There isn’t a team of greater contrasts in the first half of 2021/22 than St Johnstone.
Two big European nights at McDiarmid Park and two big away draws have been followed by one of the worst spells of form in the club’s recent history.
Courier Sport tries to make some sense of it all, gives the Perth side a half-term grade and reveals who is still in the teacher’s good books and whether any pupils are in need of extra homework.
Last term you could have chosen one from half a dozen.
That Zander Clark has been Saints’ best player by some distance tells you everything you need to know about the half-season.
He has been far busier than Callum Davidson would have wished to see and almost single-handedly kept Dundee United at bay at Tannadice for a precious victory.
Zander Clark v Dundee United pic.twitter.com/n6e0IrsXCB
— St. Johnstone FC News ★★ (@sjfcnews) October 31, 2021
Clark is deservedly a Scotland squad member these days and, whatever league Saints are competing in next season, he’s unlikely to still be at McDiarmid Park.
Mentions should also be given to Jason Kerr and Ali McCann, who were both outstanding in the European games before that deadline day saw them cross the border.
It might feel just now as if it’s been unrelenting misery for Saints fans but there have actually been quite a few highlights.
Working our way backwards, Ali Crawford’s two goals in the city of Dundee were both high quality, as was Michael O’Halloran’s against Rangers.
And it was a pleasure to witness Stevie May make it 50 Saints goals with his late winner at Pittodrie and then milk the moment in front of the Aberdeen fans who had been jeering him.
But all the big highpoints were in the summer when the Perth side were attempting to secure European group stage football.
Reporting on Saints’ draw in Klagenfurt was a personal favourite and seeing the mighty Galatasaray given a run for their money at McDiarmid sits alongside it.
WATCH: Jason Kerr's penalty puts St Johnstone 1-0 up 👇 pic.twitter.com/riD4Si0QWE
— BBC Sport Scotland (@BBCSportScot) August 5, 2021
But there was one moment that will be talked about for generations – Kerr’s penalty that put Saints ahead in Turkey.
It doesn’t get much better than that.
Not many happy stories here unfortunately.
And that’s the reason Saints are bottom of the table rather than safely tucked in the middle of the pack ready to challenge for a European place again.
There are nine new faces this season and of those nine I’d only be wholly confident that one will come good in Perth – Jacob Butterfield.
Efe Ambrose started well but has disappeared.
And there are far too many loan players.
Lars Dendoncker, Hayden Muller and Reece Devine may yet have long careers as professional athletes but a key difference between that trio and, say Danny McNamara, is that this is their first spell of men’s football.
Crawford’s form and confidence has fallen off a cliff, culminating in his half-time substitution against Celtic, while Cammy MacPherson’s last significant contribution before injury was turning his back on Scott Allan for the Hibs winner.
Eetu Vertainen was the ‘marquee’ signing but has looked a square peg for a round hole.
🗣 "A proper No 9's header!"
A lovely ball into the box from Viv Solomon-Otabor and Chris Kane is there to head past #CelticFC goalkeeper Vasilis Barkas.
— Sky Sports Scotland (@ScotlandSky) December 26, 2021
Viv Solomon-Otabor shows promise and if he extends his deal, could yet make a telling impact.
Broadly speaking, though, the January signings will have the job of clearing up a mess created by summer transfer business that fell far short of what was needed.
Room for improvement
Indeed there is. And plenty of it.
For a club the size of St Johnstone, a relegation battle (and actual relegation) is an inevitability at some point.
It’s the law of averages and the law of budgets.
Not this season, though. Not from their position of strength and relative wealth.
Plans should have been put in place to fill the McCann and Kerr-shaped holes that didn’t include making cheap loan signings.
The eight-game losing run and patchy form before it can’t all be put down to transfer ins and outs, however.
— St Johnstone 1884 (@stjohnstone1884) December 11, 2021
Bad refereeing has to be mentioned (the penalty given to Hibs at Easter Road and the Aberdeen handball not spotted were examples of awful officiating costing Saints dearly).
And despite winning two cups in his first season, Davidson is a young manager learning on the job.
But some of his double heroes have let their standards slip alarmingly far and big decisions loom large regarding Jamie McCart and Shaun Rooney, whose deals only have a few months left to run.
You can’t discount the famous results in Turkey and Austria, or the fact that Saints won their way to yet another Hampden semi-final (playing pretty well when they got there).
That nudges the mark up a bit.
And it should be remembered that this time last year the Perth side’s season was also precariously poised.
But you can’t give pass marks to a team that is at the bottom of the league and on the verge of being broken up.
The consequences of anything less than an A for the second-half of the campaign don’t bear thinking about.