St Johnstone came within a couple of minutes of posting their first away victory of the season and moving to within just one point of seventh in the Premiership table.
The performance against Motherwell wasn’t their best under Craig Levein but Saints were gifted an own goal lead and had a win in their grasp.
Courier Sport picks out three talking points from the 1-1 draw at Fir Park, with the January transfer window priorities becoming clearer.
‘Get out’ and ‘stop the cross’
Craig Levein joked that it wouldn’t be until he woke up in the middle of the night that he’d know whether his team’s point at Motherwell was a good one or not.
It was probably more likely that his sleep would be interrupted by him shouting “get out” or “stop the cross” in his dreams.
Levein’s calm post-match demeanour has been a theme of his return to management with Saints.
That didn’t change on the back of the most meaningful goal the McDiarmid Park side have conceded late in a game (Celtic’s third was window dressing for the previous weekend’s result).
But he’ll be extremely frustrated that, as he described it, the “spooked” factor for his defence is still “hanging around”.
The players didn’t learn their lesson from the previous clash with Motherwell, who have become experts at chasing a game late on (they’re good at it because they have powerful substitute attackers and because they’ve been behind so often that it’s becoming second nature).
There was no pressure on the through ball into Theo Bair’s feet and then Matt Smith allowed the ex-Saint four touches without closing the gap before he crossed with his fifth.
🟠 Mika Biereth's 92-minute header saw Motherwell snatch a draw against St Johnstone – with both clubs now five points clear of bottom spot ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/igiHk4sr48
— Sky Sports Scotland (@ScotlandSky) December 9, 2023
It was brilliant number nine play by Mika Biereth to get across Luke Robinson and give Dimitar Mitov no chance with a header that was harder than he made it look.
And there actually wasn’t much wrong with the Saints defenders’ spacing between each other.
But if they’d been five yards higher and on the penalty spot, the odds would have shifted in the goalkeeper’s favour.
The point gained/two dropped debate won’t be settled until the season plays out.
That this was a bad goal from a St Johnstone perspective is already conclusive.
Recruitment wish list
We’re at the time of year when every word spoken by a manager on the theme of January signings will be analysed by supporters in minute detail.
After this match, Levein reiterated that he’s keen to get some business completed, with the phrase “two or three” being used.
If we go to the higher of those numbers, what three positions should he target?
A striker is the clear priority – and Levein has as good as admitted it.
Up until a few weeks ago, I would have put a centre-back with pace just behind that but the last seven games have changed that opinion.
A back three formation is here to stay, it would appear, and in Robinson, Andy Considine, Liam Gordon and Ryan McGowan, Levein has four players who have been performing consistently well, with Sam McClelland due back in the new year.
Being out-run hasn’t been a game-defining issue.
A stronger argument is building for wing-back to be addressed ahead of central defence.
Stopping the cross at source is one reason but getting behind an opposition defence at the other end of the pitch is another.
If we’re working on the assumption that Drey Wright won’t return in January, a natural right wing-back would enhance this team significantly.
And for signing number three, another player who can operate across the frontline or just behind it to lighten the creative load on Graham Carey would do nicely.
It can be done
Motherwell might not get all their signings right – or even get close to it these days – but they’ve got a better record than most as far as strikers are concerned.
Kevin van Veen almost single-handedly kept them in the Premiership last season.
Biereth may do the same this time around.
That’s six goals in 10 league games to his name – five of those earning Motherwell a point or more.
His goal conversion and shot accuracy statistics outshine all the rest in the league and he’s on track to get close to a 20-goal season.
You don’t often see a team getting relegated with a centre-forward who hits those sort of numbers.
Nicky Clark has Biereth’s ability to take advantage of a centre-half’s blind spot and dart across him to head home a cross but Saints need somebody else who can do it.
3 goals in 2 games 🔥
— St. Johnstone FC (@StJohnstone) November 8, 2023
And an ability to worry a defender by running in behind would be very useful too.
That Motherwell could attract Biereth north from Arsenal on loan is a feather in the cap of their recruitment department.
It should give hope to Saints and Levein that a striker who could elevate this team in the second half of the season is attainable.