Moving beyond Steven Anderson to the very top of the all-time St Johnstone appearance list has switched from possible to probable for Liam Craig.
With only 16 games separating the pair of Perth legends, if the St Johnstone midfielder gets a new one-year deal in the summer, which is surely now a given, it will be a case of night following day.
Catching his old Perth team-mate for this prestigious piece of club history shouldn’t be at the forefront of Craig’s mind, however. He should be more concerned that he’s turning into him.
After scoring from long range in a game that needed to be won to set-up a last match Premiership pre-split shoot-out for a place in the top six, the 34-year-old didn’t want to dwell on the quality of the 60th goal of his Saints career.
“I’ll be honest, I was more pleased with a tackle I made on Nisbet in the second half than I was with my goal,” said Saturday’s match-winner.
Straight out of the ‘it’s all about clean-sheets’ Anderson playbook, it was a line his old captain would surely have been proud of.
Joking aside, you could see why.
There weren’t many slip-ups from Saints’ young back three but when Liam Gordon got caught in possession and Kevin Nisbet was about to break free into a one v one with Zander Clark, the sliding challenge from Craig was essential and the timing had to be immaculate. The alternative was a straight red and all the consequences that would have followed.
It was an intervention that summed up his and his team’s last big effort to round off the week of all weeks.
Running on fumes, they were all relying upon ingrained positional instinct drilled into them on the training ground as well as collective resolve that their defensive line wouldn’t be breached.
The celebrations in the away end penalty box at McDiarmid when a last shot had to be blocked before the final whistle was blown were the chalk to the cheese that was the end-of-game desolation in the very same place against the very same opponents, where they had succumbed to an injury-time penalty in August.
Craig was sent off in that early season encounter when frustration (at referee John Beaton) uncharacteristically got the better of him. Now, assessing the Saints transformation that has peaked so spectacularly in the last week, there is only pride.
“At the start of the season we would have lost that game,” said the former Falkirk and Hibs man. “That shows how we’ve come on.
“We’re a young squad and when you have a lot of young players you are going to learn and improve with more games.
“We’ve shown that since the turn of the year, in particular. Motherwell hardly had a touch in our box. Hibs are third for a reason, they’re a good team. When they bring big (Christian) Doidge on and go more direct, it is difficult.
“But I don’t think Zander had a save to make of any note. We had a couple of blocks and he’s come for crosses and punched. They threw everything at us but, like in the cup final, we took everything and stood up to it.”
Craig, whose 22-yarder on 16 minutes was the end product of a move he started and involved two other ex-Hibs players, David Wotherspoon and Callum Booth, added: After the cup final last week and then Hamilton in midweek, it was some effort from everybody to get the win against Hibs.
“We hardly got out of our own half in the second half – but we showed we could do the other side of the game.
“We were winning headers, throwing our bodies in, winning tackles.
“Young Ali (McCann) next to me usually does all the running, to be fair, but I looked at him – he missed the game midweek with a knock – and saw him willing to get stuck in.
“The back three threw themselves in front of everything whenever the ball came near them.
“It just felt like an old-fashioned St Johnstone performance, if you like. I’ve been involved in a few of them.
“And it’s a huge three points. It keeps our top-six hopes alive, even if it is out of our hands.
“If we beat Ross County, to get to 40 points and miss out on the top six ,that would not be a bad return.
“I’ve had worse weeks, absolutely!”
Not only did Craig start all three of Saints’ matches last week, he was still on the pitch at the end of them as well. The same goes for the Motherwell game before that.
This is not a footballer being dropped in and out. He has made himself a first pick at the most important stage of the season.
Callum Davidson’s squad management from day one of this campaign deserves a nod of approval in that context and so too does Craig Bryson’s cook book, Craig has revealed.
“I didn’t know if I had three games in six days in me, to be honest,” he said. “But the manager has rotated loads this season.
“I’ll also need to mention Craig Bryson because he is big on nutrition and looking after yourself.
“Since he’s come to the club, he’s been brilliant. He’s sent me new recipes every other day. I didn’t think anyone would be able to change my diet after all these years.
“But he’s been brilliant, on and off the park, for that reason – and it shows how he’s been able to compete at a top level for so long.
“Me and big Shaun (Rooney) have to both give a lot of credit to Craig because he’s sending us different recipes, pasta sauces and the like, every week.
“I think it has really made a difference, definitely. I feel better. Even at the end of a game like that, you are tired – but I didn’t feel I had nothing left.
“He gave me this spicy sausage recipe the other night. Vegan sausages as well! I didn’t think he’d ever get me turned on to vegan food but he has.
“Honestly, it’s incredible. You’ll need to speak to him about it.
“I just send my missus to the shop for the ingredients. And I think I’ve had the same pasta dish for the last five weeks.
“I can tell you now, I’ll be having it before the Ross County game as well!’
Craig isn’t giving much thought to over-taking Anderson’s total of 441 appearances (he’s now on 425) but he’s happy to put on record his desire to secure the contract that will give him the chance to have a shot at it.
“The aim is to get another year,” he said.
“It will take a lot to top that feeling of last Sunday but I do still think I’ve got a lot to offer – when I’m on the pitch and in the changing room with the younger ones.
“I’ve had plenty of shots recently – I hit the bar twice against Motherwell and I had a got with a few at Hamilton the other night so I’m glad I can contribute with goals as well.
“Ando phoned me on Monday. Chris Millar was another. Dave Mackay and Frazer Wright as well. The list goes on and on. We’ve always had character at this club and it was the sort of character that got us through today.”
Davidson needed an all-round midfielder’s performance from his vice-captain at the weekend. And that he got.
Craig was first or joint first for Saints in no fewer than 10 key Opta match categories, the most pertinent ones (apart from the goal, of course) being his 69 touches compared to a next best of 51, the highest number of interceptions (four), highest number of occasions when possession was gained (nine) and the 23 ‘good passes and crosses’ he was calculated to have made.
With the greatest of respect to Delia Bryson, what this Saints team is currently getting the benefit of is a central midfielder who has the football know-how and craft you can’t accumulate by short-cuts.
Vegan sausages aren’t getting a share of this glory.