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St Johnstone boss wasn’t willing to jeopardise striker’s career

Steven MacLean.
Steven MacLean.

Tommy Wright couldn’t take a risk with Steven MacLean’s career, the St Johnstone boss insisted last night.

Even though he knew his team would have had a better chance of staying in the Scottish Cup with the influential forward in it.

The former Rangers man is arguably Saints’ most important player.

But the surgeon who has operated on MacLean’s knee left player and manager in no doubt that football on artificial surfaces from now on is a definite “no-no”.

The cup holders went out of the competition in Dumfries without their talisman, but the Perth manager knows he did the right thing by his striker.

“Macca is fit but we have a problem with him when it comes to artificial surfaces,” he explained yesterday. “We knew he would be ruled out.

“There was a concern expressed by the surgeon after his first op but after the last one he was told it is a no-no. Macca doesn’t even train on that kind of surface – and that instruction comes from a top surgeon.

“We have to remember Macca has undergone two micro fracture operations on his knee and we have to be careful in the way we handle him. We monitor his workload closely. He has another 18 months on his contract and he is a vital player for us. We want him playing.

“Macca is the type that would want to play but I wasn’t tempted to list him just because it was a big cup game. His longer term career has to come before 90 minutes.”

Nobody could accuse Wright of changing his tune about synthetic surfaces on the back of Saturday’s bitter result.

He’s never liked them – even when Saints win.

“Supporters of artificial pitches can argue all they want but that is a downside,” the Northern Irishman pointed out.

“Certain players and certain injuries mean they can’t be selected. They are advised against playing on non-grass surfaces because of the toll they take.

“But let me make it clear, the artificial surface is not the reason we lost. We have won on other artificial surfaces, including twice this season at Kilmarnock.

“I tend to keep my injuries close to my chest in the countdown to matches. Fans will have their opinions but they aren’t in full possession of the facts. A manager knows his squad.

“Michael O’Halloran didn’t train after Tuesday because he had problems with his back. The physio also has input and that’s the reason we didn’t start Michael at Palmerston.

“Again the surface was a factor in our thinking because it’s not kind to back injuries.

“We have wasted a couple of subs in games this season because players have had to pull out early in games. We didn’t want to take that chance with Michael and Danny Swanson had looked sharp in training. That is why he started.”

Wright knows that Saints were well below their best at Palmerston, but he also feels that the breaks didn’t go for them.

He added: “We are disappointed to go out of the cup. Whether or not we were the holders, we wanted to be in the draw for the quarter-finals.

“We defended poorly for their first goal and didn’t make enough of the pressure we put them under later in the game. Queen of the South defended very well but we still had chances.

“In cup ties, as we know from last season, you need some slices of luck. Their lad mishit his shot for the first and it was put away by a striker who had turned his back on the cross.

“And when the cross clipped Tam Scobbie it could have gone anywhere. These things happen and you have to deal with it. We didn’t do enough to win the game but we had chances.

“Steven Anderson had a chance similar to his goal in the final but his timing was a wee bit out and he couldn’t keep the header down. And Michael had the best chance in a game when there were very few opportunities.”

There will be no dwelling on their cup frustration.

Wright observed: “Of course we are disappointed to be out of the cup but we can’t afford to dwell on it. I can’t afford to be negative. We have to move on because we have a Celtic side in a good vein of form here at the weekend.

“They are responding to the challenge being laid down by Aberdeen. It will be role reversal, with us cast as underdogs. Our focus has to be on the next game and securing another top six finish.”

Chris Millar missed out at the weekend because he had only trained once in the build-up to the game.

He should play against Celtic, as should Steven Anderson and Brian Graham, who both jarred their ankles against Queens.