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5 areas St Johnstone’s summer rebuild MUST improve to avoid repeat of relegation battle

St Johnstone's season ended on a high.
St Johnstone's season ended on a high.

St Johnstone may have escaped relegation on the last day of their season but the turnaround before the next campaign is a short one.

They will be back in training in less than a month.

Courier Sport picks out five key issues as manager Callum Davidson ponders a summer squad transformation.


The foundation for the rebuild emerges

The return to form of Jamie McCart was one of the biggest reasons Saints improved after the turn of the year and got themselves into a play-off.

That he was missing for the second leg of it was a huge cause of concern for fans arriving at McDiarmid Park.

John Mahon had impressed in his substitute appearances – and looked decent from the start in the dead rubber at Easter Road – but replacing McCart in the most important game of the season was the ultimate test of his ability and character.

You would never have known he’s spent most of his time since arriving in January on the bench.

John Mahon
John Mahon looked very comfortable against Inverness

Mahon’s positional sense and reading of the game was superb and throwing himself in the way of a Wallace Duffy shot when Inverness were pushing hard to get a goal back was the sort of body-on-the-line moment ex-Saints Graham Gartland and Graham Cummins predicted.

Liam Gordon organised like a defensive rock and captain should, heading away everything that was launched in his direction.

And Dan Cleary would have no doubt impressed the watching Jason Kerr with his lung-bursting runs to link defence and attack.

The one that set-up Shaun Rooney for his goal will go into McDiarmid folklore but there were plenty of others.

Now that Saints have emerged the other side of the play-offs as a top flight club, Davidson couldn’t have wished for better.

McCart will be leaving and he’s seen a new back-three perform brilliantly together.

They will be the foundation of Davidson’s squad rebuild.


Getting the balance right in midfield

This has been the biggest issue all season – in the calamitous losing run and, to a lesser extent, even the second half of the campaign upturn.

I would argue that the key summer signing is a robust, athletic, combative central midfielder.

Murray Davidson should be retained and will help out in that regard but his game-time will be managed.

Melker Hallberg ended up almost as an auxiliary forward as opposed to a box-to-box midfielder and Cammy MacPherson is another player in that area now showing himself capable of supporting the attack.

Melker Hallberg in action against Inverness
Melker Hallberg in action against Inverness

Also, David Wotherspoon should be back, if not at the start of the season then close to it.

Then there’s Max Kucherivayi, who will hopefully supplement Davidson’s options in that area.

With a younger Davidson-type and a younger Liam Craig-type added into the mix, midfield can be a source of St Johnstone strength again rather than concern.


Goals

Where would they be without Callum Hendry?

Easy answer – the Championship.

Nine goals scored after returning from his Kilmarnock loan was an incredible – and season-defining – tally.

Hendry doesn’t have a Betfred or Scottish Cup medal but he deserves to be acclaimed as one of the most important players of the Callum Davidson era.

Unlike with Zander Clark and McCart, I wouldn’t completely rule out the possibility of Hendry staying.

But it’s more likely he’ll move to England.

Stevie May has showed his race isn’t yet run and Davidson has been encouraged by Theo Bair’s progress.

However, Glenn Middleton has played his last game for Saints, as has Nadir Ciftci and Michael O’Halloran may move on in search of regular football as well.

The Perth club – like all other Premiership sides of their stature – will find it hard to get it right when signing strikers.

And they will probably need two – as well as an out-and-out wide player, preferably one who can operate on both flanks.


New recruitment structure

Spotting the areas of the squad in need to attention is the easy part – and Saints are in a good financial position to go about their signing business.

But the new structure of talent identification and talent recruitment needs to be effective after the departure of Stevie Grieve following just two transfer windows as a McDiarmid Park employee.

Gone are the days when a manager can rely on his contacts book.

New head of operations, Ian Flaherty, has been working on this crucial side of the club’s behind-the-scenes structure over the last couple of months.

Next season’s success depends on it.


Adaptability

Everybody knows Davidson’s preferred system is based on three central defenders and wing-backs.

That is unlikely to change.

Plenty of the players who will be sticking around suit it.

But one of the recruitment goals should be building in greater versatility and adaptability in his squad.

That winger mentioned above will be key in that regard.

Proud Callum Davidson turns mind to making sure St Johnstone aren’t in another relegation battle after play-off relief

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