It is an understatement to say that this season has not gone to plan for St. Johnstone. The Perth side currently languishes in 12th place, 1 point behind Wednesday's opponents Ross County.
[Callum Davidson takes his frustration out on some water bottles]
This is a sizeable fall from grace after last season's 5th place finish and cup double win, and whilst a drop-off of some degree was always expected, one of this magnitude was almost unthinkable. A multitude of factors has contributed to Saints' downfall, all with varying degrees of importance.
So, why have St. Johnstone struggled so far this campaign?
Loss of Key Players
Now, this is one of the most well-trodden reasons for St. Johnstone's current woes and is an obvious one to point out - if a team loses their best players, that often makes them worse.
The high-profile deadline day departures of best player Ali McCann and club Captain Jason Kerr did not just hurt the quality of the playing squad available to Callum Davidson, but the nature of the departures did almost just as much damage.
[McCann and Kerr challenge Dykes]
Saints sold the pair for a lot lower than their perceived market value on deadline day with no time to bring in ample replacements, forcing the club to recruit loan signings of MacPherson and Dendoncker, who may be decent players in their own right but let's not forget; Dendoncker had never played a senior game prior to joining Saints and MacPherson had found himself out in the cold at St. Mirren.
This meant that not only did the team lose their best 2 players (and biggest assets), their replacements were already unpopular amongst the fans who were now unsettled. The divide between the club and sections of the support has been noticeable ever since, with many still outraged at how the transfer window was handled.
What was overshadowed by Kerr and McCann leaving was the other summer dealings. Scott Tanser, Guy Melamed, and Craig Conway all left the club upon the expiry of their contracts. Between the trio, they amassed 22 goal contributions last season.
[Melamed provided a goal threat last season]
Contrast this with their 'replacements', in Reece Devine, Eetu Vertainen, and Viv Solomon-Otabor who have yet to score or assist between them. Although you do have to caveat that with the fact that they have all struggled for game time and we are only halfway through the season, it still does not read well.
Saints are only now being able to rectify the errors of their summer dealings, with Dan Cleary looking to fill the Kerr-sized hole on the right-hand side of Davidson's back 3 as well Butterfield who was brought in earlier this month to try and compensate for the gap left by McCann.
Sadly, there is no magic wand that can be waved next month and it is a lot harder (and more expensive) to do business in January - especially when teams are aware of your current predicament.
Fact: St. Johnstone were incredibly lucky with injuries in the 20/21 season.
Callum Davidson's side had very few long-term absentees and were lucky not to receive any real defensive injuries - with Kerr, Gordon, and McCart all playing upwards of 42 games each.
[Gordon, Kerr, McCart and Clark pose with the Betfred Cup]
This year we have had no such luck. Key players May, Kane, Gordon, Rooney, and Bryson as well as shorter spells out for Brown, Middleton, MacPherson, Davidson, and Vertainen (work permit).
David Wotherspoon has also been ruled out for the rest of the season after picking up an ACL injury against Celtic. This is a huge loss, with 'Spoony' being the main source of creativity in the Saints side and at the moment we look lost without him.
[Wotherspoon picked up a nasty injury against Celtic]
Not to mention the suspensions picked up which have also disrupted the side, with Kane, Bryson, Craig, and McCart all serving bans already this season.
This has led to Saints struggling for the consistency that was the backbone of last season's campaign. Callum Davidson is yet to field the same starting 11 in back-to-back games this season. Does he know his best starting team anymore? There are certainly a lot fewer 'undroppables' in the squad now.
Teams 'Figuring' us Out
Last season St. Johnstone's back 5 was almost impenetrable. whilst the Wing Backs provided an attacking threat that other sides in the league struggled to deal with.
How many times was Rooney found unmarked at the back post, or Kerr was seen on the right flank creating an attacking overload. Now that we do not have that extra threat from defence, teams are now leaving a player on Rooney at all times - which means that he is rarely unmarked and there is now no overload on his side This takes away a huge goal threat we relied on last season.
Instead, we are left looking confused and ineffective - often unsure what to do in possession, giving it away and then conceding a sloppy goal.
[Kane looks frustrated after going 1-0 down]
In the 2020/21 season it felt as though you could rely on the defence, we won a lot of games 1-0 and kept plenty of clean sheets. We were able to grab a goal and then soak up pressure knowing that teams could not break us down. No longer can we rely on that defensive unit to protect us, and we cannot score at the other end at all. This has led to a lot of 1-0 defeats already this season.
Teams are now aware that it only takes 1 goal to beat St. Johnstone. If they take the lead they can then just drop bodies back and make the game difficult for us, we could play all day and not score. In 8 games where St. Johnstone have conceded the first goal in the league so far this season we have gone on to; concede 13, score 0, and pick up 0 points. Grim.
One of St. Johnstone's biggest struggles is their barren run in front of goal. Saints have only scored 9 goals from 18 league games, a club record low and the worst return the top division has seen in almost 30 years.
A collection of a lack of service to the frontmen, Strikers being off-form, low on confidence, and absences throughout the season have all contributed to a horrendous goal return.
As it stands the club's top scorers are Stevie May and Chris Kane (who scored his in the same game) on 2 goals for the season. With only 7 goals actually scored by Saints in the league this season. In contrast, ex-Saintee Tony Watt is currently on 9 goals for Motherwell in the cinch Premiership already.
[Chris Kane has struggled for goals]
This isn't good enough. St. Johnstone just do not even look like scoring at all and there are no signs of a goal being on its way, we are taking so many fewer shots than we did last year. Saints have notched single-digit shots on target (not including headers) from open play since the 3-1 win over Dundee in October.
The dilemma that Davidson has is, does he risk defensive solidity and commit more efforts to attack but risk losing games 2-1 or 3-2, or does he stick with the current model of hoping that the other team doesn't score and we knick the game 1-0?
Something needs to change, and drastically.
Can Saints Turn This Around?
Yes, absolutely. I am convinced that Callum Davidson and his squad have what it takes to put a run together and pull away from the relegation zone. This is still the core squad of last season's double winners and there is plenty of quality in there, it just is not working at the minute.
[Jason Kerr lifts the Scottish Cup]
There need to be tactical and personnel changes but I back Callum to make the right choices and pull us out of this. There are still 20 games left to be played and a January transfer window coming up.
However, decision-making is key at the moment. There has not been more pressure on Saints in the last decade to get things right and currently everything needs to be spot on. This current slump has to be arrested before it becomes an 8 or 9 game losing streak and we are cut adrift at the bottom.
A win against Ross County is vital on Wednesday, they will be stubborn opposition and hard to beat. A loss could spell the beginning of the end, but on the flip side, a win could start a good run of form and a climb up the table.
Back the team, get behind them. They deserve that much at least. Come On You Saints!