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St Johnstone: As Murray Davidson put it, ‘There will be no one who wants it more than me’

Murray Davidson.
Murray Davidson.

“There will be no one who wants it more than me.”

It will not come as breaking news that footballers can be prone to the odd exaggeration or cliché.

On this occasion, though, we can take Murray Davidson at his word or even accuse him of understatement.

Whether in the context of this Sunday’s Scottish Cup semi-final or, hopefully a May 22 final after it, the St Johnstone midfielder will have the sort of drive and motivation that can only be born of bitter experience and memories.

Callum Davidson said all the right things to his crestfallen talisman after he pulled up in training ahead of the Betfred Cup final against Livingston – ‘We’ll just have to get to the Scottish Cup final’ being the gist of it.

Whether manager truly believed that Saints would be back at Hampden Park so soon when he tried to switch Davidson’s focus to challenges that may lie ahead only he will know.

The same applies to whether player truly believed the well-placed words had substance.

But, here he is, fit and back on a pitch as a last-four cup clash looms large. Daring to dream again.

Murray Davidson in action against Hibs.

Professional sport doesn’t do favours on the basis of sentiment but, yes, at the national stadium on Sunday afternoon in black and white colours or blue, there will indeed be no one who wants it more.

With Davidson, any conversation about looking ahead to the enormous opportunity that has opened up can’t begin without looking back at the one he was cruelly denied.

“In the week before cup final week I thought I was going to make it,” said the 33-year-old, whose comeback from a calf injury picked up in a match against Rangers at the start of February came to a brutal halt on the McDiarmid Park training ground.

“The game was probably two or three days too soon but because I was so close we had to go for it. It was the last minute of what I was doing in training on the Wednesday that I knew it wasn’t going to happen.

“I’ve been asked so many times about the Scottish Cup final (in 2014) I missed.

“That wasn’t too hard. Yes, it was sad to miss it but I’d been out for six months. Round by round I knew I wasn’t going to be part of it. I had myself mentally prepared that I wouldn’t be playing that final.

“But to play the semi-final against Hibs this season, beat them so convincingly and then be ruled out of the final not long after was very hard.

“You can’t understand what it is like for a player to miss a final until it’s happened to you.

“Watching the game is so difficult and it’s the same after it. You’re happy for so many people – the players, the manager, the chairman, the fans – but there’s a part of you that says: ‘I missed that’. It’s the human side to it all.

“It was really difficult and there were a few days I struggled.

“I switched my phone off and told my mum and dad and the rest of my family not to speak to me. They left me alone.

“But I got over it and, looking back, I know there are far more important things going on in the world than me missing a cup final.

“I was more disappointed for my family. They were buzzing to see me win the semi-final. My wee girl, all of my friends, they were all so happy because I was going to get the chance to play in a cup final.

“I’m being 100% truthful here – I was more disappointed for them than myself.

Murray Davidson missed the Betfred Cup final.

“If I get a chance to play in any game now I will give it everything I have got because games like that do make you hungrier.

“There will be no one who wants it more than me.

“I remember the manager saying to me that we’ll just need to make sure we get to the Scottish Cup final. Now we’re one game away from it.”

It was the latest in a long line of Saints matches settled by one goal in their favour.

By the time Davidson was introduced as a late substitute at Easter Road on Saturday, his team-mates had done the hard work to make it three wins in a row against Hibs this season and take them into fifth in the Premiership above Livingston on goal difference.

It was the latest in a long line of Saints matches settled by one goal in their favour. Five in their last 10 fixtures, to be precise.

Without wanting to water-down the quality of Glenn Middleton’s first touch and finish midway through the first half that proved to be the winner, yet again it was the manner in which the Perth side controlled the contest and their opposition that defined the afternoon.

We’re long past the stage of being surprised that multiple changes to a St Johnstone starting line-up (seven at the weekend) has little or no impact on the standard of performance but it still shouldn’t be taken for granted.

Knowing your role inside out, making sure you don’t leave space in dangerous areas and negating the other team’s game-plan and strengths comes down to the quality of the coaching and the receptiveness of the players to it.

The average position of the Saints players, highlighted by Opta, shines a light on a centrally-focused and compact structure that was as near to water-tight as you can hope for against the third best team in the country.

The game was played and won to their tune, not that of Hibs.

St Johnstone’s (right) compact strategy, highlighted by the Opta average positions of both teams.

Ryan Porteous’s pass that Middleton intercepted was of the sort that would keep a player up at night but the pressure Callum Davidson’s men exert can have a cumulative effect that results in defenders taking chances to get out that they normally wouldn’t.

It might not have been quite as spectacular as the thrashing of Motherwell at Fir Park but Saints are arriving at the Scottish Cup semi-final feeling just as good about their form and chances as they did for the League Cup final.

“No one has spoken about the (Scottish) final because we know that St Mirren are a good side,” said Murray Davidson.

“But the team is doing so well. The whole place has got a buzz about it.

Glenn Middleton scores.

“There’s nothing better for a player than to have a semi-final to look forward to. We’ve already seen this season how special they are if you win one.

“There are only four teams left in the competition, the Scottish Cup is up for grabs and we’re one of the four who has a chance of winning the trophy.

“We know it’s going to be a tough game on Sunday but we’ve shown already this season that if we play well we’re a match for anyone.

“I have been at the club for 12 years and in every season we have had good runs and a bad runs. People were saying at the start of the season we were this and we were that but there wasn’t much missing.

“It was just the fact we were on one of those runs. There is nothing worse than feeling like every mistake is punished.

“The boys have been brilliant but sometimes you do have to ride your luck.

“Look at the game at Ibrox – the one where Morelos hits the post could quite easily go in and then when you get to penalties it is a lottery. Zander popping up with a header, it was just one of those things and we are getting some of the wee breaks, albeit that the boys have been brilliant.

“We are defending well – the back three have been unbelievable since Christmas – and they have given us the platform to go and play at the other end. Confidence is a brilliant thing in football and long may it continue.”

The temptation for Davidson to push himself in Betfred Cup final week proved to be too hard to resist. Patience has been the guiding mantra this time, however.

“We’ve taken our time,” he said. “We didn’t want a set-back to happen again.

“I’ve been itching to get back but for once I’ve been pretty sensible and saying to myself at times: ‘Just relax a wee bit’.

“The technology monitors everything these days, which has been a big benefit.

“Myself and the sports scientist, Bod (Alex Headrick) have been looking at it every day and upping the sprints and distances. We’ve been checking my heart-rate percentages – everything basically. It’s been brilliant for me.

“Maybe as I get older I’m getting a wee bit more sensible! It was great to finally have something to look forward to waking up on a Saturday morning.”

Hibernian 0-1 St Johnstone: Saints move up to fifth as Perth momentum continues

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