Given there aren’t that many out-and-out central midfielders at St Johnstone, it has become remarkably difficult to predict which two are going to be on the pitch at the start of a game of football.
There are four of them – Murray Davidson, Liam Craig, Craig Bryson and Ali McCann – with the latter being the only one who offers the possibility of plugging a gap in a different position, as he did at wing-back against Dundee United earlier in the month.
For the last six games, the partnership in the middle has changed from match to match and there’s a strong chance that selection theme will continue at Rugby Park for today’s clash with Kilmarnock.
From Hamilton Accies onwars it’s been McCann/Craig, McCann/Davidson, Craig/Davidson, Bryson/McCann, McCann/Davidson and most recently Davidson/Bryson.
That the word “seamlessly” can be used with justification by one member of the quartet to describe the passing of the baton is in itself a compliment.
While midfielders have been mixed and matched, Saints haven’t lost a game.
And Craig Bryson believes that statistical story shines a light on a number of factors that are a credit to the individuals and those who coach them.
“It’s a bit of everything,” said the former Scotland international. “I think the manager trusts his players.
“We have good professionals here. Whether you are playing or not, you’re not going to spit the dummy. You are going to prepare properly for the game.
“He (Davidson) knows he can rely on his players. Everyone knows their job.
“The manager very rarely changes the system we are playing and there’s a lot of work done on the training ground to drill that into us.
“I think you can see that. When people come into the team, they fit in seamlessly.”
Defence is an area of his team where Davidson has opted for continuity and that too has paid off – with three clean-sheets on the bounce since Jason Kerr returned to the starting line-up.
“In the last few games we probably haven’t been at our absolute best but we have picked up results,” said Bryson.
“There have been plenty of times this season we have played better and come away with nothing.
“It is good that we can grind out results, like we did against St Mirren and Aberdeen.
“That’s always a mark of a side that has a good foundation to build on.
“Every team needs a good foundation to build from. Then you can work on everything else from there. Keeping clean-sheets always gives you that chance to go and win any game.
“We always believe we will get chances in games. If we are strong at the back and we take our chances at the other end then we know we will get all three points.”
That theory flowered gloriously at Hampden Park.
That theory flowered gloriously at Hampden Park in the 3-0 Betfred Cup semi-final defeat of Hibs. It was the perfect template for combining stubborn and disciplined defending with ruthlessness in the opposition’s penalty box at key moments of the contest.
“It shows we can compete and beat near enough every team in the league when we are on our game,” said Bryson. “We can dig in and battle when we aren’t playing too well, like we did in the first 25 minutes at Hampden.
“Hibs were probably the better team but we came back strong. As soon as we scored the first goal we didn’t think there would be any other winner.”
Striving to hit similar standards and striving to get into the team that faces Livingston in the Betfred final will be inter-linked individual and team goals between now and the end of February.
“The semi-final has got to give us confidence as a group,” said Bryson. “It can’t give us anything else.
“You don’t get to cup finals often in your career. So we need to use it as motivation.
“Hopefully everyone will lift their game because we are all fighting to get into the starting 11 for that game.
“It can’t have a negative affect going forward. The final coming up can only be a positive.
“I think it will be in the back of all the boys’ minds that we have a final coming up. Competition for places is good here at the best of times but it will probably ramp up a bit more in the next few weeks.
“Everyone wants to play in the big games, especially finals. The older you get the more you realise these occasions don’t come around too often in your career. Everyone will be trying to get into the gaffer’s thinking and the team for the Livingston game.”
The cup final effect is of course something to be harnessed but Bryson doesn’t need a league table put under his nose to be aware of the precarious nature of Saints’ Premiership position and the pressing need to tuck themselves into the middle of the pack.
“We don’t look too far forward,” said the 34-year-old. “We need to concentrate on Kilmarnock.
“We want to pick up points as soon as possible to get us fighting for a top six place and away from the bottom of the league.
“You see that a couple of wins will take you right up there.
“But on the flip side if you don’t pick up a couple of results it could be a long end to the season.”
Saints’ end of January fixture list has given Bryson back to back matches against former clubs.
“It doesn’t bother me,” he said. “But I had an excellent time at Kilmarnock.
“They were great to me in the early part of my career. I still look out for their results. I live in Kilmarnock so I am well aware what’s going on down there. I know a good few fans.
“I will always have a soft spot for the club but for me it is all about trying to get three points for St Johnstone.”
The value of Saints’ win against Hibs needs no underlining but taking a point off the third strongest side in the country a few days later shouldn’t be overlooked either.
“If you take into consideration the game last Saturday against Hibs and the highs of that match, the energy it took out the lads, it was always going to be tough against Aberdeen,” said Bryson.
“The boys everything out there at Hampden on that big pitch to get us to a final. Coming off the high of Hampden and getting a point was OK.
“It wasn’t a classic the other night and it won’t live long in the memory but to keep our mini run going was important. We have followed up the win at Hampden with a big point against Aberdeen on Wednesday. If we can get three against Kilmarnock then it will make it an excellent week.”