There was a real sense of excitement last summer when it was announced that Saints had clinched the signing of Stefan Scougall, and the general consensus was that managing to bring him to McDiarmid Park on a free transfer was something of a coup for the club.
The former Scotland U21 international became one of the mostly highly sought after youngsters in the Scottish game during his time with Livingston. At the time, he was linked with some of the biggest clubs in England before joining Sheffield United on a three-and-a-half-year-deal.
He played under three different managers during that time – Nigel Clough, Nigel Adkins and Chris Wilder – and also spent a brief spell on-loan at Fleetwood Town. After making a promising start to life at Bramall Lane, including playing a big part in the club’s cup runs to the semi-finals of the FA Cup and League Cup, Scougall fell down the pecking order and was released at the end of his contract last season.
The 25-year-old wasn’t short on offers but admits that it was a meeting and chat with Saints boss Tommy Wright that convinced him to come to Perth to try and reignite his career.
“I came up to one of the last games of the season against Partick Thistle here,” Stefan said, “and at that time I’d had a couple of offers from clubs down in England and in Scotland.
“The gaffer was brilliant and made a real effort to get me up here for a chat. He put on a lunch for me and we just talked football.
“The initial conversations weren’t even about signing it was just about football in general. After meeting the manager, I felt that the club was a good fit for me and once we struck a deal I was raring to go to try and prove myself once again after a couple of tough seasons at Sheffield United. The gaffer was brilliant and made a real effort to get me up here for a chat. He put on a lunch for me and we just talked football.
“When I first went down there I was playing a major role but that started to change and I wasn’t getting as much game time as I liked. That’s football and sometimes your face doesn’t fit. I decided I wanted to reinvent myself and coming to a club like St. Johnstone has provided me with a platform to do that.”
Scougall made his Saints debut against FK Trakai in the Europa League but couldn’t do anything to stop the Lithuanians winning the tie thanks to 2-1 and 1-0 victories over the two legs. The fact that the club were in the Europa League was also a big draw for Scougall to come to Perth and he hopes that next season he can be part of a squad challenging for Europe again.
“It was definitely an attraction to play in Europe but obviously it didn’t quite go as we all hoped over the two legs. It was great to be involved though and hopefully, if we can get back into the top six next season, we can challenge to be in the European spots once again.”
Stefan settled into life quickly at McDiarmid Park and has played 24 times for the club in all competitions, netting his only goal of the season during Saints’ 1-0 victory against Hamilton at New Douglas Park back in December.
At the turn of the year and with his performances improving every week, he suffered an injury setback. It was initially thought that he would be ruled out for the remainder of the season after limping out of the club’s 2-0 defeat against Motherwell at Fir Park at the beginning of February. However, he has recovered quicker than was initially thought and made his return to first-team action as a late substitute during Saturday’s 2-1 defeat against Tayside rivals, Dundee.
“Just before I got injured I felt I was starting to hit a strong bit of form,” Stefan commented, “I was adapting to the game again up here and I was getting game time in that more central role which is where I think is my best position.
“The game up here is more relentless and a bit quicker than down in England – you don’t get as much time on the ball in Scotland and I was beginning to adapt to that again and started to put in some good performances. I was getting game time in that more central role which is where I think is my best position.
“Then I got injured and it was really frustrating for me. We actually feared the worst and thought my season was over but luckily I’ve managed to recover quicker than expected and hopefully I can play a part in the final games of the season and help the club to finish as high up the league as possible.
“I’m getting back to fitness now but won’t reach my peak because there are not enough games left. I’ll be working hard over the summer though so that I come back for pre-season fully fit and raring to go and hopefully we can kick on and have some more success.
“We’ve got a few experienced players leaving the football club and they’ll be a big loss to our changing room. It’s up to the rest of the squad and the ones who have experience to step up and fill that gap. I feel like I’m one of the players who can do that.”
With few games remaining between now and the end of the season, Scougall won’t have much game time before the curtain comes down on his first Scottish Premiership campaign.
He’ll be looking to return for pre-season ready to hit the ground running and he’ll be hoping he can play his part in returning Tommy Wright’s men to their place in the top-six, which the club and supporters have become so used to over recent years.
Images in this article are courtesy of St. Johnstone Football Club/Graeme Hart of Perthshire Picture Agency.
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