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3 St Johnstone talking points as Saints make another slow start in 1-0 defeat to Dundee United and Fair City Unity mount ticket protest

Dan Phillips in action. Image: SNS.
Dan Phillips in action. Image: SNS.

St Johnstone have fallen out of the top six in the Premiership after losing their third game in a row.

Perth old boy, Tony Watt came back to haunt Saints with an 81st winner.

The home side had chances before and after to take at least a point, with a couple of goal-line clearances denying them in injury time.

But it wasn’t the start to 2023 they had been hoping for, with fans also letting their feelings be known about the recent Scottish Cup ticket controversy.

Courier Sport picks out three talking points from the clash of Tayside’s two top-flight clubs.

Where was the fast start?

It might have been a different calendar year but it was only actually five days ago that the talk from the Saints camp was of learning lessons from where they went wrong against Hearts and making sure they were fast starters next time out.

Many of the same early-in-the-contest flaws were on show again.

The midfield three was different (Dan Phillips and Jamie Murphy replaced Ali Crawford and Melker Hallberg) but the Perth trio weren’t able to get the team up the pitch to any great effect.

Lack of energy and passing accuracy were issues once more.

If United had Hearts’ cutting edge, Saints would have found themselves behind at the break again.

The hosts were markedly better after the re-start.

Stevie May came close to scoring three minutes into the second half, James Brown passed up a glorious chance to score with a back post header from a Drey Wright cross on 75 minutes and there were two goal-line clearances in injury time.

A draw would have been a fair result.

But that’s now every game of the four since the World Cup break that Saints have lost the first goal in.

Slow starts are definitely playing a big part in that.

Fan protest

No football club gets everything right – even one widely regarded as the best run in Scottish football for decades.

Allocating three stands to Rangers for this month’s Scottish Cup tie wouldn’t have gone down well with a lot of supporters but it would have been palatable to plenty.

St Johnstone made that big leap three years ago and underpinned it with financial logic and balancing “increased spend” on player recruitment.

Terrace opinion was divided but the volume of Twitter ‘likes’ and comments back in January, 2020 told you that financial logic had penetrated.

With Covid-19 having been endured and a cost of living crisis biting deep, it’s the pricing structure of £30 and £20 concessions for fans being shunted into the Main Stand that was Saints’ big fury-provoking decision on this occasion.

Well, that and the late Friday afternoon timing of the announcement.

So what do Saints do from here?

They’ll probably be boxed into the pricing structure by an agreement with Rangers, who aren’t getting the slightest bit of flak coming their way so won’t see any need to back-track.

A fuller explanation, an acknowledgement of a misjudgement and a voucher to bring a friend to a league home game for those who buy a ticket for the cup tie would seem like a reasonable conclusion to an end of year episode that could have been avoided.

The protest banners can be seen during the minute’s silence for Pele. Image: SNS.

The ‘Twenty’s Plenty’ banner was back out in the Fair City Unity corner of the East Stand and the group of young supporters who have made the ground so much more vibrant in recent seasons saved their voices for the second half.

Fan-club unity helped keep St Johnstone in the Premiership in 2022.

Diluting, or fracturing, it in 2023 is the last thing Callum Davidson and his squad need.

Over their shoulder

There’s no doubt that momentum has been lost.

Losing to Celtic was pretty much a given and there’s no shame in being beaten by third-placed Hearts either.

But this defeat will sting.

Tony Watt fires home the winner. Image: SNS

Saints are only producing good football in patches at the moment.

The gap to the bottom is still eight point but it’s five to the play-off place.

One of the key differences between last season and this has been not letting a bad run get any worse than three defeats in a row.

Preventing that happening at Pittodrie is now the priority.