Never has a player who has seen just 61 minutes of action in a club’s run to a cup final, and done precious little in that hour-and-a-bit, been more deserving of a starting place in the big game.
For Guy Melamed, underwhelming Betfred Cup statistics are an insignificant sidebar to an inspirational footballing story that could reach a glorious peak at Hampden Park on Sunday.
When Callum Davidson gave his deadline day signing from Israel a debut in Peterhead in mid-November, St Johnstone’s last group game, it was a case of the time has come to find out what the striker has got in a competitive match after building up his post-quarantine fitness on the training ground.
Between that uneventful run-out and Melamed’s first Premiership start against Hibs at Easter Road which lasted an identical amount of time, there was little evidence to suggest Davidson had signed a centre-forward who would was a McDiarmid Park asset in the making.
There were subsequent substitute cameos but when it came to an end of year clash with Hamilton that saw Saints create opportunity after opportunity without scoring, while Melamed was kept on the bench, the chances of player and club agreeing to cut their losses when the January window opened appeared greater than regular first team football.
As the struggles in front of goal for Davidson’s side threatened to drag them into a perilous league position there was an elephant in the room and it was spraying water all over the wallpaper. If not now for Melamed, then when?
The Saints boss admitted there were “trust” issues at play as far as his overall contribution to the team was concerned, with Chris Kane setting a high bar that his fellow striker needed to match.
Only Davidson will know whether starting Melamed at Tannadice was to help him decide whether to keep him or move him on.
It mattered not. The player seized the moment, scored his first goal and linked up very well with Kane.
Assisting his new strike-partner for the winner against St Mirren the following Saturday would have raised hopes of being selected for the cup semi-final against Hibs but back came Craig Conway at his expense.
The character tests that began with a fortnight isolated in a hotel room in a foreign land and continued without any family around him off the pitch and precious little game-time on it were still being thrown at him, even after what looked like being his decisive breakthrough.
Between the semi and the final, rather than fading into the background again, Melamed has raised his standards higher, scoring at Kilmarnock and grabbing a double against Motherwell at the weekend.
From misfit who appeared a transfer gamble unlikely to pay off to main man who was lashing a long-range shot into the far corner with his wrong foot and stepping up to take a penalty kick which would put the result beyond doubt, the transformation was complete.
In short, he could have done no more to stake his claim to a face Livingston on Sunday. This is undoubtedly a player his manager can now trust when the stakes are at their highest.
Not starting Melamed would be a gamble. Starting would be a logical decision.
For the 28-year-old there is a reluctance to reflect on anything that would border on self-pity. In fact, there is a reluctance to waste any time at all picking over the bones of five months in Scotland that would have toyed with his emotions.
There is a cup final to play in, score in and win.
Now I feel very involved in the team.
“I don’t think there was one reason why it was a tough start at St Johnstone,” he said. “Maybe there were a lot of small reasons.
“But it belongs to the past and now I’m only thinking about the present.
“As a professional you always want to play and to be more involved but, like I said, that is history. I’ve got no complaints about the gaffer or anyone else. Better players than me have sat on the bench before.
“I haven’t been involved in too many of the cup games and I didn’t play in the semi-final.
“But now I feel very involved in the team. I have a better understanding with my team-mates on the pitch and off the pitch. That is showing in the way I’m playing.
“Now I want to score in the cup final and help my team win.”
Equally relevant are the numbers in relation to the lower profile work.
Melamed’s all-round Opta statistics stand up to any relevant comparison you care to make now.
His four shots against Motherwell, two on target, which produced two goals are the most eye-catching, of course.
But, perhaps equally relevant are the numbers in relation to the lower profile work managers drill down into.
A total of 26 touches and 13 passes and an 84.6% passing accuracy confirms Melamed’s team-player status. Kane, renowned for his industrious contribution between the boxes, was 26, 11 and 54.5% at Fir Park.
And Scott Robinson, the Premiership player of the month for January who is Livingston’s focal point, finished at 28, 16 and 56.3% when Livingston and Saints played recently.
What those figures don’t tell you is that there isn’t another Perth forward, or possibly a Livingston forward, who would attempt and score an audacious goal like the one Melamed found the net with against Motherwell. That could be a precious advantage in a tight margins final.
A header against United, a predator’s finish at Kilmarnock, a penalty on Saturday and an outside of the box wonder goal – the variety is as impressive as the tally.
“I have scored some goals with my weaker foot but never in the top corner like that,” said Melamed.
“I practice a lot to improve my shooting with my left foot and I’m happy that the training has paid off and I can do it in a game.”
This was Saints’ most complete performance of the season in league or cup. Motherwell were meek opponents but the control the visitors enjoyed, married with goals at exactly the right times for a pleasant change, was of a standard that few in the Premiership could match.
Three times they struck the crossbar (twice in the passage of play that culminated in Jason’s Kerr’s goal on the stroke of half-time) and there were several near-misses. Motherwell’s defenders were constantly dragged out of position by slick pass and move football in the first half and then suffocated when they would have been hoping to produce a comeback in the second.
It was very impressive, with players such as Melamed, Liam Craig and Callum Booth all now serious contenders to start on Sunday. The team has never had a better balance than it does just now.
“It was a very good match for us,” said Melamed. “We scored early and we kept pushing and got two more goals, which made the game easy for us.
“We’re happy to get three more points in the league and now we can focus on the cup final.
“During the week there was no talk at all of the final – only about the game against Motherwell.
“This is how life is in football. You can never look past your next match. We proved that we had the right focus.
“Now we’re going into the final with great momentum.
“We know we are playing very well but we will not be over confident. We’ll listen to the gaffer’s game plan and we will believe in ourselves.”
Melamed’s previous cup final experience with Maccabi Netanya will benefit him and motivate him at the weekend.
“It was an amazing day and an amazing atmosphere,” he said. “I think there were around 40,000 people watching.
“It will be a lot different in an empty stadium but we will take it just as seriously and then hopefully we can win and celebrate with the fans at the end of the season or whenever lockdown ends.
“I scored in the final but we lost on penalties.
“I had the best feeling of my life in this game and then a short time later I had the worst feeling of my life. It was a very emotional game.
“The best goal of my career was in a cup final and hopefully I can get another one but with a different result.
“Having played in a final before will definitely help me. I like to feel the pressure. If you have pressure on you it means you are in a good place.
“We want to make all our fans celebrate and make history for the club. I’ll be a happy man if we can do that.”
Melamed has been denied the adulation and appreciation of Saints supporters on a match-day but the new “everybody wants to be that Guy” banner that has been made in his honour, and being recognised under his face-mask on the few occasions he can venture out of his home, has had the desired effect.
“It’s a great banner!” he said. “I was laughing a lot when I saw it for the first time.
“I haven’t played in front of our fans yet but I can feel their support when I meet people in the street and they see me or from the taxi drivers.
“I would love to feel the real atmosphere of matches in Scotland because I know there is a lot of passion for football here.
“There’s nothing we can do about it in Covid times and we just have to try to make the supporters happy watching in their houses.”