STEVIE May’s season could yet reach a crescendo in the form of a Scottish Cup winner’s medal and a first Scotland cap, which makes the player’s experiences last year seem all the more difficult to comprehend.
Now everyone is interested in the 21-year-old, who was yesterday named among four contenders for the Cheque Centre PFA Scotland young player of the year award. Last January, not even his own manager wanted him.
He wears the date of the Scottish Cup final meeting against Dundee United on his back – 17 May. However, his destiny looked certain in January last year, when he asked then St Johnstone manager Steve Lomas if he could come back from his loan spell at Hamilton Accies. This request was refused, and he remained with Accies, where he scored 26 goals. After scoring in his first appearance this season for St Johnstone against Rosenborg after Lomas’ summer departure, May has not looked back.
Now it is St Johnstone who are trying to hold on to him as the race to sign May intensifies. Manager Tommy Wright has suggested that his local links – May grew up a St Johnstone supporter in nearby Newburgh – could yet see him sign an extension to a contract due to expire next year. But others seem to accept that his departure is inevitable, including the club’s own skipper, Dave Mackay. Following Sunday’s Scottish Cup semi-final victory over Aberdeen Mackay mused that the striker had the perfect opportunity to make it a sweet swansong at Celtic Park in the final. “I don’t know what he was going on about, I think he was speaking in the euphoria of a good win,” smiled May yesterday.
The striker certainly wants to sign off this season with a winning goal in the cup final, and then, perhaps, an international call-up when Scotland face Nigeria at Craven Cottage. But whether these achievements would count as his last acts as a St Johnstone player only time will tell. The current fevered speculation about his future makes it all the more remarkable that his request to return from his loan spell last January was denied.
Lomas will argue, possibly reasonably, that he was only protecting the player, and aiding his development. If so, this strategy has proved very effective, evidenced by May’s haul of 25 goals this season – 18 of them in the top flight. “I asked to come back to Saints last January to get a chance, but that was knocked back,” May recalled yesterday. “Once the new gaffer took over he assured me I’d get a chance. Looking back it was ideal that I was on loan. I wasn’t in favour at Saints, but I worked my way from the Third to the First Division and now here I am back at Saints.
“My whole goal when I was away on loan was to come back and play first-team football for St Johnstone,” he added. “The aim was to do that as quickly as I could. In the second half of last season I scored 11 goals in the last month of the season and that gave me a boost in confidence coming back to Saints.”
A burst of goals at the start of this season meant he very quickly became a target for interested parties – with Peterborough United making repeated attempts to sign him, initially in August and then again in January.
St Johnstone turned down these offers. In any case, May had decided he wanted to stay. However, it was his choice to stay with St Johnstone last summer which rates as his “biggest gamble”. But then Lomas had just left for Millwall, and Wright assured him that he would get an opportunity to shine.
“I think the bigger decision was at the start of the season because I hadn’t had much of a chance at St Johnstone the year before,” he explained. “I spoke to the manager and he said that he would give me a chance and it was then up to me to take it.
“By January I’d had half a good season, but I always wanted to see it out until at least the end of the season.
“I’ll finish the season and then take it from there.”
There is now talk of a Scotland call-up next month. “Obviously I can’t just expect it, but I’d love to get called up,” he said. “It’s out of my hands and I’ll need to play well and see what comes of it.
“I’d like to think my goal tally will help. But I have an under-21 qualifier coming up at the end of May against Holland.
“That’s a massive game in terms of that campaign and one we need points from. That’s going to be in my thoughts after the Scottish Cup final.”