A Hampden Park fan factor will be something new for St Johnstone’s double-cup winning lockdown legends against Celtic.
But manager Callum Davidson wants his players to maintain the empty stands focus that helped them win four out of four times at the national stadium last season.
“We all really enjoyed having the fans back for the big European games,” said Davidson.
“But my message might be – try and shut the crowd out and play like we did in the last few games at Hampden when there was nobody there.
— St. Johnstone FC (@StJohnstone) November 18, 2021
“Play the match like you see it and have the confidence that you know you can do it.
“As a player, you don’t actually hear it during games as much.
“I remember I used to try to block everything out, stay fully focused on the game and not worry about what the crowd were doing.
“It’s not just about enjoying the occasion. The players need to focus on what our job is, rather than enjoying the surrounding and the fans being there.
“That’s it for me. We’re there to win. Whether you enjoy the crowd or the occasion, I don’t really care.
“I want to get to the final.”
Covid-19 issues made for some sleepless nights and short training sessions ahead of Saints’ last two trips to Hampden.
Mercifully, Davidson’s anxiety levels have been reduced this time around.
“I don’t know if I get more stressed for the cup games because they’re a one-off,” he said.
“If you have players missing, there’s no second chance.
“I’m probably more on edge when the (Covid test) results come through three times a week than I would be before a league game.
“I am a bit more relaxed than for the last two games at Hampden but I would like to have a couple more of my attacking boys fit.”
Confidence and courage
Old hands like Craig Conway, Liam Craig, Murray Davidson and Craig Bryson played important roles from the semi-finals onwards last season.
But that doesn’t mean Davidson will favour experience over youth.
“I don’t really think that way,” he said. “I just pick the best starting XI available to me.
“This year already I’ve had teenagers playing against Galatasaray, had young players involved in a lot of big games.
“It’s about who is playing best, who is on form. That’s the team I pick, rather than going on experience or age.”
Here is Craig Conway rounding off the perfect afternoon 🎯#SJFC
— St. Johnstone FC (@StJohnstone) November 17, 2021
He added: “There should be a feel good factor walking into the dressing room, when you can remember some of the good times and use it as a positive.
“Obviously we have played there before and played well on the pitch, so we are not going into an unknown.
“We are very comfortable there and we need to make sure we use that as a positive and make sure we have that belief, confidence and courage to do the right things.”