STEVEN MacLean’s scoring exploits for St Johnstone last season went largely unnoticed thanks to the form of a certain player alongside him. When he wasn’t helping Stevie May claim the 27 that would earn him a move south of the border, MacLean was netting 11 of his own, and that was despite missing four months of the campaign with an injured knee.
St Johnstone 1-0 Aberdeen
Scorer: St Johnstone - MacLean (80)
If the pressure is on him to compensate for the loss of his free-scoring partner, there was no sign of it on Saturday. While May was celebrating his first goal for Sheffield Wednesday, MacLean was converting his third of this campaign, a late winner against Aberdeen at McDiarmid Park.
With Nigel Hasselbaink and Chris Iwelumo also gone, St Johnstone are short of forwards.
As if to demonstrate as much, MacLean was a lone striker, repeatedly holding up the ball and bringing team-mates into play. That is his biggest strength, but Chris Millar – one of the midfielders who benefits – believes that the 32-year-old can also get among the goals, just like May did.
“Of course he can,” says Millar. “We’ve all got to share that, not just Macca. Take 27 goals out of any team and you’re going to miss it, but I think if we keep him fit, he can easily get into double figures, no problem.”
In the long run, though, MacLean’s most valuable contribution will be to the development of 19-year-old Chris Kane, 20-year-old Adam Morgan (on loan from Yeovil Town) and whoever else Tommy Wright, the St Johnstone manager, chooses to sign with his share of the May transfer fee.
MacLean is far from the only experienced professional who inspires those around him at St Johnstone – Millar also led by example with a tenacious midfield performance on Saturday – but he is a focal point for the team, inspiring them with his football and his personality.
“He is pivotal to us,” says Millar. “He takes the ball in really well, he’s always demanding, and he runs the channels. He is one of those players who doesn’t get the credit he deserves. Stevie May would be the first to say that Macca added so much to his game with his talking and his influence.
“I love playing with him. It’s great. The two of us are always at each other’s throats, but in a good way. We make demands of each other, and that’s something we’ve got throughout the spine of the team. If we don’t work hard, Macca’s one of the first to let you know.”
MacLean’s other quality is the knack that he has, a bit like his club, of responding well to a setback.
Just as St Johnstone quickly made up for their defeat at Hamilton seven days earlier, so did he refuse to let an early miss against Aberdeen affect his morale.
The game was only 20 minutes old when he bore down on the goalkeeper and glanced his shot off the outside of a post. Between then and his goal, St Johnstone had the better of a decent match. Gary McDonald skewed wide from close range after Jamie Langfield had spilled MacLean’s shot. Then, at the other end, Andy Considine crashed a header against the crossbar.
The goal, which arrived with ten minutes left, was coolly taken. When MacLean found a pocket of space in the box, St Johnstone were slow to spot his availability, but eventually, Michael O’Halloran, who had made an impact as a substitute, picked him out. The striker swept it across the line first-time before ripping off his shirt and sprinting to the corner flag, just as he had done when he scored in the Scottish Cup final three months ago. “He always celebrates where there is nobody around,” says Millar. “I’m like ‘where are you going?’”
For Aberdeen, it was a disappointing day, not just because they lost for the second time in three league matches, but because they asked Alan Mannus, the St Johnstone goalkeeper, to make only one save, a block with his chest when David Goodwillie tried his luck in the closing stages.
Considine said that he and his team-mates had let down the travelling support of more than 3,000. Aberdeen, he added, now carried a burden of expectation after finishing third and winning a trophy last season. “Because of what we achieved last year, teams will find us a massive scalp, but we need to deal with that,” he said. “We have to keep our heads up.”