With seven wins, eight defeats and 26 points to their name, St Johnstone currently find…
David McMillan’s introduction to Scottish football was perhaps a little blunter than the experience offered to most players. The recently-acquired St Johnstone striker had been on the park for less than 20 minutes before Partick Thistle goalkeeper, Tomas Cerny, mistimed his lunge and greeted the Irish striker with two fists to the face.
The somewhat comical assault led to a penalty and a consolation goal for St Johnstone in their 3-1 defeat to Thistle, yet the entire ordeal did nothing to suggest what McMillan was capable of. The former Dundalk forward hadn’t made the move to Perth to batter against goalkeepers: he was here to score goals.
Indeed, it’s goals that Tommy Wright’s team so desperately need and in the 29-year-old forward they may have found a player that could turn their season around and get them back in the top six.
Although Saints fans would have lamented the manner in which their side shipped three goals against Thistle, the real issue with Tommy Wright’s side this season is actually up the other end of the pitch and St Johnstone’s inability to find the net.
The McDiarmid Park side have the fifth worst defensive record in the Premiership but they currently hold the joint-worst offensive record in the division too. With just 22 goals in 22 games, St Johnstone are currently averaging just one goal a game – a notable drop from the 1.3 goals they were scoring in the league last season.
Naturally, the departure of last season’s top goalscorer, Danny Swanson, to Hibernian has played a part in the club’s struggle in front of goal. With 10 goals and eight assists in the Premiership, the forward was not only the club’s main source of goals, but also one of their most crucial playmakers.
A simple look at this season’s goalscoring charts offers a rather insightful look into St Johnstone’s obvious problems. As we can see in the graph above – which shows the club’s top five goalscorers in the league by goals scored and expected goals – Steve MacLean currently leads the way alongside the recently-departed Michael O’Halloran with a pitiful five goals.
While MacLean should perhaps have another goal to his name, the xG data suggest O’Halloran was lucky to get to five before returning to Glasgow, while Liam Craig’s three for the season probably won’t get any better any time soon.
Indeed, the issue surrounding St Johnstone’s predicament is that they simply don’t have a natural goalscorer within their ranks, which is made abundantly clear by the fact that MacLean currently tops the club’s goalscoring charts.
When we take a look at St Johnstone’s scoring chances – shots from within the square that would be drawn from each goalpost to either sides of edge of the box – we can see that although Wright’s forwards are getting chances in the box they aren’t taking advantage of them.
As we can see from the graph above, almost all of MacLean and O’Halloran’s goals have come from within this region of the pitch, yet both players have a rather dismal conversion rate of about one in three or one in every two chances respectively. And the players below them have done just as poorly if not worse. Looking at this data, it’s clear that St Johnstone need a poacher.
This is of course where McMillan can step in and prove his worth. Although the senior striker may be stepping up from a slightly poorer division in the League of Ireland, McMillan has scored a tremendous amount of goals in not only Ireland’s domestic league but in European competition too.
In last season Champions League qualifiers, McMillan was instrumental in getting Dundalk to the second qualification round and the opportunity to drop in to the Europa League thanks to five goals in just four games. Add to that an impressive 16 goals in 30 league games for his side and it’s clear to see why Wright was so intent on signing the Irish forward.
Indeed, McMillan has made a name for himself as a striker that can find space and time to finish a cut-back pass or nestle a glancing header in to the far corner of the net. Although the forward has the pace and athleticism to run the line, the vast majority of his goals seem to come in and around the box. Which, as we’ve already noted, is exactly what St Johnstone need.
Although Wright has recalled Chris Kane from Queen of the South and just watched him put three goals past Albion Rovers in Monday night’s Scottish Cup clash, it shouldn’t be too long before we see McMillan alongside MacLean at the top of St Johnstone’s attack. And if he can score goals with anything like the efficiency he did in Ireland then the Perth side could have a real talent on their hands.