Just over two months ago, St Johnstone were rock bottom of the Premiership.
Since the day they started moving up the table with a 1-0 win at Tynecastle, the Perth men have only lost two out of 13 matches, winning more than half of those.
They are currently closer to a European place than the relegation play-off spot, with top six football in their sights.
Here are five reasons for the Saints revival.
1 – There was only one real problem
Here at Courier Sport we have become accustomed to spotting a team that has ‘doomed’ running through it like Blackpool through a stick of tooth-breaking rock.
The crucial difference between the Dundee United of Jackie McNamara and Mixu Paatelainen, the Dundee of Neil McCann and Jim McIntyre and the Saints side of the first few months of this season was that the two Dundee squads had several deficiencies. At McDiarmid Park there was only one real problem to fix – basic defensive mistakes.
The return of Liam Gordon and the introduction of Callum Booth made the backline instantly more secure. Gordon provided a much-missed commanding presence and voice and, just as importantly, started bringing out the best of Jason Kerr beside him again.
At left-back, Booth’s ‘defence first’ instinct was a contrast to Scott Tanser’s more attacking mindset. Saints with Booth in their team didn’t concede a goal for his first four games.
The recruitment of Jamie McCart in January has already paid off. If you can make your debut at half-time of a Celtic game that is heading towards a hammering and play your part in a second-half clean sheet you’ve got something about you. McCart has been the real deal and ensured the loss of Gordon through concussion didn’t prove to be a disaster.
When Liam Craig said that the defence reminded him of the legendary back four of Easton, Wright, Anderson and Mackay it was the ultimate compliment.
2 – Filling the Matty Kennedy void
When you look back on St Johnstone’s ability to absorb the loss of their star player at the top end of the pitch over the last decade it really has been incredible.
Fran Sandaza, Stevie May, Michael O’Halloran, Steven MacLean and now Matty Kennedy have all left, most for big money, but the effect on the team has been minimal.
You could actually make a strong case, probably with the exception of MacLean, that on each occasion Saints have banked the cash and actually got BETTER.
Kennedy only left for Pittodrie about a month ago but the short-term evidence is inarguable.
This isn’t an attempt to talk down the winger. Anything but. He has been Saints’ most dangerous forward player since he arrived at McDiarmid two summers ago and eyes were taken off the ball to let his contract get into its last year without making an offer of an extension. Aberdeen have got themselves a fine player.
But when Kennedy was in the side his team-mates were overly reliant on him. Often it was the case that if you successfully doubled up on the star turn, you were stopping Saints. The December draw with St Mirren was the prime example.
David Wotherspoon has now made nine starts in a row. He has become the poster boy for the post-Kennedy form rise.
3 – A striking turnaround
When the January transfer window opened St Johnstone had scored 16 goals in 19 Premiership games. Of those 16, two were Stevie May’s, none were Chris Kane’s and four (all off the bench) were Callum Hendry’s.
Another centre-back was the clear priority for Tommy Wright but a lot of fans would have made a striker a close second.
In the end Saints didn’t recruit one and it is to the credit of May, Kane, Hendry and their manager that the team’s perceived weakness is now being viewed as a strength.
The rotation of the three – all have played with each other and alone – has been masterful from Wright.
Kane’s team ethic won’t win him any player of the year awards but (see Wotherspoon above) it has been crucial to the collective improvement. If there has been a better forward at drawing fouls to get a side up the pitch this season (Pittodrie being a case in point) I haven’t seen him. Hendry is now a threat from the start rather than just an impact supersub and, whisper it, May has that 2014 air of confidence about him again.
These days Wright is mixing and matching from a position of expectation rather than a position of hope.
4 – A star was born
When there was talk of Kyle McClean and Ali McCann returning from their respective loan spells at Linfield and Stranraer in the summer and fighting for first team recognition at Perth, the Irishman looked to be in a stronger position to make that happen given their career paths to that date.
McClean, though, ended up being released and to say McCann has taken his chance would be a staggering understatement.
Wright liked what he saw on day one when Saints were thrashed at Celtic Park and what a judgment that proved to be.
McCann’s first goal at Hamilton has transformed a box-to-box midfielder into a goalscoring box-to-box midfielder. He has scored another three since then.
And it says everything about the 20-year-old’s temperament that he has taken his game to a higher level when Saints needed him most – following Murray Davidson’s training ground arm break.
The winner at Aberdeen sums McCann’s qualities up perfectly, sums up why Saints ensured they will be getting a handsome reward for his eventual sale when they tied him down to a three-year deal, and sums up why the SFA should be embarrassed to have overlooked the best young Scottish breakthrough midfielder in the Premiership for age-group call-ups. Our loss is Northern Ireland’s gain.
5 – The Wright man
The members of the ‘Tommy Must Go’ brigade represented a small minority of the Saints fanbase but, if social media is a reliable gauge (yes, I know) they were finding their voice – particularly after St Mirren away and Motherwell away.
To the credit of chairman Steve Brown, and to the credit of the vast majority of supporters, faith in the best manager the club has ever had didn’t waver even though there was a realistic prospect of a relegation battle that would consume the club for the length of the season.
It all goes back to point number one.
The strengths of this team outnumbered the weaknesses and there isn’t a more reliable manager in the league to make sure that one weakness would get addressed.
There have been plenty of coaching and tactical highpoints in the last couple of months (Tynecastle and Pittodrie spring to mind) and the passion in the Northern Irishman’s post-match reactions, win, lose or draw show that this is not a manager growing weary of his work.
Wright still commands the devotion and respect of his players, which is an achievement in itself, and Saints remain very, very lucky to have him.
And, with most of his squad signed up for next season already, people forecasting the end of an era may have to wait a while longer yet.