The pre-season preparations are complete and now it’s time for the competitive action to get underway. Saints go to Kilmarnock on the opening day of the 2017/18 campaign, and they’ll be hoping to get the season going with a victory against the Ayrshire side.
With new additions to the squad and having retained most of last season’s players, the club looks to be in a healthy position to be challenging in the top-half once again. It won’t be easy though, and the Scottish Premiership looks to be as competitive as it has been for years.
Perhaps one of the greatest things Saints has done over the summer is hold onto the club’s manager – Tommy Wright. The Northern Irishman has been linked with several vacancies over the past few months but he remains in Perth and will take the club into what will be his fifth season in charge.
Tommy is raring to go and thinks his squad is in good shape for the season ahead. After dipping into the transfer market this summer, he’s pleased with his additions and hopes to add further to the ranks before the transfer window slams shut at the end of this month.
“I’m really pleased with the business we’ve done. Stefan Scougall and Michael O’Halloran were two of my main targets and we’ve managed to get them in which is great. I’m really pleased with the business we’ve done. Stefan Scougall and Michael O’Halloran were two of my main targets. I think they’ll add a lot to the squad at the top end of the pitch.
“Tam Scobbie moving on meant we needed to bring someone in to provide cover at left-back so we brought Scott Tanser to the club and he’s done very well in pre-season and is only 22-years-old. We also signed young Kyle McLean in midfield too.
“Before the window closes I’d like to bring in at least one more player. We can afford to take our time to make sure it’s the right player as well as we still have a month to do business. We’re looking at a few but nothing has been concluded yet and we’re not in a great rush. I’m prepared to wait to ensure it’s the right addition.”
After finishing fourth last term, Saints know that the return of Hibs coupled with the spending by Hearts, Aberdeen and Rangers mean that it’s going to be as tough as ever to finish in the top-six. Midfielder David Wotherspoon has his sights set on another good campaign but doesn’t want to take the club’s Premiership status for granted either.
“We’ll always try and target the top-six but first and foremost we want to make sure that we remain a Premiership club. Once we’ve secured our place in the league we can look to kick on. Obviously with Hibs coming up that adds another to the mix of teams looking to finish in the top-half so it’s going to be a hard season.
“A lot of teams have added well but we know we’ve added well to our squad too and we’ve got a lot more strength in depth now. We’re looking strong and looking forward to getting going!
“We’ve had a good pre-season and we only conceded in one of our games. It’s a great record to go into Saturday’s match and hopefully it gives us confidence to continue that and add some goals too.
“I’m excited to get the season started and the boys are absolutely buzzing to get into playing competitive games again.”
Like Wotherspoon, his manager believes that the competition is strong this season. International names like Christophe Berra, Kyle Lafferty, Kari Arnason, Bruno Alves and Graham Dorrans have joined the Scottish Premiership, showing that clubs are spending large sums of money to bolster their sides.
Although Saints don’t have the cash that the likes of Celtic, Rangers, Aberdeen, Hearts and Hibs do – Tommy still has faith in his squad’s capabilities and believes having been at the right end of the table for his entire reign so far, it’s going to be helpful in their quest for a top-six finish again this season.
“I know from speaking to agents there’s a lot of money being spent at clubs so I definitely think the league is going to be stronger. Even teams in and around our sort of size have done some pretty good business this summer too.
“If you listen to the pundits there’s only going to be five teams really in the league and the rest are going to be playing for one spot but we know how difficult it is to get into the top-six – spending money doesn’t guarantee success.
“We’ve got experience and we’ve also got a very settled squad. We know how difficult it is to get into the top-six – spending money doesn’t guarantee success. Without losing the bulk of our players, we’ve managed to add quality and we’re ready for what we hope will be another successful season.”
The club has had a good pre-season which included an impressive 3-0 victory over Sunderland and they will be hoping to put the early European exit behind them.
Saints’ Europa League opponents, FK Trakai, made it through the next round of qualifying too but last night their journey came to an end with a 4-2 aggregate defeat to Macedonian side KF Shkëndija. Wright thinks that the criticism that came his side’s way after their European exit was harsh and he’s been pleased with this players’ response in the friendlies since.
“Obviously Europe was disappointing and we got absolutely slaughtered by some people. Apparently we were knocked out by a pub team! However, they’ve gone on and proved they were a good side and we knew they were a good side.
“I think sometimes Scottish football has got to get off its high horse and realise other countries are not as weak as what we perceive them to be. The response of the players has been great in pre-season and I couldn’t have asked for more from them. We’re now fully prepared for Saturday and for the season ahead.”
Now heading into his fifth season at the helm, Tommy has become a real fans’ favourite and back in 2014, he secured his name in the club’s history books when Saints lifted the Scottish Cup for the first time. With success at a club like Saints, it always leads to speculation about moving to a bigger club.
However, despite recent rumours circulating that other clubs are eyeing Tommy up, he remains very much committed to staying in Perth. He wants to keep on improving both himself and the club, and he’s keen to stress how happy he is at Saints.
“Celtic playing Rosenborg this week brought back memories of my first game in charge – our 1-0 win in Norway. Since then we’ve achieved so many great results and of course we lifted the Scottish Cup. Overall, I can’t really ask for more than what the last four years has given me and I just need to try and maintain that.
“Each year has brought about different challenges. We had a goalscorer in Stevie May, who bagged 27 goals in one season for us. Then the next year we didn’t score nearly as many, but still managed to finish 4th in the league and get more points than the season before. I think as a manager I’ve been able to adapt to get the best out of the players we’ve had, and also the players have bought into that.
“I’ve always been taught to do the job that you’re in and to do it well. Then whatever happens, happens. I’m happy at St. Johnstone – I’ve got 22 months left on my current contract and the chairman and I have a great relationship. It’s a relationship that I doubt many other managers will have with their chairman or chief executive.
“I’m still ambitious. Outsiders may think that because I’m still at St. Johnstone I lack ambition but that’s definitely not the case. Longevity in the job is something to be admired in the modern game and to do that I’ve got to keep performing and the players have got to keep playing for me.
“I can do nothing about speculation but I’m very happy with where I am at the moment.”
Saturday’s match against Kilmarnock at Rugby Park is a 3PM kick-off. Admission prices for adults is £20, concessions £15 and under 16s £5.
A full list of St. Johnstone’s fixtures for the 2017/18 season can be found on the club’s website.
The main picture for this article was taken by Stuart Cowper. You can view more of his pictures on his website.
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