By the end of August, everything seemed to be going well for St Johnstone. Three…
With seven wins, eight defeats and 26 points to their name, St Johnstone currently find themselves sitting in sixth place in the Premiership table. Although it may be slightly below expectations, a begrudging acceptance that things could be a lot worse perhaps offers a more pragmatic outlook on the Perth side’s season so far.
Such an outlook what also put most Saints fans in good stead ahead of a January window that will almost certainly see key players leave the club, while some exciting new transfers have already been confirmed.
Indeed, the coming month may prove to be quite transformative for Tommy Wright’s side and may well go on to define where his team finish in May.
Although St Johnstone currently have a worrying goal difference of -7, it’s Wright’s attack – rather than his defence – that has proved the issue for much of this season. While a defensive record of 28 goals conceded in 21 games isn’t too bad for the Premiership, a goal scored record of 1.05 goals per game won’t get them anywhere near where they may be hoping to finish this season.
The club have tried to address this already. In what may prove to be an exceptionally crude signing, St Johnston have already managed to snap up Dundalk striker David McMillan. The Irish forward scored 21 goals for the League of Ireland side last season and will surely be added to a strikeforce that already has Steve MacLean and Graham Cummins.
Yet it’s the men playing behind these strikers that will perhaps need bolstering too in January.
Although St Johnstone have players that can technically score goals, they don’t seem to have too many that are interested in creating goals. When we consider the squad’s key passes – a pass that leads to a shot or goal – we find Stefan Scougall and MacLean top with 12 already this season, but the overall tally at the club is way below the league average.
Indeed, this suggests that St Johnstone may have goalscorers but they don’t currently boast too many midfielders that are willing to move in to the final third and pick out that final cross or through ball that would then lead to a teammate scoring.
The real elephant in the room here is the inevitable move of Michael O’Halloran back to Rangers once his loan deal ends after New Years. While the wide forward is perhaps more of a goalscorer than goal creator, his influence and presence will also surely be missed for the remainder of the season.
St Johnstone already needed more goals from midfield and the club’s second top goalscorer leaving in a few weeks time will surely only press home that issue even more.
If St Johnstone do indeed need playmakers in midfield or at least midfielders that can thrive in the final third then they’d do well to test the water with Premiership players that _could_ be tempted to McDiarmid Park if cash is available.
In an ideal world that would mean players like Dundee’s Scott Allan or Hamilton Accies young prospect, Greg Docherty. Not only would both be an improvement in what Wright already has to work with in midfield, but each of the two attacking midfielders could be real, long-term prospects to build team around. However, since both are on long-term contracts it’s unlikely that St Johnstone would or even could pry them away from league rivals.
A more pragmatic target may in fact be Accies forward Ali Crawford. The 26-year-old’s contract expires in the summer and his influence in Martin Canning’s side has undoubtedly began to diminish over the past season or two as younger players have stepped up and stole the limelight.
Speculation has been rife over a move away from New Douglas Park for some time and although St Johnstone may not be Crawford’s first choice when considering the next step in his career he could certainly do a lot worse.
In typical fashion, Wright has been pretty honest about his team’s prospects of finishing in the top six this season and how the January transfer window could and perhaps should help in that regard.
“For me, you probably only have one place in the top six for the rest of us this season,” he said. “There could be an outside chance of two, but at the moment it looks like just being one because I think Hearts and Hibs will both invest again in January.
“This is where we have a decision to make because even though we’ve taken the pressure off a bit with a couple of wins lately, we still need more quality in. Whether that happens in January or the end of the season we will see, but we need to help the players who are here and who have done so well for us.”
It seems likely that there be a lot of moment in and out of McDiarmid Park in the coming weeks.