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St Johnstone attacking options assessed as Nadir Ciftci fails to shine again

Nadir Ciftci's spell on the sidelines has yet to be determined.
Nadir Ciftci has not shone in a St Johnstone shirt

There isn’t a St Johnstone player who will look back on Saturday with any fondness or pride.

The defeat to St Mirren was a collective no-show.

As far as striker Nadir Ciftci is concerned, it was another game he failed to put his mark on.

A record of no goals and no assists – in 11 appearances now – goes on.

While Callum Hendry has been impressing in a Saints shirt since his return from Kilmarnock, making himself far and away the biggest goal threat, Ciftci has toiled.

You could pick out any number of Opta categories from the St Mirren match which don’t reflect well on the 30-year-old’s contribution.

Arguably the most damning ones are his duels won (or more accurately lost) – on the ground and in the air.

Nadir Ciftci and Callum Hendry had contrasting Opta duels statistics.
Nadir Ciftci and Callum Hendry had contrasting Opta duels statistics.

Neither he nor his strike-partner were gorging on generous rations but Hendry managed to win nine out of 14 of those battles, while Ciftci finished on two out of 13.

The aerial comparison is just as stark – three out of five for Hendry and one out of nine for Ciftci.

The two men have similar playing styles but their impact is a black and white contrast.

St Johnstone's Opta average position map shows Callum Hendry (22) and Nadir Ciftci (23) very close to each other.
St Johnstone’s Opta average position map shows Callum Hendry (22) and Nadir Ciftci (23) very close to each other.

And when you look at the average position maps of the two men on Saturday, there’s a case to be made that Ciftci is occupying spaces Hendry would want to be in.

If the former Dundee United man is to be stood down for the trip to Livingston, Courier Sport assesses the options open to Callum Davidson.

 

The lone striker

One central forward with two players deeper and wider was a set-up that worked very well for Davidson last season with Chris Kane as the focal point.

It invariably only changed when Guy Melamed started.

The formation was revived away to Celtic last month and, even though the 7-0 thrashing wasn’t the best game to judge any attacking system or strikers on, there wasn’t much to suggest it will bring out the best in Hendry or the current group of players.

 

Glenn Middleton

The on-loan Rangers man certainly has the attributes to thrive alongside Hendry – pace being the main one.

He was Hendry’s sidekick in the best Saints performance of 2022 when they beat Hearts, the third best team in the country.

Big chunks of the away games at Aberdeen and St Mirren were also encouraging.

That Hearts match was in February, though. And it was the last time Middleton, still without a goal in the league, was near his best.

When he was brought on at the weekend, it was as a wide player.

 

Stevie May

If Middleton’s style best complements Hendry, the partnership most used out of all the available ones is with May.

You have to go back to Tommy Wright’s final campaign in charge for a body of work between the pair of them that produced consistent results and goals.

Under Davidson, that hasn’t happened – either at the start of last season or this.

Will it be in the Perth boss’s mind that it was Hendry and May who started the last win at Livingston, though?

The three-time cup winner isn’t nearly as quick as Middleton but he will stretch a defence more effectively than Ciftci and is happy to put in the hard yards for the benefit of the team.

 

Theo Bair

With just over 100 minutes of Scottish football to his name – none of them as a starter – the Canadian international still remains a relatively unknown quantity.

He undoubtedly has the physique to prosper in the Premiership but in his six substitute appearances Saints have yet to give him the sort of service in the box that would allow him to make his height and strength tell.

Theo Bair makes his St Johnstone debut against St Mirren.
Theo Bair makes his St Johnstone debut against St Mirren.

Bair is viewed as a long-term prospect by Davidson.

However, Saints were alarmingly over-powered by the St Mirren defence on Saturday and the former Vancouver Whitecaps player looks like the best available option to address that at Livingston.

 

Michael O’Halloran

The spectacular goal against Rangers – O’Halloran’s only one of the season – feels like a long time ago.

His last start was in the first game after the mid-season break at Hearts and that was at wing-back.

O’Halloran hasn’t come off the bench since Hibs away at the beginning of March and has been left out the match-day squad altogether in recent weeks.

An end-of-season recall feels improbable.

 

Jahmal Hector-Ingram

The freed Derby County youngster was snapped up on a short-term deal around the time Kane was ruled out for the season.

He hasn’t played for St Johnstone yet and that isn’t going to change.

Zander Clark: Dundee United approach confirmed by St Johnstone boss – but keeper will have other options

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