthened the squad in the aftermath of the Scottish Cup Final. That they should have tried to establish themselves long term as one of the better clubs in Scottish football, instead of a side that just claimed their first ever national trophy.
Those same critics point to the Celtic Park crowd along with the 8,000 strong they’ve attracted to both European games as evidence to support the point. But St Johnstone enjoyed those exact same crowds last season after hosting Rosenborg and Minsk, and there was only a minimal improvement in attendances. Football fans are creatures of habit, and the cost of tickets is just too high for casual fans to attend one or two matches and think that justifies going every week.
The fact remains that unless the Browns invested their own money into the team, it’s likely that one of the more overachieving clubs in recent history will come back to earth somewhat. That’s not to say they’ll return to the lower tiers. The presence of Ross County, Inverness and Hamilton will allow them to be in the top flight for a good few years yet. Besides, the difference in crowds sizes between the clubs outside of Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Dundee should allow them to remain in the top flight for decades to come. Just don’t expect many periods of success that parallel the last three years.
St Johnstone remain a good team. They have a strong back four and goalkeeper, hard working midfielders and Steven MacLean remaining in attack. Most seasons it wouldn’t be enough, but this year the gulf between the elite group and the rest last term should keep them in the former despite the loss of May. The money from that transfer will go back into the infrastructure, though there should be a bit of cash left aside to sign a couple of players*.
* Maybe one more now they’ve brought in Morgan.
Finish: Sixth Place