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St Johnstone analysis: Long unbeaten run ends with a whimper

Livingston players celebrate their opening goal.
Livingston players celebrate their opening goal.

Worst St Johnstone performance of the season?


Most frustrating performance of the season?


When you’ve achieved a bit of history with an 11-game unbeaten run that basically took care of the whole of autumn, it doesn’t deserve to be ended with a whimper.

It might seem a bit mean-spirited to not heap all the credit for Saturday’s result on Livingston given their manager described his players as “magnificent” and they have now completed a home and away double over Saints.

But this was a self-inflicted Saints defeat for a variety of reasons.

The obvious starting point is that the two goals were horrible ones to concede.

For the first you can trace it back to a phase of play that Jason Kerr invited upon his team by mistiming a header, then a kick and gifting a corner.

It was shortly after that set-piece was cleared that Chris Kane was harshly penalised by referee John Beaton for his protection of the ball in midfield (I can think of another striker with his surname who does something similar game in, game out and gets lauded as street-wise). From the free-kick Jon Guthrie scored all too easily with the first contact from a dead-ball that had a long way to travel.

And the winning goal was even worse.

No side should be undressed as basically as that, even if they carelessly cough up possession, as Stevie May did. Nothing fancier was required than a ball over a static backline and a tidy finish.

To take these sloppy goals in isolation would be to miss the point on this occasion, however.

They were part of a general torpor.

What stood in splendid isolation was the Kane equaliser unfortunately.

St Johnstone’s Chris Kane celebrates his goal with David Wotherspoon.

A bit of patient then incisive pass and move football from left to right, dragging players out of position, an accurate cross to the near post and a striker’s run.

Saints did it once and scored but didn’t do it before or after.

Get into a stop-start, bitty contest with Livingston and there’s a strong chance of you losing. They are used to it, thrive on it. Saints aren’t and don’t.

The moral of the story to prevent a hat-trick of defeats to the West Lothian side is – fail to impose your style of play on them at your peril.

If your team is full of five and six out of 10 displays, this is what will happen, two-and-a-half month unbeaten run or not.

There was no attempt from Danny McNamara to spin a hard-luck story. Saints have been playing well enough for long enough to know an all-around off-day when they are caught up in one.

“We’ve been playing so well recently, individually and collectively, but today it wasn’t great,” said the on-loan full-back.

“I don’t think you can point the finger at any one player. It was as a team that we weren’t flowing as we usually do.

“Of course it’s frustrating but things just didn’t come off for us.

“When we got to 1-1 we thought we would go on to win the game or at worst get a draw.

“In the end it wasn’t good enough.

“We have to take that on the chin and make sure we respond well on Tuesday (the Betfred Cup quarter-final at Dunfermline) and then again on Saturday (away to St Mirren in the league).

“You saw with the players who came off the bench today that everyone needs to be on their toes to stay in the team.

“This is a really important part of the season and we know we can start making our way up the table again if we play like we were, rather than the way we played against Livingston.”

Expect changes to Callum Davidson’s starting line-up at East End Park.

Murray Davidson, who got a late run-out off the bench on Saturday, to return alongside Ali McCann in the centre of midfield is an obvious one.

And as well as Kane has played in the last two matches, scoring in both, the balance of the front-three would be enhanced by either Michael O’Halloran or Craig Conway if they are deemed fit to start.

There is also a selection dilemma at centre-back. As a trio, that was the poorest defensive display for some time and skipper Kerr was taken off well before the end. Will Shaun Rooney now come back in?

Shaun Rooney.

Whatever the team, McNamara is convinced that the drop-off will be a short-lived one.

“It was a good run we were on and there’s no reason that we can’t go another one now,” said the Republic of Ireland under-21 international.

“That’s the way we’ll be thinking.

“We’ve got a big cup game next. It’s a massive incentive to get to a semi-final and play at Hampden Park. That would be a great experience.

“Dunfermline will be decent and it’s a one-off game but if you can’t be up for a game like this you never will be.”

St Johnstone manager Callum Davidson.

Davidson added: “Most of the players know they didn’t perform and they have a chance to make a semi-final now. I’ve given my players a lot of praise in the last 11 games but they weren’t at it here and they knew that.

“If they can’t pick themselves up for that there’s a problem. I don’t have any issues. The squad I’ve got is excellent when it comes to that. Probably the best thing to do is to go and play another game.”

St Johnstone defender Danny McNamara ready to play his part at last in Betfred Cup run