As St Johnstone head into their last game of the first quarter of the league season against Hearts on Wednesday night, Courier Sport picks out three talking points from Saturday’s 2-0 defeat to Celtic.
Persist with this back three
St Johnstone are a good enough team at their best, or close to that best, to not write-off any game in the Premiership.
But when you’re away from home, facing a Celtic team starting to look like the real deal, you take hope rather than expectation into the contest.
Put it this way – there are more realistically winnable games to come in the immediate future.
In that context, this was the perfect match to reintroduce Liam Gordon after two months out and to give the back three of Jamie McCart, Efe Ambrose and Gordon their first chance to strike up a relationship.
Callum Davidson has far more options in central defensive positions this season compared to last, but he will want to find a settled core all the same.
And the experienced Parkhead trio are the likeliest to give him it.
Giorgos Giakoumakis scored his first Celtic goal to inspire Ange Postecoglou's side to a 2-0 victory over St Johnstone, which sees them move to within a point of top spot in the Scottish Premiership.
Highlights 👇 pic.twitter.com/EAUtgMmeIl
— Sky Sports Scotland (@ScotlandSky) October 23, 2021
Naturally, Gordon was finding his way back to match sharpness on the job and Ambrose set the chain of events in motion for Celtic’s second goal.
But as a defensive unit, there were encouraging signs.
To see the Hoops struggling to find holes through the middle (or out wide for that matter) for long spells on Saturday shouldn’t be overlooked.
Davidson has faith in his young centre-backs, Hayden Muller and Lars Dendoncker, but the weekend combination is the one that should be given the chance to bed-in for winter.
Kane can’t do it alone
The double against Dundee was a nice bonus but all St Johnstone supporters know by now that Chris Kane’s primary function in Davidson’s team isn’t scoring lots of goals.
It’s helping get the side up the pitch with his link-up play and capacity to draw fouls.
In that regard, Saturday was as tough a shift as he’s likely to endure all season.
All too often the balls up to him were hit from too far back and/or weren’t of the required accuracy.
Kane’s team-mates also struggled to get close enough to their number nine to give Saints a proper counter-attacking threat.
He needed more assistance.
In fact, you could broaden it out to the season as a whole and say – he needs more assistance.
Michael O’Halloran, absent at Celtic Park, has certainly contributed, both as a forward and a wing-back.
And Stevie May’s league goals have been priceless.
Also, if and when Eetu Vertainen becomes a starter, the Finnish under-21 international will add another dimension.
But Kane, and the team as a whole, could do with Glenn Middleton and David Wotherspoon scoring a few goals as well.
Wotherspoon’s last for Saints was 11 months ago, while Middleton hasn’t found the target in the Premiership this term either.
International breaks haven’t helped the pair build momentum – Davidson has admitted as much.
The Perth boss has also observed that in this stop-start early stage of the season, the two of them have hit form just as another interruption in the domestic campaign has approached.
There are three games to go before the next one.
Davidson will be hoping that is the case again.
Life in the old dog yet
Five months between competitive matches is a significant gap for any footballer.
But whenever a player of 34, approaching 35, is sidelined for the best part of half-a-year, the worry that he may not be the same performer on return is a genuine one.
It’s a cliché but the ‘legs are gone’ dread is real. And it afflicts the best of them.
Thankfully, that isn’t yet the case with Craig Bryson.
The former Derby County and Scotland midfielder showed no signs of lacking the mobility and energy to see out another season at Scottish Premiership level.
Renowned as a consummate pro who looks after his body, he got around a big Parkhead pitch for the full 90 minutes in the same manner as he did to such good effect last term.
Craig Bryson trying to push Saints out but not being supported in doing so. Can't just be one player showing that bravery if Saints are to get out and fight their way back into this contest. Middleton losing possession too easily when we do get ball.
— St Johnstone 1884 (@stjohnstone1884) October 23, 2021
The football brain is still as sharp and in games when Saints see more of the ball, Bryson will be an even more important asset.
He’s probably missed too much of the season to match last year’s 30 appearances and Davidson will continue to manage his game-time time expertly (don’t expect to see him in the starting line-up against Hearts, for example).
But if he stays clear of serious injury, I wouldn’t be surprised if Bryson gets close to that total again.