PREDICTED LEAGUE POSITION: EIGHTH
LAST SEASON: 7th, 52pts
NOTABLE INS: Wallace Duffy (Celtic), Elliot Parish (Dundee), Max Johnstone (Sunderland), Madis Vihmann (Flora, loan)
NOTABLE OUTS: Blair Alston (Hamilton Academical), Aaron Comrie (Dunfermline Athletic), Brian Easton (Hamilton Academical), Joe Shaughnessy (Southend United), Tony Watt (CSKA Sofia), Olly Hamilton (Brechin City, loan), John Robertson (Cove Rangers, loan), Cammy Bell (Partick Thistle, end of loan), Sean Goss (Queens Park Rangers, end of loan), Niall Keown (Partick Thistle, end of loan), Mark Hurst
LAST SEASON'S BEST XI (Departed players crossed out): Clark, Foster,
As the saying goes, "all good things..." Are we reaching that point in Perth?
Between 2011 and 2017 St Johnstone were fixtures in the top six, with a Scottish Cup triumph thrown in. They came seventh last year, and eighth the season before that. However it seemed like the club were going through a transition period with a lot of older players needing replaced. Unquestionably they deserved that benefit of the doubt. And manager Tommy Wright said all the right things about feeling reinvigorated and, more importantly, looked like he meant them.
And yet for the first time since they returned to the top flight in 2009 there is concern at McDiarmid Park. Not a Blackadder "twelve-storey crisis with a magnificent entrance hall, carpeting throughout, 24-hour portage, and an enormous sign on the roof, saying 'This Is a Large Crisis'". But its certainly a wee bit of a crisis.
St. Johnstone just don't lose League Cup games to the likes of Montrose. Nor do they collapse at home to the likes of Ross County as soon as they concede a goal. Worryingly this is an ongoing trend since January. They won just four of their last eighteen games of 2018-19, and three of those wins were against either St. Mirren or Dundee. At one end of the pitch they struggled to score, and at the other they conceded the sort of cheap, stupid goals that they never let in when they were a top six side.
Let's deal with the attack - or lack of it - first. Tony Watt got a lot of plaudits at the start of last season - he was Player of the Month for August - but even when he was playing well he wasn't scoring, and his form dropped off a cliff. At the moment the options at centre forward are David McMillan (loaned to Hamilton last season and unwanted by the club), Callum Hendry (young and raw, if we're being generous) and Chris Kane (who finally got a run of games at the end of the season, and proved why he shouldn't get a run of games). That trio and Watt managed just ten league goals between them. The club's top league scorer was Matthew Kennedy, with just six.
The return of prodigal son Stevie May would have given the place such an enormous lift. The shock last-minute collapse of the transfer threatens to do the exact opposite. There's still time to find a striker, but it is slowly running out and in the meantime the fugue could increase further.
Even in the successful times Wright often needed the midfield to provide goals and that dependence isn't ending any time soon. Kennedy's superb wing play is cause for optimism at least. Michael O'Halloran looked rusty as heck after returning in January but improved by the split and will hopefully be back to his hard-running best after a full preseason. It's easy to forget Drey Wright was the club's best player early last season until he wrecked his knee, though it may be too much to expect him to return to that form in the near future when he returns imminently from that injury. And Danny Swanson will still provide a spark off the bench, since it turns out his upcoming move to the USA was apparently just a ruse to try and avoid a conviction for assault (!).
Defensively, the problem at the moment is numbers. Whilst goalkeeper Zander Clark and central defender Jason Kerr are top-rate - and should both go onto better things soon enough - the rest of the backline looks dicey. Richard Foster still looked up to it last season but at 34 they'll do well to get a full season out of him; however new signing Wallace Duffy is young and inexperienced and one for the future rather than the present. Scott Tanser is good going forward but has some shockers defensively. With Brian Easton gone there is no competition for him though.
As for centre-back, the departure of Joe Shaughnessy has left a big hole. Relying on Liam Gordon or the increasingly decrepid Steven Anderson to fill it looked very risky. Estonian behemoth Madis Vihmann has arrived on loan and will surely be first choice alongside Kerr, but he needs to bed in very quickly. To be honest they could probably do with another defender or two.
Not all is necessary well in midfield either. Liam Craig had a bit of an indian summer last year but he will be 33 in December. Murray Davidson's history of injuries makes him a very old 31. Ross Callachan works hard but isn't someone to build the midfield around. However, when Wright tried to introduce a playmaker, Sean Goss, to the team last January it was a spectacular failure. He basically needs to find younger versions of Craig and Davidson. The manager has talked up Kyle McClean and Ali McCann but it would be a surprise if they managed to make the step up.
So the situation looks grimmer than it has done for sometime. Some folk have even talked of them as relegation candidates, which has been met with a guffaw from most. That's probably still the appropriate reaction, if only because there are still clubs in this division who look rather weaker and rather more of a shambles. At the very least though the concern is that this downward trend is becoming irreversible. And if the season starts badly, panic sets in and a centre-forward can't be procured, who knows what could happen?
THE SQUAD (players born after 1 January 1998 in italics)
Goalkeepers: Zander Clark, Max Johnstone, Elliot Parish
Defenders: Steven Anderson, Wallace Duffy, Richard Foster, Liam Gordon, Jason Kerr, Scott Tanser, Madis Vihmann
Midfielders: Ross Callachan, Liam Craig, Murray Davidson, Matty Kennedy, Ali McCann, Kyle McClean, Danny Swanson, David Wotherspoon, Drey Wright
Forwards: Callum Hendry, Chris Kane, David McMillan, Jordan Northcott, Michael O'Halloran
THE BEST XI?
Lawrie Spence has whinged about Scottish football on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007. He has a life outside this blog. Honestly.