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Steven MacLean: 10 unanswered questions going into first full season as St Johnstone manager

A lot of answers will come over the next few weeks as MacLean shapes his squad and tactics.

Does Steven MacLean see a St Johnstone future for Tony Gallacher or Ali Crawford?
Does Steven MacLean see a St Johnstone future for Tony Gallacher or Ali Crawford? Images: SNS.

From the football that we’ve seen in his six games in charge of St Johnstone, to the players he’s released, the players he’s trying to keep and the thoughts he’s articulated in press conferences, much has already been gleaned about Steven MacLean the manager.

Much has still to be discovered as well, though.

Courier Sport poses 10 questions ahead of MacLean’s first transfer window, pre-season and full campaign as a head coach.

St Johnstone boss Steven MacLean
Steven MacLean: There are plenty of questions over the St Johnstone boss’ approach to next season. Image: Alan Harvey/SNS

Have we yet seen his favoured formation?

It can safely be said that MacLean is a back-four man – a clear point of difference from his predecessor.

But the 4-3-3 and 4-1-4-1 systems used in the Premiership run-in may not be set in stone.

Given MacLean inherited a squad built by Callum Davidson, there’s a chance he will soon reshape it with another go-to formation in mind.

Does he view Ross Sinclair as his number one goalkeeper?

There was uncertainty over this position a year ago and there’s uncertainty again.

You would imagine that coach, Elliott Parish, won’t sign another playing deal and that MacLean will recruit another goalie.

Will he go for a ‘two number ones’ approach as Saints had with Alan Mannus and Zander Clark for a while?

Does he put his total faith in Sinclair and bring in an experienced man as back-up?

St Johnstone goal keeper Ross Sinclair
Ross Sinclair did well in the last two games of the season. Image: SNS.

Does he sign another Remi Matthews standard keeper who would expect to be first choice?

Or does he postpone this call and wait and see how Sinclair fares in the Viaplay Cup group games?

The latter feels like it has the most merit.

Does he rate Tony Gallacher?

Adam Montgomery was an automatic choice at left-back last season and if Saints are fortunate enough to get him back from Celtic for another year he’ll be the automatic choice again.

MacLean opted not to give his other fit player for that position a run-out in the dead rubbers against Ross County and Livingston.

But that doesn’t automatically mean Gallacher is out of the picture.

Of all the senior fringe players, the former Liverpool man may well have the best chance of getting a League Cup chance to stake a claim.

Which position does he believe to be Ryan McGowan’s best?

The Australian performed five different roles over the course of last season and was an asset to the team wherever he was deployed.

The position of right-sided centre-half in a three was the one Davidson viewed as his best (a straight replacement for Dan Cleary) but that no longer exists in the new era.

Ryan McGowan.
Ryan McGowan. Image: Shutterstock.

McGowan was effective at right-back for MacLean against Hibs and even more so in a holding midfield role for the last three matches of the season.

He’ll be a key ‘Swiss army knife’ player again next season, of that there is no doubt, but where the 33-year-old will get most of his game-time is far from clear.

Is James Brown now viewed as a starter?

The McGowan question leads into this one.

If Brown doesn’t sign a new contract, that will be that, of course.

You would imagine that in his talks with MacLean and Gus MacPherson, the Maltese international will be seeking to determine whether another right-back is on Saints’ wish list and whether his own displays after the split have turned him from squad man to first pick.

Where will ‘Wee Max’ fit in?

Surely the days of loaning Max Kucheriavyi out are over.

Ideally he would have played in the Championship last season but being part of a Falkirk side that faced Ayr United and then Inverness Caley Thistle in the Scottish Cup was the next best thing.

MacLean has gone on record with his admiration of the Ukrainian under-21 international.

Max Kucheriavyi played in a Scottish Cup semi-final.
Max Kucheriavyi played in a Scottish Cup semi-final. Image: SNS.

But it remains to be seen whether Kucheriavyi’s best opportunity of getting into the Saints first team will be in an attacking midfield slot or one of the wide forward positions.

David Wotherspoon and Jamie Murphy leaving has created a bit more room in both areas.

Is there a way back for Ali Crawford?

Now that we know of the high importance MacLean places on the athleticism and dynamism of his forwards and midfielders, logic suggests Crawford isn’t a natural fit for the new St Johnstone.

But, even though he was sent on loan to Morton by Davidson and wasn’t in Dougie Imrie’s starting line-up by the end of his spell at Cappielow, he’s got a year left on his Perth contract.

MacLean was happy for it to be known that someone in a similar boat – Theo Bair – is available to other clubs this summer but there was no mention of Crawford being put on the transfer list.

Does this mean that the former Bolton and Hamilton Accies man has got a McDiarmid lifeline?

What type of centre-forward will he look to sign?

MacLean’s striking options as interim boss were unbalanced.

Nicky Clark was out for the season, Chris Kane was working his way back to fitness, Zak Rudden didn’t quite look Premiership-ready and Bair even less so.

He had to hang his hat on Stevie May and his 2013/14 partner up front didn’t let him down.

If Kane signs a new deal, he and Clark will both be starting options when next season begins, leaving one berth to be filled.

MacLean will have to decide whether he prioritises pace, height, football intelligence, work-rate or predatory instincts in the market.

As he’ll be well aware of, at St Johnstone you’re not going to get all those qualities in one player.

Will he find room for an out and out winger?

Over the last three seasons, Davidson’s sides predominantly got their width from the wing-back position.

And even though MacLean did away with those roles in his six games at the helm, Saints still didn’t look like a team that attempted to use the flanks as their attacking avenue of choice.

It would be a significant departure if MacLean targeted a forward more at home getting chalk on his boots than cutting inside.

Will he bring in one more coach?

You would certainly think MacLean would want to and should be allowed to.

The McDiarmid first team backroom group was already one of the smallest in the Premiership, if not THE smallest before it was temporarily trimmed by one when Davidson left.

St Johnstone boss Steven MacLean with Liam Craig at training.
Steven MacLean with Liam Craig at training. Image: SNS.

Liam Craig is currently doing the job of two men as he straddles the youth set-up and the senior squad.

Given MacLean, Craig and Alex Cleland are all Saints stalwarts, you can see the benefit of recruiting somebody who hasn’t been in with the bricks.

A fresh voice would be beneficial for all.