St Johnstone: Steven MacLean says lack of match action cost side in Europe

Striker Steven MacLean believes St Johnstone might not be struggling to remain in Europe if they were midway through their season.

Saints were beaten 2-1 by FK Trakai in the first leg of their Europa League first qualifying round tie on Thursday.

Trakai are 16 games into their season, while Saints had not played since May.

"I could say it doesn't matter that they've played games and we haven't, but you know what, it does help," MacLean told BBC Scotland.

Tommy Wright's Saints now face a struggle to overturn the deficit when they travel to Lithuania for Thursday's second leg.

"They've played 15-20 games, it's got to help, MacLean said. "If we're sitting here in 15 weeks' time having played 15 games we're going to be better than we were [in the first leg].

Vaidotas Silenas scores
Vaidotas Silenas scored the crucial second goal for FK Trakai in Perth

"It does affect things, but we're not using that as an excuse, whether there's ways round it, I'm not going to be the one who decides that.

"I think down the line, it's got to be addressed. However, we're a better side than we showed, though we're still confident we can go there and get something out of the game."

'Not a level playing field'

In recent seasons, teams from Malta, Luxembourg and Gibraltar have all beaten Scottish top-flight opposition.

And MacLean says the start date of Scotland's season is impacting sides as they kick off their European campaigns before June is out.

"I don't know if we need to change the dates of the season," he added.

"Do we start sooner? Do we finish the season sooner? Do we go to summer football?

"I think something needs to be done because when we're playing these ties a lot of teams are undercooked.

"It's not an excuse, it's fact, they've played 15 games, we haven't so it's not a level playing field in Europe."

Graham Cummins
The St Johnstone players were left dejected at full-time on Wednesday

Saints are confident they can still win the tie and progress to a likely meeting with Swedish side IFK Norrkoping, who defeated Prishtina of Kosovo 5-0.

However, their task is all the harder given MacLean will not take part due to his knee injury history and the fact that Trakai will host Saints on an artificial surface at the national stadium in Vilnius.

"It's horrible, to be honest," he added. "When we saw the five teams we could get I was just hoping it would be one that doesn't play on astroturf and unfortunately it was.

"The manager takes the decision out of my hands. I would play but I just accept it and hope the boys can go over there and get a result because we've got quality players in that dressing room.

"I'll maybe try and bend the manager's ear again and see if I can play.

"We had chances [in the first leg], maybe three of four gilt-edged chances, so it just shows we'll get opportunities over there, we just need to be clinical when we get them."

You can hear the full interview with Steven MacLean on Saturday's Sportsound on BBC Radio Scotland from 14:00 BST.

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