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St Johnstone deadline day duo: Ali McCann shows Preston fans what they’ve been missing and Jason Kerr is talked-up as a Wigan captain

Neither Ali McCann nor Jason Kerr is a first team regular as deadline day comes around again.
Ali McCann and Jason K

Deadline day brings on a bit of collective trauma for St Johnstone fans.

The wounds opened up by losing their two best players at the end of the last transfer window have yet to heal.

It has been a mystery to them (and the rest of us who have watched their careers develop) that neither Jason Kerr nor Ali McCann is yet a first team regular at Wigan Athletic and Preston North End respectively.

Courier Sport takes a deeper look at the post-Perth career trajectories of the double-winners who left such a gaping hole in Callum Davidson’s team.

An uphill battle for Kerr from day one

Scoring the opening goal in Turkey to put Saints in the lead against Galatasaray was a football highpoint for a player who had become very used to them in the first half of 2021.

But it was also the game which made a fast start at Wigan next to impossible.

Kerr injured his ankle in the game and, though he played on that night and in Saints’ subsequent three European matches, it meant a lay-off to recuperate when he signed for his new club.

Also going against the 24-year-old was the fact he was trying to break into a winning team.

He still is.

Wigan haven’t lost in League One since October.

Kerr has featured 14 times but has only started in cup competitions.

Latics manager Leam Richardson briefly flirted with a back-three but didn’t stick with it and Jack Whatmough, a former England under-19 international signed from Portsmouth a couple of months before Kerr, has been the regular starter at right-sided centre-half in a two.

New manager at Preston

Kerr’s personal challenge is a classic case of having to be patient to force his way into a successful side.

No player can knock on a manager’s door in those circumstances.

McCann going from excelling in the first XI to substitute is harder to get your head around.

A change in the dugout at Deepdale, and a change in system, has seen the Northern Ireland international drop to the substitutes’ bench.

Saints fans are utterly mystified that McCann has been squeezed out – as are plenty of Preston ones.

But the story of a new boss seeing things differently to the guy he has replaced is as old as the game itself.

Since Ryan Lowe has taken over from Frankie McAvoy, McCann has started one Championship game (at wing-back) and one FA Cup tie (back in the middle of the pitch).

For four league games in a row not only was McCann a sub, he was also an unused one.

One of the ironies is that Lowe has changed Preston’s formation to the one in which McCann performed so well in during the cup double campaign – a 3-4-1-2.

The issue has been that the head coach has preferred Alan Browne and Ben Whiteman as his two sitting midfielders and Daniel Johnson as the man to link with the attack.

And then, when Johnson headed off for World Cup qualifiers with Jamaica, Browne was pushed one position further on and Ryan Ledson, not McCann, took up the second holding role.

Trademark McCann

Even when McCann has been kept on the fringes, the message from close to the Preston camp didn’t change – Lowe’s faith in the 22-year-old was strong and it was merely a case of him having to wait for an opportunity.

That presented itself on Saturday when, with the Lilywhites trailing Bristol City at half-time, he replaced Ledson as part of a double substitution.

What happened five minutes into stoppage time at the conclusion of the 90 was trademark McCann.

Refusing to accept it was game over with Bristol on the attack, he made a superb sliding tackle on the edge of his own box, then launched a swift counter that culminated in a dramatic Emil Riis equaliser.

“It was a fantastic recovery run from Ali, first and foremost – great tackle to go from one end of the pitch to the other,” said Lowe.

His old Saints team-mate, Chris Kane, put it even better on Twitter, though.

“95th minute. Does a 70 yard sprint to make a last ditch tackle on edge of his box, then pops up on the edge of their box seconds later to celebrate the equaliser. The boys not human.”


Captain Kerr again?

Just because Kerr hasn’t yet become a regular, don’t mistake that for a lack of long-term faith in his abilities.

After the former Scotland under-21 international came off the bench to set-up Will Keane’s recent winner against Gillingham, manager Richardson went above and beyond what was required in his assessment of Kerr’s future career at Wigan.

“I thought Jason was excellent when he came on,” he said.

“In fact, he’s probably my biggest pressure at the moment – finding a way to fit him in!

“He’s a fantastic guy, a fantastic professional, works so hard, loves to play.

“I know he’ll end up playing hundreds of games for this club and probably end up being captain because he has that in him.

“We’re just very fortunate in that we’ve got two very, very good right-sided centre-backs at this club, and he has to bide his time.”

It doesn’t sound like Saints will be getting either McCann or Kerr back at McDiarmid anytime soon.

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