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Mane man has quietly become the main man

IT'S now five months since Darragh MacAnthony added his name to the list of those who have doubted Stevie May.

May scored his 20th goal of the season at Firhill on Tuesday night. Picture: SNS
May scored his 20th goal of the season at Firhill on Tuesday night. Picture: SNS

The difference with MacAnthony was that he did it publicly, in a post on Twitter which dripped with sarcasm.

The Peterborough United chairman claimed to have grown exasperated by St Johnstone's handling of his club's bids for May back in August and he gave up the ghost.

"As for St Johnstone's 'he-might- get-a-bigger-club-looking-at-him' comment," wrote MacAnthony on the social media site, "I hope that works out for them and their club…"

His inference was clear: Peterborough had deigned to offer May an escape from his hellish existence in Perth and St Johnstone, like naïve fools, had tossed out the best deal that was likely to come their (or his) way. MacAnthony came out with all of this stuff via Twitter on August 21, when May was on three goals for the season. Two nights ago against Partick Thistle he took his total to 20.

He isn't scoring like a guy who could have all his life's ambitions realised by the club which currently sits between Rotherham and Walsall in the third tier of English football. May has been one of the soaring success stories of the Scottish season. Over the years they've enjoyed Henry Hall, Ally McCoist, John Brogan, Steve Maskrey, Roddy Grant, Paul Wright, George O'Boyle and Jason Scotland at Muirton Park and then McDiarmid and now they're in thrall to May.

There have been times this season when adulation has washed over Dundee United's young lads. Aberdeen and Hibernian have had their moments in the sun. Motherwell, too. Throughout it all, throughout all those clubs' highs and lows, May has scored consistently, without a dry spell. He's not gone more than three games without a goal. Recently he's been scoring so prolifically he's become a mobile advertising board for himself. Just before the January window opened he scored a hat trick and there have been five more including another hat trick in the month so far. St Johnstone have scored 39 goals in all competitions and May's delivered 51% of them.

His career has progressed incrementally. Two seasons ago he went to Alloa and scored 19 goals when they were in fourth tier. The season after that he scored 26 for Hamilton Accies when they were two divisions higher. There were plenty who doubted whether he would continue at that rate in Scotland's top flight. Now, 20 goals later, the question has been reset again, to whether he could score at a higher level than this.

The common observation about May is that he "bulked up" before returning to St Johnstone from Hamilton and had become far more effective as a result of it. In fact daily gym work has been a part of his regime for far longer than that. Upper body strength helped him at both Alloa and Accies, too. Now his muscle strength has been an obvious asset in his battles with Premiership defenders. He is not afraid to take them on physically, and nor is he easily brushed off the ball.

What would attract English League 1 or Championship clubs to May? The sheer rate of goalscoring, of course, but also his mobility, his endless willingness to work, his obvious appetite for running the channels and also an improving ability with his back to goal. Those who have watched him most closely have been impressed by the fact his commitment to the dirty work has not decreased as his goalscoring has brought him plenty of praise and credit.

The general assumption is that could hold his own at English League 1 level or in the bottom half of The Championship, and that he lacks the blistering pace and overall quality to make an impression at a higher level than that.

No-one is likely to shout their mouth off in public about May having a glass ceiling, though. He has proved so many doubters wrong in the past that they have been silenced. At 21, he is a work in progress. If he continues scoring at his current level he will have constructed a compelling case to be in Gordon Strachan's Scotland squad for the friendly in Poland at the start of March.

May has a "look-at-me" haircut, as if he hasn't realised that Bon Jovi's best days are behind them. In the endless sea of crew-cutted Scottish players his mane would make him conspicuous on a pitch even if was poor. Instead the hair, and the goals, make him distinctive. The hair is actually incongruous because there is nothing especially extrovert or flamboyant about his personality. His managers have found him quiet, diligent and respectful, a pleasure to work with. They don't have a bad word to say about him.

The first manager to pick him at St Johnstone was Derek McInnes, in 2009. Next weekend McInnes will lead Aberdeen into a huge League Cup semi-final against St Johnstone at Tynecastle. One player will prey on his mind above all.

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