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ST JOHNSTONE: The four post-split success stories that should inspire a European push from Callum Davidson’s men

The St Johnstone players celebrate a Chris Kane goal that took them into Europe in 2015.
The St Johnstone players celebrate a Chris Kane goal that took them into Europe in 2015.

St Johnstone have European football in their sights again.

Since their return to the top flight in 2009, the Perth club have secured a place in the Europa League qualifiers on five occasions.

In 2013-14, the historic Scottish Cup triumph got them there but the other four have been achieved through the league.

To put in perspective the challenge that now lies in store for Callum Davidson’s men to overhaul the four-point advantage Livingston have in fifth spot, Eric Nicolson looks back on the post-split mini-campaigns that have borne European fruit.

2011-12 – final position sixth

Under Steve Lomas, Saints went into the top-six phase in good form.

They only lost one of eight games before the league was divided in two, the last of the result before the split being a draw with Inverness Caledonian Thistle.

There was even talk of targeting third and qualifying for the Champions League.

It was a pretty stunning, and unexpected, form collapse that followed, though.

Saints lost all five of their top-six matches, which included a couple of thrashings (5-1 against Motherwell and 4-0 against Rangers).

The main reason was probably Fran Sandaza, who had scored 18 goals and been their talisman, getting sent off against Dundee United and picking up a three-game suspension.

Fran Sandaza and Jamie Adams are kept apart.

Captain Dave Mackay had to step-in after the Spaniard lashed out at Sean Dillon and then pushed his own team-mate, Jamie Adams.

If this is what Mackay was willing to say to the media after the match, oh to have been a fly on the wall in the Saints dressing room that day.

“He made a mistake and should just have got off the park. I don’t know why he was hanging about because he was just going to get himself into even more trouble.

He didn’t even apologise to the boys……which is out of order.

“I have never seen him do anything like that before. He is a bit of a sulky character round about the place but it was just a moment of stupidity.

“He didn’t even apologise to the boys in the changing room either which is out of order.

“He was in the changing room and a couple of the guys had a go at him but he is one of these guys when things aren’t going for him that he wants to play the victim and thinks everybody is always against him.

“The frustrating thing is that he has probably been our best player all season. But to do something stupid like that and put himself out of the biggest games of our season is no use to us.”

A night in a police cell for drunkenly driving the wrong way up a one-way street a few days later wasn’t the Perth PR bounce-back Sandaza would have been looking for.

However, for all that Saints were a team unravelling, Hearts winning the Scottish Cup and Rangers’ liquidation and demotion meant the McDiarmid Park side were back in Europe for the first time since 1999.

Five-game losing streak? Who cares.

2012-13 – final position third

Now this was more like it.

Knocked out of the Europa League by Eskisehirspor of Turkey in the second qualifying round (their first tie), Saints’ early league form didn’t point to such a magnificent season.

But six games were won on the bounce in the autumn and they were never defeated in back-to-back matches for the remainder of the campaign.

Of all the seasons which should serve as inspiration for the current Saints team, it is this one.

They were fourth at the split, five points behind Inverness. By the end, they were two points above their Highland rivals.

Only three sides got into Europe via the league that year, so the importance of jumping a place was as relevant then as it is now.

The only game of the five Saints lost was at Celtic Park.

Beating Motherwell on the last day, with Liam Craig scoring on his final appearance before going to Hibs, was the crowning victory of three.

The A to Z of Tommy Wright at St Johnstone

2014-15 – final position fourth

The points situation was a bit more complicated this time because Dundee United, Saints’ main rivals for the fourth and final Europa League spot, played their last game of the regular campaign the day after Tommy Wright’s men had played their first of the post-split section.

In reality, United held a one-point advantage.

The Tangerines subsequently picked up two wins and a draw, which Saints bettered by going unbeaten and claiming nine points.

United beat Dundee convincingly on the last day but it was of no consequence in the bigger picture as Chris Kane was the Saints hero at Pittodrie, with his 70th minute goal as a substitute securing the 1-0 victory that saw Wright get the better of Jackie McNamara by a solitary point.

The celebrations had to be put on hold, mind you, because it wasn’t until Inverness (who were third in the Premiership, eight points above Saints) beat Falkirk in the Scottish Cup final that another European adventure was confirmed.

Tommy Wright salutes the Saints fans at Pittodrie.

2016-17 – final position fourth

It’s ironic that it was in 2015-16 that Saints put together their best-ever post-split form, winning four and drawing the other match. Yet still they were nine points short of third-placed Hearts and the last spot in Europe.

The gap between the two sides the following season was even bigger – but in Saints’ favour this time.

Like Livingston just now, Wright’s men had a four-point cushion when the split came.

By the time Saints and Hearts played in the penultimate match of the season (which the Perth men won 1-0) the European issue had been settled.

Chris Kane scored the winner against Hearts.

The gap in the end was 12 points, with the Jam Tarts only managing to pick up one draw in the run-in.

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