Dundee United’s search for a new centre-back is over, with St Johnstone defender Sam McClelland moving to Tannadice on loan until the end of the season.
Courier Sport assesses the qualities the Northern Ireland international will bring to Jim Goodwin’s promotion-chasing side and the benefits Saints should get from the temporary switch across Tayside.
The Tommy Wright seal of approval
Steven MacLean was in the market for a new centre-half in the summer and his old manager at McDiarmid Park, now in charge of the Northern Irish under-21s, proved to be a useful middle-man when it came to helping to persuade McClelland that this was the best career move for him.
Having been released by Chelsea, and with 30 loan appearances in League Two with Barrow under his belt, the then 21-year-old had plenty of other offers to consider in Scotland and England.
McClelland represented Northern Ireland at under-17, under-19 and under-21 level before playing for the full team at just 19.
He was a late substitute in a 1-0 friendly defeat to Ukraine.
McClelland wasn’t the only youngster to be given his first cap in that international break – Liverpool star Conor Bradley made his debut a few days earlier against Malta.
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The Saints story so far
McClelland has played seven times for the Perth side, five of them starts.
He wasn’t part of any victories but Saints did draw on three occasions – one of those coming at Celtic Park.
McClelland, not blessed with raw pace, showed himself to be a powerful and vocal presence at the back, who had a good positional nose when balls were getting played into the penalty box.
It was a tough start – he came into a team that had been dumped out of the League Cup in the group stage and featured a lot of new signings.
A training ground injury on Northern Ireland duty meant he was unavailable for what turned out to be MacLean’s last two games in charge of Saints.
The injury and the plan ahead
McClelland sustained a severe ankle sprain and needed surgery.
MacLean suspected it would keep him out until after the mid-season break and that has indeed proved to be the case.
"If he gets back before the break he’ll be doing well. It's more likely it will be after it."
Big injury blow for Sam McClelland ⬇️⬇️⬇️ https://t.co/aRrvdNujuV
— Eric Nicolson (@C_ENicolson) October 20, 2023
A lot has changed at McDiarmid since then, of course.
In Craig Levein, McClelland has a new manager to impress.
Levein has told others they weren’t/aren’t in his long-term plans, but he believes that the most sensible scenario in this case is for the player to get game-time at a good level and then he can make a more informed judgment in the summer.
There has been plenty of interest in McClelland over the last few weeks but a Championship team trying to win a title feels like an ideal one for all parties.
Declan Gallagher has been out for a month and the player 10 years his junior is cut from the same cloth in terms of his skillset.