St Johnstone: What is on Craig Levein's to-do list as new manager at McDiarmid Park?

Craig Levein signed Steven MacLean
Craig Levein replaces Steven MacLean, who he signed during his second spell at Hearts

It was a doomed trip to McDiarmid Park that signalled the end of Craig Levein's second spell at Heart of Midlothian.

Four years on, he returns as St Johnstone manager, tasked with keeping the Perth side in the Scottish Premiership.

Rookie managers have been the preference of a few clubs in the Scottish top-flight of late, but now the league's bottom side have bucked the trend by going to a man who is far more tried and tested.

Perhaps that's wise. Look at Steven MacLean's reign. Liam Fox at Dundee United. Shaun Maloney at Hibernian. Steven Hammell at Motherwell. Stephen Glass at Aberdeen.

Instead, a man with more than 300 top-flight games as manager - and a stint with the national team - is charged with steadying a ship that looked to be sinking at a rate of knots.

His first bit of good news came last week, though, before his name was even mentioned in the running.

Wednesday's 2-1 win over Kilmarnock meant that, although St Johnstone are still bottom of the league, they are only three points behind Livingston and Ross County having played fewer games.

So what should be high up the agenda for the former Hearts and Scotland boss now that he is at McDiarmid Park?

Get the players firing

Before that win over Kilmarnock last week, St Johnstone had only scored three league goals in nine games. Their attack wasn't just blunt, it was almost non-existent.

Barren spells are not unfamiliar in this part of the world.

In 2021-22, when they beat Inverness Caledonian Thistle in the relegation play-off, St Johnstone scored a measly 24 goals all season. A few years before, they finished sixth despite only scoring 28.

Prior to his sacking, MacLean had pointed to the return of Nicky Clark, who scored four last season, and Chris Kane - his record tally in a single Premiership season is five - to get them goals.

Stevie May, who netted nine last year - his highest figure since the 2013-14 season - has been in and out of the team.

Summer signing Luke Jephcott has a respectable tally at League One level in England but is yet to set the heather alight in his three starts so far.

However, Wednesday's performance will give Levein hope. Clark's double was a reminder of what he's capable of and Kane ran all night. That duo could be the spark the frontline desperately needs.

Fortify McDiarmid Park

For too many clubs in the Premiership, the trip to Perth is marked on the calendar as an easy point, if not all three. A decent, fruitful jolly on the road.

There were only five home wins in the entirety of last season, the same the year before, and the same the year before that.

In fact, 2018-19 was the last time St Johnstone won more than five at home during the league season. That was seven victories - two of which came in the bottom-six split.

Looking around the league, Kilmarnock are surely the poster boys for turning your home ground into a fortress. Their 10 home wins from a possible 19 undoubtedly kept them up last season.

Dominating their own backyard has given them plenty of confidence and, not only that, it daunts the opposition. No-one - not even Celtic or Rangers - looks forward to a trip to Rugby Park, with both having lost there already this year.

If Levein can start winning at McDiarmid Park - something he failed to do during his second spell at Hearts - he can allay relegation fears with the safety blanket of a decent home record.

Identify his best XI quickly

A total of 17 players departed in the summer, many with little fanfare. Callum Davidson's recruitment had been, largely, unspectacular and many left Perth as quickly as they had arrived.

MacLean was tasked with a rebuild. A total of 11 players arrived. Only Bulgarian goalkeeper Dimitar Mitov and on-loan left-back Luke Robinson currently have pass marks.

Some have barely seen the light of day, some have a handful of appearances as MacLean tinkered and trifled with his starting XI in a desperate search to find the magic equation.

Only Mitov has started every game. Another seven have started seven or more. A total of 26 players have been used in the league - only Celtic have used more.

Alex Cleland had a better go at solving that tricky problem. The caretaker went back to basics, bringing Graham Carey and Ryan McGowan back into the fold and reverting to the now old-fashioned 4-4-2 formation.

That meant as well as Clark and Kane, three of the four-man midfield were able to bomb forward - Carey, Dara Costelloe and Matt Smith - while Sven Sprangler held the fort.

It remains to be seen what Levein will do with the options at his disposal, but he doesn't have time to fiddle about.

The first round of matches is almost done and, before that maiden victory over Kilmarnock, the mood music was particularly gloomy.

Things feel a little more optimistic now though. A first win, a new manager and a squad that might not need to be ripped up by the roots.

But only time will tell if it's enough to keep their heads above water.