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ERIC NICOLSON: Zander Clark is St Johnstone’s greatest keeper of the modern era and should be Scotland’s successor to Craig Gordon

Zander Clark was outstanding for St Johnstone at Dundee United.
Zander Clark was outstanding for St Johnstone at Dundee United.

You take Zander Clark for granted these days.

That’s what happens when the last iffy-ish performance was seven months and 24 appearances ago – against Dundee in the Scottish Cup when he conceded a penalty.

Even then, though, the man saved the spot-kick and kept a clean sheet.

The consistency has been as impressive as the individual saves. More so, probably.

So it takes something pretty special for Clark to raise the bar.

But that’s exactly what happened at Tannadice.

Benjamin Siegrist – another class act and probably the best in the Premiership last season – knew this was an extraordinary performance.

Goalkeepers always seek each other out at full-time.

It’s one of football’s enduring traditions.

But the distance Siegrist travelled to speak to Clark, and the length of time the two men spent in conversation after the customary hug, told you that the succession of saves from the keeper with the nil and the victory to his name went well beyond the norm.

Think peak Andy Goram against Celtic.

The double stop to deny Peter Pawlett and Nicky Clark was probably the stand-out moment in the 1-0 defeat of Dundee United but his six superb saves could be ranked in any order you choose and you’d get no argument from me.

In St Johnstone terms, none would dislodge Alan Main’s against Dundee in 1999 to secure the club a Uefa Cup place, as the best single save of the modern era.

Main’s is likely to always be the save, enshrined by its significance as much as the agility of the act itself.

But as an overall goalkeeping display that led to a crucial Saints victory, Saturday’s has to go to the very top.

It was that good.

The greatest keeper debate

You have to take Sandy McLaren out of the conversation because the game was so different in the 1920s and 30s. It’s an unfair compare and contrast.

The only meaningful debate about Saints’ finest number one is in regards to the McDairmid Park years.

And it has been Main v Mannus.

One was ranked 18th in the recent ‘Great Saints’ book and the other 17th.

What has happened in 2020 makes that a three-way battle.

Some will still need to see more and will require Clark to sign a new contract and continue this stunning form for another couple of seasons.

For me, the quality of his work, and the significance of the achievements that work has led to, is already enough to elevate him above the Northern Irishman he succeeded and the man whose Saints’ history was written over two spells.

The first half-hour against Hibs in the Betfred Cup semi-final that kept his team on level terms under onslaught when it felt as if he was the only Saints player who was in the zone from the first whistle.

The understated but crucial calmness and dominance of his box against Livingston in a final of few chances.

Dens Park and the Charlie Adam head-to-head.

That Ibrox equaliser assist and the penalty heroics.

The point-blank reaction save to deny Lee Erwin in the Scottish Cup semi-final.

Galatasaray away.

LASK away.

Dens Park again, this time in the League Cup.

And now Tannadice.

The most recent of those highlights has come after Clark was cruelly and inexplicably left out of Scotland’s last batch of matches for keepers who haven’t got close to his level over the last 12 months – or played in matches carrying semi-final, final and big European tie pressure.

It will have hurt when the last squad was announced without him in it and it will hurt again if there isn’t a recall for the final set of World Cup qualifiers.

Injuries and age could catch-up with Craig Gordon at any time.

International football is chiefly about the here and now but Steve Clarke shouldn’t be keeping Clark on the fringes, wondering whether the national manager rates him.

Clarke should be preparing him to be the next Scotland goalkeeper.

Zander Clark: St Johnstone hero against Dundee United has given perfect response to Scotland disappointment, says Callum Davidson

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