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3 St Johnstone talking points: A timely play-off warning, Callum Davidson’s 2 Inverness selection dilemmas and a summer of goalkeeper change

Will Cammy MacPherson start in Inverness?
Will Cammy MacPherson start in Inverness?

It’s all over for St Johnstone in the 2021/22 Premiership campaign but their most important matches are still to come.

The Perth side’s top-flight status will be determined by their success or failure in a two-leg play-off against Inverness Caledonian Thistle, the first half of which takes place in the Highlands on Friday night.

Courier Sport picks out three talking points from the weekend as the build-up begins for the all or nothing double-header.

A penalty box reminder

With only four – maybe five – likely starters in Inverness picked by Callum Davidson for Sunday’s game at Easter Road, not too much time should be wasted by dwelling on the collective performance.

The Perth boss prioritised fitness of key men. And rightly so.

That doesn’t mean the nature of the Hibs goals should be completely glossed over, however.

There was certainly a familiarity to them.

Not reacting to a loose ball in the box was at the root of the opening goal from a Joe Newell corner and then for all three of James Scott’s second half finishes, a Saints defender should have been tighter to the hat-trick man.

Dan Cleary, Shaun Rooney and Jamie McCart each had a lapse in concentration that proved costly – well, as costly as goals conceded in a dead rubber get.

Billy McKay is a ‘fox in the box’ operator and Logan Chalmers will hang around the 18-yard line in the hope of getting a shot away when corners are half-cleared.

The potential of being punished is real.

The general defensive picture has been an encouraging one for Saints over the last couple of moments and the Hibs goals could be a timely reminder that an aggressive penalty box mindset will be critical to their Premiership survival hopes.

Two selection decisions

Nine players appear certain starters for the first leg.

Liam Gordon will be flanked by Cleary and McCart in the back-three, with Rooney and James Brown at wing-back.

Callum Booth has a chance on the left side but the way Brown played against Aberdeen makes it a fitness gamble Davidson doesn’t need to take.

Murray Davidson and Melker Hallberg are automatic choices in midfield and the same applies to Callum Hendry up front.

Who will complete the central three and partner Hendry?

Ali Crawford’s last good game was a while ago now so for midfield it’s between Jacob Butterfield and Cammy MacPherson in my eyes.

The former did well against Aberdeen and the latter at Livingston.

The fact MacPherson got the full game on Sunday to top up his match fitness, added to his greater mobility, makes me more inclined to think the former St Mirren man will start the first leg.

And I’ll apply the same theory to Glenn Middleton.

Stevie May shone at Livingston but after his substitution, Middleton has scored, assisted and been a crucial asset in taking on defenders and getting Saints up the pitch.

The Inverness backline, with soon to be 38-year-old Kirk Broadfoot at the heart of it, does not appear well equipped to deal with a peak Middleton.

His pace could be the game-defining ingredient.

Back-up goalkeeper

Nobody is expecting Zander Clark to be a Saints player next season, whatever league they are in.

The in-demand keeper will leave McDiarmid Park a club legend and will probably clean-up with player of the year awards on his way out.

The Perth side are going to need a new number one.

That won’t be Elliott Parish.

Whether the Englishman stays as back-up is less cut and dried.

Sunday wasn’t his best day’s work but he helped Saints get a point at Pittodrie and three against Hearts.

Aberdeen's Christian Ramirez was denied by Elliott Parish in injury time.
Aberdeen’s Christian Ramirez was denied by Elliott Parish in injury time in Aberdeen.

The Clark-Mannus era was an exception to the rule for goalkeepers at a Premiership club of St Johnstone’s size.

It’s extremely unlikely they will have two number ones of that quality ever again.

There are high hopes for Ross Sinclair but Davidson may decide his development is best served on loan in the Championship, as was the case with Clark at Queen of the South a few years ago.

It could be two new keepers Saints are in the market for this summer.

Callum Davidson: ‘It’s all about Friday’, says St Johnstone boss who gives optimistic injury update

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