As was the case in Callum Davidson’s first year as a manager, St Johnstone have started their Premiership season by securing a point away from home.
Eric Nicolson assesses some of the talking points to emerge from the 0-0 draw against Ross County.
1 Paying the penalty
Four shoot-outs over the course of the Euro 2020 knockout rounds will have helped make minds up on what qualities make a proficient penalty-taker.
And if St Johnstone in July are anything to go by, the evidence that technical ability ranks pretty low on that list is pretty powerful.
Arguably their two players most skilled at sending a football to its intended target have made woeful recent attempts at doing just that from 12 yards out.
David Wotherspoon’s effort in a pre-season friendly against Preston North End didn’t matter but Ali McCann’s similarly uncharacteristic lean-back-and-sky-it strike was almost certainly the difference between one point and three.
By this stage in the game Saints had found their rhythm after a disjointed first half and were in total control. And it remained that way after the miss.
You could see the logic in McCann taking the penalty.
Neither Liam Craig nor Stevie May were on the pitch and the Northern Ireland international had established his credentials by finding the bottom left corner under intense pressure in last season’s epic Scottish Cup quarter-final denouement at Ibrox.
Perhaps the fact that his general game wasn’t at his usual incredibly high standards was a reason for the error. Maybe the fact that taking one in normal time was a new experience was too.
The irony of Saints winning shoot-outs on the way to both cup 2021 triumphs isn’t lost on fans who before last season were dreading their team being awarded a penalty, such was the regularity of misses.
🚨 St Johnstone knock out Rangers! 🚨
— Premier Sports 📺 (@PremierSportsTV) April 25, 2021
A return to those dark days need to be avoided. It can debilitate a team and deflate a stadium.
Next choice to step up to the gallows, sorry penalty spot, if Craig and May are on the bench again?
Head down, laces through the ball is my kind of technique.
And you certainly couldn’t question his confidence – Kerr was imperious on Saturday.
2 New season, new challenges
For all the off-field stuff that will hang over him as long as he’s involved in football, Malky Mackay is a studious coach who won’t be found wanting as Ross County manager when it comes to diligence, setting up his teams in a hard-to-breakdown formation and drilling their duties into them in the build-up to a match.
With this being the first league fixture of the season, his focus on St Johnstone will have been laser-like.
And it showed. Homework had been done.
Keith Watson spoke of the County players’ receptiveness to the new ways of working.
They kept Saints at distance in the first half, during which time their goalkeeper didn’t have a save of note to make and even when this became a one-sided contest after the break, they held their shape well.
You wouldn’t expect this type of game to become the norm for the Perth side away from home – most teams will show far greater forward ambition on their own pitch, with supporters back in the grounds.
But it will happen a lot at McDiarmid Park.
And formation-wise, more managers will choose to match-up against Saints, as Mackay did.
That’s the respect two trophy wins buys you.
Starving Shaun Rooney of the opportunity to arrive at the back post for one of his trademark headers will be a key strategy of opponents as well – something County did effectively, as the marauding wing-back’s Opta touchmap showing one contact with the ball in the County box nowhere near goalscoring territory confirms.
There is every chance Davidson will never have a more successful season as a head coach than his first but he will probably learn and develop more in his second when the emphasis will be on adaptation.
3 Strong finish
The control Saints were exerting by the end was heartening – for the season as a whole and Thursday night in Istanbul.
There was rust in the opening 45 minutes but the improvement after the interval was significant.
Callum Hendry and Michael O’Halloran played a part in that raising of standards, after toiling to get the team up the pitch for that first half, but bringing Chris Kane and Stevie May on accelerated the progress further.
Wotherspoon and McCann will find their creative groove in the near future, you can be sure of that.
Reece Devine is already looking like a capable replacement for Scott Tanser and may even turn into an upgrade.
Expect a lot more clean-sheets – and don’t rule out one in Turkey.
4 Fan factor
A word for the 300-plus group of Saints supporters behind one of the goals.
For that non-event of a first half the soundtrack was more captivating than the action.
They’ve got a season’s worth of celebrations to catch up on and are going to give that a real good go by the look and sound of things.
What a basic joy it is to see fans interacting with substitutes warming-up again – and opposition players (step forward Blair Spittal) reacting to a bit of goading as they trudge off the pitch.
McCann and his team-mates celebrating in front of them would have been the perfect – and fitting – reward, of course.
But those supporters showed that the connection between pitch and stand for Saints has never been stronger.