The last time Michael O’Halloran started a match for St Johnstone against Rangers, managerial faith in him hit rock bottom.
Introduced as a 76th minute substitute as Saints were playing a game of damage limitation with the scoreline 3-0 in favour of Steven Gerrard’s men last December, the attacker picked up his second yellow card and was ordered off the pitch just seven minutes later.
You can’t put it more succinctly and bluntly than that.
Slowly and surely that trust was earned.
O’Halloran played a key role in Saints’ Scottish Cup quarter-final triumph at Ibrox and his end-of-campaign contributions to the double-winning cause convinced Davidson he was worth retaining on a new contract.
He will likely never again reach the heights of 2014-15 and the first half of 2015-16 but that’s not a reasonable expectation.
What can be said with authority is that if you combine the end of last season with the beginning of this, there is an argument that he is currently consistently playing his best football since those personal glory days when he was often unplayable.
The raw attributes have never been in doubt but – typified by that red card and the one he picked up against Dundee United a few months earlier – the in-game decision-making has.
Put aside the bouts of indiscipline that a player of his experience shouldn’t be afflicted by, all too often O’Halloran would get caught offside, charge down blind alleys and struggle to produce the sort of cross a centre-forward or midfielder breaking into the box would expect.
The body of work he has put together of late, though, points to him now marrying pace and directness with the intelligence you would hope to see in a 30-year-old who has been operating at the top level for the best part of a decade.
The maturity of his runs and the precision of his link-up work were a key part of Saints’ draws away to Galatasaray and LASK.
And even before he opened the scoring on Saturday you could sense O’Halloran was ready to make his mark if the opportunity arose in this contest.
Feeding off first half scraps, drawing a rash decision and foul out of Jon McLaughlin was evidence that he was dialled-in.
And a 30-yard run down the left that earned his side a corner at the start of the second period was another example of smart forward play.
Converting the sole goal-scoring chance he got in a game like this, however, elevated what was already an accomplished performance for the team into a stellar one.
🗣️ "He sticks it away against his former club"
Michael O'Halloran fires @StJohnstone ahead against Rangers!
📺 Watch now live on Sky Sports Football pic.twitter.com/LhGtEP77SG
— Sky Sports Scotland (@ScotlandSky) September 11, 2021
Davidson would have hoped to capitalise on Rangers’ habit of defending with their two centre-backs split widely (as shown by this Opta graphic of their average positions).
And it had already become apparent in the first 45 that manager and player had identified Filip Helander as the opponent O’Halloran would be best suited to hang on the shoulder of – and that the Swede was uncomfortable with this one v one.
The timing of the run, the calmness of the footwork and the delay in the finish were flawless.
It was the work of a confident forward, with a comprehensive grasp of his duties.
There was a big compliment for O’Halloran when he was selected by Davidson ahead of David Wotherspoon for the return leg against LASK last month, labelled the most important in St Johnstone’s history.
You can pay him another by saying that Glenn Middleton’s absence didn’t hamper the team’s counter-attack threat at the weekend.
O’Halloran’s form will be one of the main reasons Davidson isn’t as concerned about his offensive options as some feel he should be.
By proving himself a worthy partner for Middleton and now Chris Kane in the early weeks of this season, he has become a key player for his manager.
It’s been a career bounce-back O’Halloran should be proud of and a game against Rangers was a fitting fixture for it to reach its peak.