Written for Purefitbaw by Calum Brown…
I take a look at St Johnstone’s potential exploits in the January transfer window, with the Perth club looking to continue their impressive start to the season. The Saints sit 6th in the top flight thanks to a superb defensive record, and stand-out performances from the likes of Zander Clark, Jason Kerr, Blair Alston and Matthew Kennedy.
The January window may just be about keeping hold of their key players for boss Tommy Wright. The Northern Irishman, who recently signed a new contract keeping him at St Johnstone until May 2022, has hinted that the window will be spent tying down some of the current stars to longer contracts. However, he has mentioned he wants to strengthen the squad with a couple of additions, as well as offloading a couple.
St Johnstone have been brilliant this season, and are one of the reasons the Premiership has been so competitive this year. It may come as a surprise that the defence has been targeted as an area to strengthen in the window, with an outstanding nine clean sheets from their 19 league games – including a run of six games without conceding. But, the Perth side have had limited injuries in this area, with goalkeeper Zander Clark behind his back-four who have formed a superb defence. If either full-backs Ricky Foster or Scott Tanser, or central defenders Jason Kerr and Joe Shaughnessy were to get injured, there is a lack of quality in the squad to step up and replace, especially in the centre back area.
Twenty-two-year-old defender Liam Gordon, and the experienced Steven Anderson are of course good players, but Saints could look at Ayr United’s Michael Rose in an attempt to bolster their defensive options. Rose has been in fine form for Ian McCall’s side this campaign, as United sit 2nd in the Championship following promotion from League One last season, in which the defender was again very good. This season, the former Aberdeen youngster has been a key figure at the back for Ayr, with 13 clean sheets in all competitions, as well as two goals to his name. Rose is only 23, and could be a replacement in January for the ageing Steven Anderson. I imagine the Honest Men will demand quite a steep fee for one of their key players, which may not be ideal for St Johnstone, however Rose is out of contract in the summer, so if Saints don’t feel like paying a fee for the defender, they could prize him away for the start of next season.
St Johnstone could be in the market for a sitting midfielder, someone to be the rock in between defence and attack. Murray Davidson has been brilliant this season, and Liam Craig has done a good job too, Davidson who is quite injury prone and Both players 30 plus this has to be addressed. With Tristan Nydam linked with a return to parent club Ipswich, there will be little or no cover for this role, with Saints usually playing 4-2-3-1. Ross Callachan has the ability to step into the role, but he seems more of a presence going forward – so an out and out defensive midfielder may be required.
Although he is currently injured, Hibernian midfielder Marvin Bartley would be a great addition to the St Johnstone squad. The 32-year-old is experienced in the Premiership but hasn’t featured much this season, being out of Neil Lennon’s plans. He suffered an injury at the start of the month against St Mirren, but is seemingly close to returning, and would add strength-in-depth to the St Johnstone midfield. Another out of favour midfielder is Aberdeen’s forgotten man, Greg Tansey. The ex-Inverness man hasn’t featured for Derek McInnes’ side this season, having been told in the summer he wouldn’t be part of the Aberdeen manager’s long-term plans. Tansey has, like Bartley, a history of injury problems, but if fit would add quality and experience for St Johnstone, even on a six-month loan deal.
Whilst St Johnstone have been solid at the back this season, they have lacked a lethal striker, with goals coming from all over. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as Kennedy and Alston top their goal charts with five and four goals respectively. Strikers Tony Watt and David McMillan have just five goals between them, and with Watt out of contract in the summer, St Johnstone could be looking at a goal scorer.
There will be obvious cries for Lawrence Shankland, but the Ayr United hitman is quite frankly an unrealistic target for St Johnstone, with clubs down south looking at the young striker, as well as Rangers and the two Edinburgh clubs who can afford a higher transfer fee – not to mention can offer much higher wages. A striker is difficult to come by, especially permanently in January. A loan would probably be the best option for Tommy Wright, with strikers usually only being available if they aren’t playing games, which of course means they’d be low on confidence and fitness. Michael O’Halloran has struggled to adapt to life in Australia, making his first appearance on Saturday for Melbourne City after a long-term injury, so could be tempted to a return to Scotland with Saints, but this is extremely unlikely at the moment. A loan would definitely be a good option for Tommy Wright, in an area where the Perth outfit definitely needs strengthening.
Midfielder Stefan Scougall has been told he can leave the club in January, after struggling to get into the team. It unfortunately just hasn’t worked out for the 26-year-old at St Johnstone, following his move from Sheffield United last season. The former Livingston academy graduate was very highly rated in West Lothian, and was tipped for big things, however, injuries have limited Scougall down south, and again at St Johnstone.
Tommy Wright is also looking to loan out midfielders Ali McCann and Kyle McLean, in the hope they get the first-team experience. If Saints were to get a striker signed in January, I could see Chris Kane leave the club on loan again. The forward has always done well on loan spells, most notably scoring fifteen league goals in 28 games for Dumbarton over two spells, but is now 24 and maybe hasn’t developed as much as St Johnstone would’ve wanted – only really being a squad player.
It wouldn’t surprise me if St Johnstone did no business at all in the window, but what they do need is to tie down their key players to longer contracts. The likes of Blair Alston and Zander Clark will have been garnering interest from down south, so will need to be a top priority for Tommy Wright to keep hold of. A successful window for St Johnstone, in my opinion, sees them keep hold of their key players, especially Jason Kerr who I see a big future for, but also, I think in order to be successful a couple of additions in the areas I’ve highlighted wouldn’t be a bad thing. Some squad players would do nicely, to maintain St Johnstone’s fantastic season so far…