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ANALYSIS: Guy Melamed brings a touch of Dennis Bergkamp to St Johnstone and the best could be yet to come

Guy Melamed and Dennis Bergkamp.
Guy Melamed and Dennis Bergkamp.

Little wonder that Dennis Bergkamp was the first player who came to mind when there was time to digest what Guy Melamed had just done under the lights at Hamilton.

Nobody perfected the control of a football dropping out of the sky quite like the Dutchman. As Cruyff had his turn, Ronaldo his step-over(s) and, a bit more parochially, Leigh Jenkinson his double shuffle, this piece of sporting art was Bergkamp’s signature one.

Like the best fielders in cricket could probably catch an egg on the boundary rope without breaking it, so too could he on the laces of his boot in a penalty box.

Deep into the night at Leicester City’s Filbert Street with an Arsenal shirt on his back and a summer’s afternoon at the Stade Velodrome in Marseille for Argentina in the ’98 World Cup are the two highest profile moments but there were plenty of others.

And it was that Bergkamp-esque vision, touch and spatial awareness that brought about a late St Johnstone equaliser on Wednesday.

Liam Gordon deserves a mention for spotting Melamed’s run and finding him with an assist from the half-way line that definitely falls into ‘long pass’ rather than the ‘long ball’ category.

But from there, it was all about one man. The ambition to try a first-touch control and then second-touch finish with the same foot was individualistic magnificence. Even the great Bergkamp would usually need one or two more dabs at the ball in between.

There are very few centre-forwards in Scotland who would have the courage and speed of thought to even try it (at a stage in the game when scoring a goal really mattered, don’t forget) let alone have the skill and composure to turn that speed of thought into deed.

And moreover, it didn’t feel at all out of place in an increasingly impressive canon of work that Melamed is putting together now that he has come through those early months of adaptation to Scottish football and St Johnstone.

It’s less than a fortnight ago that I wrote the Israeli was the only man on the Fir Park pitch who would have tried and executed his weaker foot 25-yard goal to give his team the lead over Motherwell.

And, back in Lanarkshire, the same certainly applies to his 88th minute equaliser against Accies.

Those of us in the ground but nearer the other end needed to see it again on social media when we got home to make our minds up on which one of the two was better. The man himself knew there and then.

“Honestly, I like this one the most,” said Melamed.

“I’m happy to show that I can score all kinds of goals – outside the box, inside the box, with the left or the right and with the head.”

Again, as was noted post-Motherwell, the variety of his goals is quite something, though the raw numbers are making a pretty powerful statement as well (five in six starts).

It should also be pointed out that not only has Melamed scored the best Saints goal I’ve seen this season (maybe the best two), he’s also giving Gordon a run for his money with the best assist – for Chris Kane in a crucial 1-0 victory over St Mirren.

He could have had a perfect – right, left, header – hat-trick in midweek.

Melamed forced three excellent saves out of Ryan Fulton – from a couple of low left foot shots in the first half and a diving header early in the second.

Therein lies his real worth to Saints and why he is able to elevate the team in games against sides like Hamilton, Motherwell and Kilmarnock when they dominate the ball.

He makes a goalkeeper work like nobody else does in Callum Davidson’s squad.

The number of shots a striker has in a game isn’t meaningless but it doesn’t carry anything like the weight of the number of shots on target.

When Melamed came into the side at Tannadice not long after the turn of the year his Opta stats were seven shots and four of them on target. Against Motherwell it was four and two, Killie three and two and on Wednesday, six and four.

Guy Melamed’s shooting statistics against Dundee United. Graphic – Opta.
Guy Melamed’s shooting statistics against Hamilton. Graphic – Opta.

He never dips below 50%.

The evidence is there that Melamed’s contribution between the boxes is improving as well.

He was involved in more duels than any other Saints player at Hamilton, 25; drew the most fouls; and had more touches than one of the two starting central midfielders, Craig Bryson.

The wider contribution made by Guy Melamed at Hamilton. Graphic – Opta.

Notably, this was also the first occasion Davidson has left him on the pitch from start to finish.

The team has staying power – and so now does Melamed.

“I think that we played well and created a lot of chances,” he said.

“We showed that we could make a comeback against Kilmarnock away when we went from 2-0 down to win 3-2 and we have done it again for a draw, even later in the game.

“We have character.

“At the end we have to be happy with the point because it was a late goal but if you look at the whole game we are disappointed.

“We felt good and we felt that we controlled the game. Hamilton shoot once and score once but this is football.

“We wanted to give ourselves a bigger chance to get into the top six. We’ll keep fighting to do that.

“We know we need to beat Hibs on Saturday. It is all-in for us. We go for the win. We beat them in the semi-final so we will have confidence in ourselves.”

Talking of character, Melamed has had to showcase that with regularity since arriving in Scotland. To the period of isolation, the absence of friends and family to share time with and the faith from his manager that took months to be established you can now add the disappointment of being benched for a cup final after scoring a double the week before.

I respect the coach and I respected his decision.

“Obviously there were mixed emotions,” he said. “Every player wants to play – especially when it is a final.

“But I respect the coach and I respected his decision to put me on the bench.

“There were no hard feelings and I went out against Hamilton to give everything I could to help my team.

“Of course, I had different feelings but that’s part of football and I accept it. The main thing was we won the cup.”

He added: “I had a tough beginning – playing in a different style than I am used to. I am happy that I am scoring goals now and providing assists.

“I’m bringing what I know I am capable of and I hope the team can get more benefits from this through to the end of the season.”

Securing the two home victories that will make St Mirren earn their top six place is the short-term goal and after that, following up their Betfred Cup success with a Scottish Cup run will be on the agenda.

It will be powerful motivation for the likes of Melamed, Scott Tanser and Craig Bryson who were all unused substitutes at Hampden and, of course, Murray Davidson who will hopefully return from injury soon.

“It was even harder for him,” said Melamed. “He was so unlucky because I heard that he missed the last cup final as well.

“Maybe he will play in the final of the Scottish Cup. I hope so for him.

“I only heard the news about the Scottish Cup starting again just now. It is good news. We will have a tough match against Dundee.

“When we played in the quarter-final against a team in the second division (Dunfermline) in the Betfred Cup we struggled and they gave us a tough game so we know to respect every team.

“Hopefully we play our best football go to the next round.”

The chances of there being better yet to come this season for Saints as a team are remote.

Better yet for Melamed is to be expected, though. An end of season double figure goals tally is certainly not beyond his reach.

McDiarmid Park minds will surely already have turned to putting a new contract before him as he will be a free agent at the end of the campaign.

If these are the standards he can hit with all he has had to contend with in his first year at the club, the prospect of what Melamed could achieve with a pre-season under his belt and a bit of domestic normality is a truly exciting one.

A to Z of St Johnstone cup glory featuring absent friends, international options, a surprise star and a youngster tipped to shine