St Johnstone are virtually certain to be in the play-offs after Saturday’s 1-1 draw against Livingston.
Courier Sport picks out four talking points from a performance which drew praise from the opposition manager and reassured Callum Davidson.
Pressing from the front again
“I need to credit St Johnstone who pressed us well and limited our attempts to try and play.”
From David Martindale, whose team have built their reputation on defending from the front, that is a compliment indeed.
You could make a strong argument that it should be a given week on week but it certainly wasn’t against St Mirren seven days before.
And it was one of the biggest shortcomings that needed rectified immediately.
Stevie May wouldn’t have been everyone’s choice to replace Nadir Ciftci – and it was months since he last started – but he justified his selection.
He justified it within 20 seconds actually – forcing an error out of Ayo Obileye to start a move Callum Hendry came close to finishing off.
That intensity from May remained and Saints were all the better for it.
All told, he and Hendry looked a far better balanced partnership than the one broken up and it will be a surprise if Callum Davidson doesn’t stick with it against Aberdeen in midweek and then in the play-offs.
▶️St Johnstone look set to face a Scottish Premiership relegation play-off after drawing at Livingston👇 pic.twitter.com/UfbR8dMTjl
— Sky Sports Scotland (@ScotlandSky) May 7, 2022
Change for the better
All three starting changes improved the team.
May for Ciftci was the most obvious one but Cammy MacPherson covered the ground more effectively than Ali Crawford and tried to link midfield and attack when the opportunity arose.
When Saints were passing the ball well on the artificial surface, MacPherson was at the heart of it.
At right centre-back, Dan Cleary was on the front foot far more than in his last appearance at Dens Park when he was taken off at half-time.
The two substitutions were made at the right time.
James Brown for Callum Booth was an obvious one because the latter was struggling with an injury.
And Middleton replaced May at a point of the game when Saints had seen off a spell of post-interval pressure.
More important than the timing was that both substitutes helped change the game, and until the 90th minute, defined it.
The advantage of having a right-footer at left-back was seen with Brown’s superb inswinging cross to the back post and Middleton’s headed goal was reward for picking up the pace of the match straight away.
Strength from the bench should be an advantage over a Championship side the McDiarmid Park team can look to exploit.
One more game for Callum Hendry (and hopefully one more goal)
Davidson will go with his strongest team against Aberdeen.
Even if Dundee have failed to win on Tuesday night, he’ll want to see the performance level continue to rise.
A case could be made for resting Hendry at Easter Road if the Dark Blues’ relegation is confirmed, though.
Yes, Saints want momentum going into the play-offs but he remains far and away the best hope of scoring the goals that will be needed to see off Arbroath or Inverness Caley Thistle.
One against the Dons before he signs off would ideal.
6️⃣ goals in 9️⃣ games!
— Fantasy Football Scotland 🏴 (@FantasyScotland) March 24, 2022
There’s certainly no need for panic that he hasn’t scored in his last four matches but, aside from Middleton’s goal, he did have the visitors’ best two opportunities at the weekend.
Hendry will be the best centre-forward on the pitch in the play-offs if Saints are in them.
Having him brimming with confidence will be near the top of Davidson’s wishlist.