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St Johnstone manager Callum Davidson: ‘I had to question myself a wee bit’

Callum Davidson.
Callum Davidson.

Self-analysis for Callum Davidson has been an important part of the St Johnstone success story.

The Perth side have been transformed from a team that was earning praise for their football between the two 18-yard areas without securing the results to reflect their dominance into a far more clinical outfit that has risen up the Premiership table and lifted the Betfred Cup.

Davidson identified the semi-final triumph against Hibs as the flick of a switch match for his young squad.

And he also admitted there was some introspection as far as his own work was concerned in the middle of a first season as a head coach that was throwing up problems needing to be solved.

“I had to question myself a wee bit,” said Davidson. “I wasn’t sure if what I was doing was right when we lost three or four games 1-0. Some of them were in very unfortunate circumstances.

“I just looked at stats, performances, watched the games again and just believed in what I and the players were doing was right.

“Little things turned for us. For me the thing I have noticed most is in both boxes.

“We are defending the box better and we are attacking the opposition box better. It is something that we have done and we have managed to get the results we need.”

Craig Conway scored the Saints equaliser against Ross County.

Saints face Ross County on Saturday. Their last game against John Hughes’ men was a small step on the road that we now know has taken them to Hampden glory, recovering from a poor start to earn a draw as they were battling to get out of a long, winless run.

But a much bigger step was three weeks away.

“We’d played Hamilton just before the Ross County game and had something like 30 shots on goal without scoring,” Davidson recalled.

“But it hadn’t turned for us.

“The fighting spirit was there, though, which we showed when we came back from a goal behind in Dingwall.

“I don’t look back on that game as the biggest turning point as far as getting results was concerned. That came against Hibs in the semi-final.

“It wasn’t a case of: ‘Can we do it?’ after that. We actually knew that we could do it against very good teams then. The belief was real. The players realised they could get results in any game, which was huge for us.”

Saints are currently third in the table for the number of shots they have had this season, behind only Rangers and Celtic.

“That’s a huge statistic,” said Davidson. “And we’re near the top for the fewest number of shots on our goal as well.

“Put those stats together and it is proof that what we were doing was right.

“We try to play at a high tempo in a style that people will enjoy. With a bit of quality and composure in front of goal we’ve got results.”

One more good result is needed to give Saints a chance of finishing in the top six. No manager feels comfortable when another side has control, though – in this case St Mirren, who will claim the last spot if they beat Hamilton Accies.

“It is a little bit out of our own hands,” said Davidson. “If you had said to me three or four months ago: ‘You are going to be challenging for the top six and you will have won the league cup’ I would probably have thought you were pulling my leg.

“I had the belief in the players to get better and we have shown that.

“We showed great character, as it is always tough playing football at the bottom of the league under pressure.

“I think the lads have produced the goods lately especially in the last couple of months so we have given ourselves a fighting chance.”

After Saints’ last game – a 1-0 victory against Hibs – opposition defender Paul McGinn was none too complimentary about the McDiarmid Park playing surface.

“I wouldn’t actually comment on other people’s pitches because they are always doing their best with the weather,” said Davidson.

“It is one of those things where you have to adapt to whatever pitch you play on, whether good or bad.

“I think you just have to get on with it. I don’t think you can blame other things for your results, so for me it is 11 players playing on the same pitch.

“We don’t train on our pitch. We train round the back of the East Stand. We only play there the same amount of times as other teams. We just get on with it.”

Cammy Ballantyne in action for Montrose.

Meanwhile, now that League One and League Two clubs have been given the green light to resume their seasons, Davidson plans to get more emerging players out on loan.

“We’re actively trying to get our young ones out,” he said. “A few of them are on trial.

“Olly Hamilton and Cammy Ballantyne will go back to the clubs they were at before and hopefully get plenty of games.”

St Johnstone boss Callum Davidson challenges players to force their way into the Scotland squad