YOU would have been given incredibly long odds against Stevie May breaching the 20-goal mark this season, never mind doing so before any other player.
Yet that is what happened when he netted the only goal at Firhill on Tuesday night.
May said: “I could never have expected to start the season quite so well. I was confident I could score but not to this extent. Now I’ve done it, I’m confident I can carry it on for the rest of the season. [The 20] is a personal milestone. I’ve set a few targets and add on a few every time I reach one.”
Little wonder May is imbued with the belief that he isn’t simply enjoying a purple patch. He has bagged 12 of his club’s last 16 goals, eight of those coming in his past six games, with two hat-tricks
So it is easy to forget the primary aim the 21-year-old, with good reason, set when Tommy Wright became manager of the Perth club last summer.
May had spent the previous two campaigns on loan, netting 25 times in 36 appearances for second tier Hamilton last season, having previously plundered 19 goals in 22 outings for Alloa in the level below
Previous Saints manager Steve Lomas, at best, felt May still had some developing to do. Wright, too, initially expressed caution about May being a top-flight player simply because he had proved a prodigious scorer in the lower leagues.
May added: “I’ve got a new [goals] target. I’ll add five, which I’ve done since the start of the season. At the start of the season I just wanted to get myself in the team.
“I’ve always gone with the theory that, if I believe I’ll score, I will. I want to carry that on. I feel I’m definitely playing better, even more so than I was at the start of the season. It took time to get used to playing with a new group of boys.
“I’m playing with more confidence now, and as all strikers know that’s half the battle.”
May has won the battle with those who may have doubted him. He doesn’t exactly accept the suggestion that Lomas’ tough-love has proved to be the correct course of action.
“My goal was to play every week for St Johnstone,” he said. “If a manager thought at the time I had to go out on loan then I would do that. Hamilton was really good for me as a stepping stone. There was a lot of good boys there and the management were good to me.”
May’s goal hunger is now good for St Johnstone. It is refreshing, too, that the player won’t put limits on the extent of his ambition. He is the (young) man of the moment in Scottish football because the Perth club don’t tend to provide the platform for a striker to fill his boots. Chances are that May will not be able to hold off 19-goal Celtic Kris Commons for leading scorer. The Scottish champions and runaway Premiership leaders have gone more than a year since they last failed to score in a league game. St Johnstone posted duck-eggs in four of their past eight league games, and have only begun to firm up their top-six status with recent wins.
It is a remarkable achievement that May leads both the charts for overall goal tally by a Scottish-based player and, with 16 to his name, the Premiership’s leading scorery. Not since Dundee’s Tommy Coyne scored 33 in 1987-88, has the leading top-flight scorer performed with a club that have not finished in the top three.
Yet, May isn’t ruling it out, saying: “It isn’t something I would have said was a target but I have to be looking at it now. I just think about three points and trying to score every week.”
The chance to leapfrog Dundee United and move into fifth place will be there for the McDiarmid Park club when they host Jackie McNamara’s men in a televised encounter on Monday. The prospect of finish higher and claiming a European place appears remote. May – who admits the Europa League qualifier loss to Minsk after returning to Perth with a 1-0 first leg “was a hard one to take because in our heads we thought we’d go through” – doesn’t agree with that, though.
“There’s no reason we can’t make European football again,” he said. “The gaffer was saying last week that we were one point better off than we were at that stage last season, although the team won five of the last six games. If we can hit a run, other teams will hit a dip, like you’ve seen with Dundee United.”
Strikers’ goal returns dip, too, across a season. Right now, though, there is no sign of that for May.
May’s goal spree
1 v Rosenborg (1-1), Europa, 25 July (h)
1 v Hearts (1-0), Scot Prem, 4 Aug (h)
1 v Ross Co (4-0), Scot Prem, 17 Aug (h)
1 v Hibernian (1-2), Scot Prem, 14 Sep (h)
2 v Hamilton Accies (3-0), League Cup, 24 Sep (a)
1 v Inverness CT (4-0), Scot Prem, 5 Oct (h)
1 v Motherwell (2-0), Scot Prem, 27 Oct (h)
1 v Hearts (2-0), Scot Prem, 2 Nov (a)
2 v Kilmarnock (3-1), Scot Prem, 9 Nov (h)
1 v Livingston (2-0), Scot Cup, 30 Nov (h)
3 v Dundee Utd (3-0), Scot Prem, 29 Dec (h)
1 v St Mirren (2-0), Scot Prem, 11 Jan (h)
3 v Hearts (3-3), Scot Prem, 18 Jan (h)
1 v Partick (1-0), Scot Prem, 21 Jan (a)
TOTALS (21) League: 16
League Cup: 2
Scottish Cup: 1
Europa League: 1