In didn’t take long for Jamie McCart to prove his worth at St Johnstone.
A game-and-a-half was enough for captain Jason Kerr to realise that the Perth side’s January recruit was the real deal.
When Saints reinvested some of their Matty Kennedy transfer money from Aberdeen to get McCart out of Inverness mid-season, it proved to be one of the best bits of business the McDiarmid Park club have concluded since the last time they paid a fee for Dave Mackay and Murray Davidson back in 2009.
Having barely trained with his new team-mates, the 22-year-old was given a baptism of fire by manager Tommy Wright when he was sent on as a second half substitute against Celtic as part of a damage limitation exercise at 3-0 down.
The side didn’t concede a goal with him in the backline, McCart got his first start against Hearts a few days later, and he was an ever-present for Wright from then on.
If there was a better January signing in the Premiership this season, Kerr was struggling to think of one.
“Jamie fitted in straight away,” said the Saints skipper. “The fact that he’s a good lad certainly helped.
“His first game was against Celtic – he played really well after coming on at half-time.
“I think Hearts was the next game and he played well in a three that day.
“Gordy (Liam Gordon) was unlucky to get a head-knock and drop out. He had been excellent since coming back into the side.
“It could have been either him or me to miss out when we played a two.
“Jamie’s not even been here for half a season and he’s already shown how important he is to the team.
“When you look at the players who were signed in January across the league, he has to go down as one of the best.
“We had been improving as a defence before he arrived and that’s continued.”
Being harder to score against was the priority on McCart’s arrival – and, as Kerr rightly pointed out, was being addressed by the Saints defenders before he was signed.
But as fortunes have improved and the team moved away from relegation danger, the creative side of the Celtic academy product’s game has become increasingly relevant.
“The fact that Jamie’s left-footed helps us a lot,” said Kerr. “It’s a bit of a wand.
“The manager has been working on playing out from the back more and Jamie’s composure has been really important on that front.
“He obviously got a really good schooling at Celtic but playing in the Championship with Inverness has been a big thing. I know that myself from my time at Queen of the South.
“He’s still young – which is the case for the defence as a whole – and he’s still improving.”
Wallace Duffy is another Saints player who started out at Celtic.
The 21-year-old made 15 appearances for the Perth first team in league and cup – most of which were in a struggling team.
Kerr believes those minutes will stand the former Scotland under-19 defender in good stead for the rest of his career, after missing out on loan football that has benefited so many of Saints’ successful academy graduates.
“I felt a bit sorry for Wallace,” said Kerr, who partnered Duffy at central defence in a crucial 1-0 victory against Hearts at the end of October. “He was chucked into the deep end.
“He hadn’t played first team football. Myself, Gordy, Jamie and Anthony (Ralston) have all been on loan. Wallace hasn’t.
“It’s a big jump to be asked to play against top teams like Celtic. Now that he’s done it, he’ll come back a much better player because of it.”