The Ulsterman has been a huge success as St Johnstone manager and arguably the most…
With three wins from their opening four games of the League Cup campaign, St Johnstone may approach this weekend’s Scottish Premiership opening game against Kilmarnock with an air of confidence. Steve Clarke’s team are undoubtedly a stellar test for the Saints, but Tommy Wright’s side looks rejuvenated and ready to once again surprise a few people in Scotland’s top division this coming season.
Last season’s eighth-place finish perfectly summed up a rather drab and unenthusiastic campaign, however, the Perthshire club have been hard at work this summer and under the guidance of their ever-present coach they are undoubtedly among a number of mid-table clubs that could make a push for a top-six finish come May.
St Johnstone, like a number of mid-table teams in the Premiership last term, were largely the victims of a number of bigger clubs getting their act together. Celtic were Celtic, Aberdeen looked resolute, while Kilmarnock and Hibs took the league by storm. Even Rangers and Hearts, who looked abject for much of the league campaign, still had enough about them to stay close to where they should have finished in the table. And as such, the rest of the clubs simply had to shuffle down a spot.
Aside from that, there’s no doubt that Wright’s squad was beginning to show its age and was struggling to perform the way it had done in years gone by. McDiarmid Park has never been the most intimidating stadium in Scotland, but last season it reached new depths as Wright’s side won just three games in front of their own fans in the league.
Whether it has happened on purpose or by complete accident, Wright has seen something of a clear out at St Johnstone this summer, with three key players over the age of 30 – Chris Millar, Alan Mannus and Steven MacLean – moving on to other clubs.
Each of these players will undoubtedly be missed to some degree – especially MacLean who was the club’s top goalscorer last season with 10 goals – but it does seem as though there was something of a necessity to it all. Perhaps Wright needed a push to step away from the team that brought him so much and these players leaving seems to have done exactly that when we look at who has been brought in to replace them.
The average age of St Johnstone’s departures this summer is 29.5 years of age, but the average of the players that have arrived is just 22. This should come as welcome news to Saints fans.
All the good folks are out the night love it troops! Positivity will be read negativity will be laughed at 🔥👌🏻🏆😋 pic.twitter.com/ZxHQZyMkqR
— Tony Watt (@Tony_Watt7) July 28, 2018
While Zander Clark has taken over for Mannus between the sticks, Wright has bolstered his attacking options with wingers Matty Kennedy and Drey Wright from Cardiff and Colchester United respectively. He’s also brought in former Celtic and Hearts forward Tony Watt to play alongside David McMillan up front.
Watt has wasted little time getting on to the scoresheet for St Johnstone in the League Cup and McMillan, who has essentially been sidelined through injury since he joined the club in January, should kick off the season like a new player. Suddenly, this old and tired St Johnstone side has a fresh, new injection of youth and a point to prove.
What should prove to be Wright’s biggest challenge in the coming season is exactly what troubled his team last season: the simple fact that five of the top six positions in the division are essentially already taken.
However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t room to improve. Like Motherwell and Kilmarnock, St Johnstone ought to be pushing for that final, sixth place in the division and with some smart signings and one of the most proven coaches in Scottish football on the sidelines, there’s no reason to suggest that they can’t do exactly that. Sixth place should be the aim for this coming league campaign and if they can manage that then it should be noted as a significant achievement amongst some impressive opponents.