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St Johnstone half-term report card: Star man, signings rated, best moment, room for improvement and overall grade

The Perth side spent a long time at the bottom but now have a realistic shot at finishing 10th or higher.

Steven MacLean lost his job, Craig Levein was appointed and Graham Carey scored a couple of brilliant goals.
Steven MacLean lost his job, Craig Levein was appointed and Graham Carey scored a couple of brilliant goals. Images: SNS.

St Johnstone were denied the opportunity to go into the mid-season break with a first away victory of 2023/24 by Dens Park’s dodgy drainage.

But few would have predicted at the start of November that the Perth side would be in 10th place and seven points clear of the bottom of the table.

Courier Sport looks back on their Premiership campaign so far.

Star man

There are more contenders for this accolade than looked likely when Saints were winless in nine, that’s for sure.

You can certainly make a case for the two central midfielders, Dan Phillips and Matt Smith.

They were both playing well individually before the team came to life as a collective and there isn’t a stronger middle of the park partnership out with the top three in the league.

For Smith, in particular, the ceiling for improvement is very high.

Matt Smith in action.
Matt Smith in action. Image: SNS.

Graham Carey has won over his first season critics with goals, assists and a level of creativity that was expected when Callum Davidson beat the likes of Kilmarnock to his signature.

Nicky Clark hasn’t played much football but his return sparked the post-Steven MacLean revival.

Saints would still be bottom had he not got things going.

Dimitar Mitov has been one of the best goalkeepers – at times the best goalkeeper – in the country.

As with Smith, the club should make decent money when they lose the Bulgarian international.

Liam Gordon has quietly re-established himself as the dominating presence Saints need him to be at the heart of the back three and Ryan McGowan and Andy Considine are still reliable and key components alongside him.

But I’m going to choose the player who is no longer at the club, Luke Robinson.

Luke Robinson.
Luke Robinson in action at Celtic Park. Image: SNS.

For a young, on-loan defender to be thrown in at the Celtic Park deep end, become a first team regular playing consistently well in challenging circumstances and maintain those standards in three different positions is an achievement to be proud of.

Even in the 4-0 at St Mirren, he was one of very few who didn’t go under.

No wonder Wigan have recalled him.

Saints fans will be hoping Robinson doesn’t perform too well in the next couple of weeks and Shaun Maloney allows him to return later in the month.

Standout moment

Clark’s first goal against Kilmarnock was a high point, as was Carey’s winner against Hibs and Chris Kane’s penalty rebound to defeat St Mirren in injury-time.

Fran Franczak’s ‘Zidane turn’ and McDiarmid Park’s reaction to it was a joy only the emergence of a young, home-grown star in the making can provide.

And, in terms of significance for their season, Livingston defender Mikey Devlin dragging an eight-yard shot past the post with the last kick of the ball in Saints’ final game of 2023 felt like a sliding-doors miss in the relegation battle.

But none of the above come close to the impact, poignancy (and quality of the goal in terms of the strike and the build-up play) wrapped up in Carey’s 20-yard winner to beat Ross County.

Earlier that very afternoon, Saints fans had been raising money for the Irishman’s partner, who is fighting cancer for the fourth time.

It was a moment that sparked so many emotions on a day that summed up the soul of St Johnstone Football Club.


Ten summer recruits have got game-time.

They can be put in three categories – undoubted successes, watch this space and haven’t cut it at all.

Smith, Mitov and Robinson all go straight into the first group without debate.

Dimitar Mitov helped St Johnstone beat Kilmarnock.
Dimitar Mitov helped St Johnstone beat Kilmarnock. Image: SNS.

And I’m going to make the trio a quartet by including Sven Sprangler, whose minutes are only being limited by the quality of the performances produced by the two players in his position.

DJ Jaiyesimi, Sam McClelland and Dare Olufunwa are in the second bracket.

As expected, the last two are far from the finished article but have both shown raw attributes to suggest they can progress under Craig Levein’s management.

For the third category, Luke Jephcott has arguably been the most underwhelming signing given his English lower league pedigree and the fact that he was the player Steven MacLean really needed to hit the ground running.

Dara Costelloe had his moments but looks like a square peg yet to find a round hole.

I suspect wing-back will be his best bet of a career in football but it will now fall to Tony Docherty to see if he can improve the Burnley player’s defensive game to an extent that he becomes a Dundee second half of the season regular.

That wasn’t going to happen in Perth.

Jay Turner-Cooke hasn’t done enough to force his way into Levein’s plans in any meaningful way and the chances of that happening after the break are remote.

Room for improvement

There’s plenty of scope for optimism that Saints will be better in the months after the break than they were before it.

The prospect of Clark being available on a regular basis is a good starting point and that’s before you factor in what Benji Kimpioka, and likely another forward, might add to the cause.

Three is the minimum total Saints will hit in the January transfer window but by the time a few players have been moved on, I suspect five or six is a more realistic number.

Levein and Andy Kirk have already made an impact in terms of defensive structure.

They’ll now have a couple of weeks to improve things from middle to front.

In his last post-match press conference, Levein spoke of football at Livingston that had become too “safe”.

Pace up front will hopefully ensure that won’t be the case after the break.

Saints should be confident they’ll finish above Livingston.

They’ll also have to be better than either Ross County or Motherwell if they want to avoid the stress of a play-off.

I wrote in August finishing 10th or above would be one of the best managerial achievements of the modern era.

The head coach has changed but the point hasn’t.

I also predicted Saints would finish ninth.

I’m not changing my mind on that either.

Overall grade

It was heading for a solid D at one point, with Saints staring automatic relegation in the face.

Saints fans would gladly have taken their chances in a play-off at the start of November.

That they wouldn’t now is the best marker of recent progress.

So we’re up to a C+.

Earn a B in the next few months and Saints will be a Premiership team again next season.