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St Johnstone close season report card: Signings rated, Premier Sports Cup exit, where will they finish and who will be star man?

Graham Carey injured his knee in training.
Graham Carey will be empowered to attack by St Johnstone boss Steven MacLean. Image: SNS

St Johnstone’s Premiership season begins against Hibs on Saturday.

A flat Premier Sports Cup campaign has seen Callum Davidson’s men put down as relegation favourites by many.

Courier Sport assesses the Perth side’s chances of confounding their critics by ensuring last term’s relegation struggle turns out to be aberration rather than the beginning of end of an era.

 

Transfer business

That all the significant departures happened early in the window rather than on deadline day is good news of a kind.

There will more players yet to head out of McDiarmid Park but it won’t be stars.

Jamie McCart, Shaun Rooney, Zander Clark and Callum Hendry left big holes in the squad, as Jason Kerr and Ali McCann did before them.

In terms of replacing that quartet, let’s work from the back.

Recruiting a goalkeeper turned into quite the saga.

Half a dozen or more names were mentioned – and the League Cup matches came and went with back-up Elliott Parish playing all four – but Davidson has settled on a season’s loan for Crystal Palace’s Remi Matthews.

Judging by the reaction of Hamilton fans (where he played in 2016/17), Matthews should be worth the wait.

There’s been more fluidity at centre-back than expected but nobody could say Saints aren’t better off numbers-wise.

On quality, we’ve yet to see, of course.

Expect Adam Montgomery to continue doing a decent job at left wing-back while Tony Gallacher and Callum Booth are out.

And, even though Drey Wright won’t come close to emulating Rooney’s history-making, big game moments, he’ll offer a ball-playing threat down the right that may turn out to be transformative for this season’s team.

Jamie Murphy and Graham Carey are both class acts, courted by Premiership rivals. Add into the mix young Max Kucheriavyi and David Wotherspoon (hopefully an improved Ali Crawford as well) and creativity shouldn’t be an issue this time around.

Of the clubs whose primary concern is staying up, I don’t see any with comparable strength in that department.

The need for a finisher is glaring, though.

Theo Bair scores against Cove Rangers.
Theo Bair scores against Cove Rangers.

Theo Bair remains unproven and it’s a long time since Stevie May posted numbers to be categorised as prolific.

The squad is also lacking a ball-winning, all-energy younger version of Murray Davidson.

Get those two right before the end of August (preferably sooner) and I’d be comfortable calling it a ‘job done’ window.


League Cup woes

Lee Johnson and Stephen Robinson weren’t the men who should have been saying it (Davidson was quite right to leave this topic alone) but there’s no doubt that there’s some truth in the fact that the timing of the group stage makes it an extension of pre-season.

Saints had a soft group, though. And they made a mess of it.

Three halves of football were good-ish. Five were anything but.

Defensive solidity has become an unexpected early issue (the absence of Liam Gordon and a number one keeper were at the heart of that) and a centre-forward scoring goals an expected one.

My biggest concern, though, is that an opportunity to wash away a lot of negativity has been squandered.

Not for many a year has supporter expectation been as low.

It’s going to take a fast start – not a St Johnstone habit at the best of times – to get fans believing another relegation battle isn’t heading their way.


Star man

There are more contenders than you might think.

Wotherspoon, Murphy, Melker Hallberg and Bair all have player of the season potential.

And, without actually having seen him play a game of football, I’ve got high hopes that Alex Mitchell will be a fans’ favourite, as he was at Leyton Orient.

But I’m going for Carey.

There’s already been one sweetly struck goal from the edge of the box and, with a left foot as deadly and accurate as his, the Irishman can’t fail to add to his already seriously impressive Youtube highlights.


Prediction

With Aberdeen emptying their deep pockets, the composition of the Premiership first four isn’t in much doubt.

Dundee United should be pretty safe in the top six too.

I’m not convinced Hibs will make it a ‘big club’ clean sweep, however, so there will be at least one spot up for grabs above the split line.

Saints would need Bair or an as yet unknown attacking colleague to hit double figures to have a chance of taking it.

I’m an optimistic sort but not that optimistic.

The bottom six, Hibs included, all look in similar shape to me.

And I think it’s reasonable to hope (expect, if those two signings are right) Saints to finish above at least three of them.

Ninth it is then!

‘Head it, kick it’: Leyton Orient fans loved Alex Mitchell’s mantra, now St Johnstone fans are about to see why

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