St. Johnstone’s competitive season started back in June in the Europa League Qualifiers but the real action commences this weekend with Saints opening their domestic campaign away to Kilmarnock at Rugby Park.
The Ladbrokes Scottish Premiership will have a host of new and familiar faces this season, and the league welcomes Hibernian back after a two-year absence which is sure to make what was already a very tight league that extra bit tougher.
The Hibees return to the top-flight and their business over the summer is sure to make them rivals to Saints for a top-six finish and potentially they could be competing with each other for European football. Hearts' recruitment team has also been very active in the transfer market over the summer and they’re likely to be challenging in top-half again this campaign, albeit without Ian Cathro who was sacked on Tuesday.
Rangers and Aberdeen are both likely to be competing again for second place behind overwhelming league favourites, Celtic. If you remove the Parkhead club from the equation, it’s likely to be an intriguing battle between the other clubs and there will also be some sides who finished in the bottom half of the table last season who will fancy their chances of breaking into the top-six themselves.
Saints fans will be pretty happy with the business that boss Tommy Wright has done over the summer, with many of the new additions impressing during the pre-season friendlies.
Stefan Scougall has arrived at McDiarmid Park from Sheffield United and the 24-year-old has looked sharp and featured in the Europa League matches against FK Trakai. Most of the club's business has been with clubs in England, with left-back Scott Tanser and midfielder Kyle McLean joining from Port Vale and Nottingham Forest respectively.
Striker Callum Hendry – son of the former English Premier League winner and Scotland captain, Colin – has also joined the club from Blackburn Rovers on a free transfer and will be hoping to reach his potential and break into the Saints first-team.
One signing that has really captured the imagination of fans though is the return of forward Michael O’Halloran. One signing that has captured the imagination of fans is the return of forward Michael O’Halloran. The Scotland U21 international has re-joined the club on-loan from Rangers until January, and the supporters will be hoping he can enjoy the same success as he did when he first arrived at McDiarmid Park from Bolton Wanderers in January 2014.
The club has said goodbye to just two of last year’s first-team players – Tam Scobbie and Danny Swanson. Tam was offered terms to remain at McDiarmid Park but opted to join Tayside rivals Dundee United on a two-year-deal in the Scottish Championship.
The main departure was Danny Swanson though, and Saints’ top goalscorer last term has left to join Neil Lennon at Easter Road. Swanson was a boyhood Hibernian fan and will line-up for Saints’ top-six rivals this season.
This weekend’s opponents are Kilmarnock and they endured a fairly poor campaign last time around although they still managed to finish 8th in the table, despite flirting with relegation for the majority of the season. The club are now managed by former Rangers and Scotland man, Lee McCulloch, who was confirmed as the permanent successor to Lee Clark in June having been in temporary charge towards the end of last season. Killie has been busy this summer and there are some familiar faces in their squad this campaign. The likes of Kirk Broadfoot, Chris Burke and Gordon Greer have joined the Ayrshire club, meaning they now have a wealth of experience within their ranks.
It’s going to be an interesting campaign and competition for the top-six is as tough as it has been for years. It looks likely Celtic will walk away with the league title once again, but the other five places are up for grabs and Saints will have to be at their best to make sure they are in the mix with the best of Scottish football again this year. With Hibernian returning and Hearts, Aberdeen and Rangers spending in the summer, it’s very close to call. Saturday’s opponents Killie, Tayside rivals Dundee and the likes of Ross County and Partick Thistle will also fancy their chances of upsetting the applecart and sneaking into the top-half too.
Here’s to what will hopefully be another fantastic season at McDiarmid Park – come on you Saints!
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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