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May turns up volume of speculation

THERE were more scouts than at a Baden-Powell memorial service.

Stevie May scored all three St Johnstone goals
Stevie May scored all three St Johnstone goals

The stands at McDiarmid Park were packed with those seeking to take an active, professional interest in the careers of a clutch of Dundee United players. It is to be hoped that they enjoyed the drive through sun-kissed Perthshire with its dazzling views, for the glimpses of the United stars were both fleeting and mostly restricted to the back of their heads as they sat in the dugout.

Indeed, the United stars were eclipsed by Stevie May, the St Johnstone striker, who scored a hat trick in a convincing win for the home side in front of an excellent crowd of 7231.

Jackie McNamara, the United manager whose team selection disappointed the hordes of scouts, reluctantly insisted after the defeat his decisions had been the result of injuries and suspensions. John Souttar, Stuart Armstrong, Nadir Cifti and Gary Mackay-Steven were all listed as substitutes and Ryan Gauld was missing entirely, though reports suggesting he was modelling for 2014 Action Man proved to be misplaced. The 18-year-old is, instead, recuperating from a groin strain. Souttar, Armstrong and Mackay-Steven all made it on to the park eventually but this was a day when the starring role fell to May, the 21-year-old St Johnstone striker.

The spotlight in Scottish football has been strong and warm on United. But there is a story in Perth too and it deserves applause. Tommy Wright has quietly galvanised a side under a restricted budget to sit in the top half of the league and May, oddly bulky with a ponytail providing ballast for quick turns, has become a topic of conversation among scouts. This may now rise from a whisper in huddles to a strong statement of interest.

The 21-year-old scored regularly and assuredly yesterday to dismiss a United side that had eight changes from that beaten by St Mirren on Boxing Day. The Perth side had not scored in four league matches and May's treble ended that fraught spell while also taking his tally for the season to 15. This is the sort of figure to cause a scout to raise an eyebrow and a chairman to raise an asking price. May's touch can sometimes be heavy and he is far from the sleek, finished article, but he finds space well and is constantly eager.

His second goal yesterday also burst the net, with the match being held up to make repairs after May turned quickly and despatched a pass from Tam Scobbie. It was his first goal, though, which was the most significant.

United, with so many changes, needed to start brightly and form some cohesion without being burdened by setback. Instead, there was calamity for the visitors after just 20 minutes. Sean Dillon's headed back pass looked to be falling short of Radoslaw Cierzniak and Calum Butcher pulled back the closing May. The subsequent red card and the conversion of the penalty by the striker put United in the sort of position safely filed under irretrievable.

With Murray Davidson powerful, athletic and influential in midfield and Patrick Cregg busy and neat alongside him, United were restricted to distant views of the St Johnstone goal, with the best effort being an adventurous run and shot in the second half from Chris Erskine.

St Johnstone were threatening constantly, with Cierzniak making adept saves from Davidson and Gwion Edwards and Andrew Robertson, the most conspicuous United youngster to start the game, clearing a Davidson header off the line.

The penalty and the red card led to the introduction of Souttar - with David Goodwillie leaving the field in what could well be the last match in his loan spell from Blackburn Rovers - while Mackay-Steven and Armstrong came on in the second half but the balance of the game had swung irreversibly in favour of St Johnstone, who played with conviction from the start.

May's completion of his hat trick after 87 minutes was the gilding of a fine afternoon. His delight may have owed much to the striker enjoying a Christmas feast after a personal goal famine that stretches back to a strike against Kilmarnock on November 9. "It was maybe a good test for him today because he hadn't scored in the league for a while," said Wright of his striker.

However, May seemed completely relaxed about his goalless spell. "I'm always confident in my ability to score goals," he said. This attitude was tested when Cierzniak had a long chat with the striker as he placed the ball for the penalty. "I couldn't understand what he was saying to me but I didn't let it bother me," he said.

He may be more exercised shortly by the conversations being held about him by scouts and agents.

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