Tommy Wright has described St Johnstone’s achievement of reaching a first-ever Scottish Cup final as “payback” for the club owners and vindication for Stevie May, whom the manager insisted did not want to be sold earlier this season.
It is also vindication for Wright himself, who said in August, following interest from Peterborough United, that May could stay at the club, “score 20 goals and get a bigger club looking at him”. While Peterborough were unhappy about this statement, the St Johnstone manager has been proved entirely correct – bigger clubs will now be looking at him. Where Wright was mistaken was in the number of goals May might score.
The matchwinner in Sunday’s semi-final win over Aberdeen, May’s second-half double were his 24th and 25th goals of a season that, for St Johnstone and Dundee United, the other semi-final victors, has been extended by a further game. The 21 year-old was in demand during the last two transfer windows as Peterborough, among others, made repeated attempts to sign him. Chairman Steve Brown, whose father Geoff helped build the modern St Johnstone, stood firm in the face of offers, which were described as being a long way below the player’s valuation in any case.
But Wright insisted he always knew that May, who was raised locally, was desperate to stay at the Perth club, even if St Johnstone received an acceptable offer for his services. It is still possible, and even likely, that he will depart this summer, and if so, he will depart with the best wishes of both the club and supporters. He now has the opportunity to ensure he can leave following a perfect swansong at Celtic Park on 17 May.
“It’s payback in terms of getting to the final for the chairman and his dad Geoff, who have put a lot into the club over last 30 years so we’re delighted for them,” said Wright, of Sunday’s achievement, one that justified their determination to hold on to May. Not that Wright had any worries on that front. The player himself had reassured Wright that he wished to remain at the club for the rest of this season at least. May still has one more year of his contract remaining.
“Stevie May was never going in January,” said Wright. “I know there were bids in for him. Nobody believed me that he wasn’t going. He didn’t want to leave. It would have taken an unbelievable bid but it didn’t come on the table. Stevie wanted to stay here, he’s a Perth boy. He wanted to win something here and he had no intention of leaving, so it wasn’t really a big issue.
“We’re fully aware that he’ll leave at some time but he might not,” added Wright. “He might sign a new contract and stay for another season, we’ll just have to look at it. Am I glad he stayed? Of course I am because his goals have been important. We put him on the left and he still nicks them coming in off the line. He’s had a tremendous season but there will come a point when he is sold.
“He could develop [with St Johnstone] even more but that decision has three parties in it: Stevie and his family, the club and some of the senior players. The great thing about Steven is he listens, he talks to people and he took advice and his agent as well – he is probably the fourth one [party].
“Everybody felt that it was best he stayed. There were two good offers in for him. They were probably short of our valuation…that’s why they weren’t accepted. But the bottom line is that even if they had been accepted at that level, I don’t think Steve would have gone.”
On the subject of May being a target for abuse from opposition fans, specifically those of Aberdeen, Wright smiled: “He always takes stick. I watched him on loan at Hamilton down at Raith one day and he had bright yellow boots and he had his hair in a pony-tail, as he does. He gets stick but I think he thrives on it. I don’t think they gave him as much stick [on Sunday]. All the singing about him was at the end from our supporters.
“Going into the game everybody was saying we hadn’t scored against them, Stevie May hadn’t scored against them,” added Wright. “That’s a dangerous stat because he normally scores against most teams.”
Meanwhile, Dave Mackay, the St Johnstone skipper, has proposed May as a potential young player of the year, an award some will feel he is almost certain to pick up. “He’s certainly got a great shout,” he said. “Yes, there’s a lot of good young players in Scotland at the minute.
“I imagine it will be between Stevie and Robertson from Dundee United. He’s had an incredible season as well. He’s worked his way from Queen’s Park into the Scotland squad, so they are two outstanding players. It will be a toss-up between those two.”
Mackay, who is looking forward to a second Scottish Cup final 11 years after he was on the losing side with Dundee against Rangers, described May as a down-to-earth team-mate, despite his growing profile.
“He just comes in and he works hard,” he said. “He’s normally the first boy in the training ground and one of the last to leave as well. He’s always working on his shooting, especially, and he’s certainly not big-time. He comes in, just gets his head down and works very hard.”
Mackay does not expect to be a team-mate of May for much longer. However, he is simply glad St Johnstone held on to him for long enough to create club history by reaching a first Scottish Cup final.
“I think the club realises as well that maybe they’ll have to cash in on him,” he said. “When you’re scoring goals like that then you’re coming to everybody’s attention.”