It was worth a try.
Scoring direct from a free-kick has been a task unfulfilled for St Johnstone this season, or the season before that, so a quick game of ‘rock, paper, scissors’ between Cammy MacPherson and Graham Carey wasn’t going to do any harm.
You’ll always find there’s no shortage on social media of folk ready to take great offence, of course.
But given the fact the position where MacPherson had been brought down outside the box after a dart from midfield favoured a right and left footer equally, this was nothing more than an amusing little side-story caught by the Sky Sports cameras then kicked about Twitter.
👀 Here's another look at the moment Cammy MacPherson & Graham Carey took to rock, paper, scissors to decide who would take a free-kick ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/pVTrOCdInm
— Sky Sports Scotland (@ScotlandSky) February 5, 2023
When Callum Davidson gets his players back on the training ground later this week after a few days’ rest, a bigger priority will be working on his team actually scoring from a dead-ball opportunity rather than the decision-making process preceding who crosses or shoots.
With the help of StatsBomb, Courier Sport takes a deeper look at Saints’ set-piece woes.
Two goals from a corner this season
The first was a classic of the ‘straight from the training ground’ genre.
Under the late summer sun at Tynecastle, Ali Crawford picked out Stevie May at the near post and his flick-on was finished off by Andy Considine at the back post.
10 out of 10 for planning, delivery and movement.
And the second example was even more straightforward in its execution – Melker Hallberg cross, Ryan Porteous out-muscled, Nicky Clark header, goal.
And just one from a free-kick
This goal against Celtic at McDiarmid has to go into the ‘late in the game defensive panic’ category.
Again, it was Ali Crawford with the initial ball into the box – floating an injury-time free-kick into the danger area, where two defenders failed to get a head to it and Alex Mitchell scored past Joe Hart with his left foot.
Like the Considine equaliser against Hearts, though, it ended up counting for nought as Celtic would score a winner a minute later.
— St. Johnstone FC (@StJohnstone) October 10, 2022
Propping up the set-piece goal table
Other than the two goals mentioned above, it’s been a barren wasteland for Callum Davidson’s men as far as set-plays are concerned.
They are bottom of the Premiership for set-piece goals per game with a not-so-grand average total of 0.16.
That is nearly half the league average of 0.32.
Unsurprisingly, that sees Saints prop up the table in terms of set-piece expected goals (xG) as well.
At least they have one team below them for goals from corners – Dundee United.
For direct free-kicks, they join Hearts, Livingston and Ross County in not yet scoring from one.
Not a new thing
Unfortunately scoring from set-pieces has been an issue for some time.
In 2021/22 they finished last with a 0.08 per game average.
There were just two goals from corners (Liam Gordon against Hearts and Shaun Rooney’s crucial second half header in front of the away end at Dens Park).
And there were no free-kick goals.
In fact, you have to go back almost exactly two calendar years for the last time one of those found the net in the Premiership – Scott Tanser in a 2-1 away win over Livingston on February 6, 2021.
The man signed to change it
Davidson made no secret of the fact part of the attraction of recruiting Graham Carey was the goal threat he carries outside the penalty box and the quality of his set-piece delivery.
A look at Carey’s YouTube career highlights shows you why.
The exquisite finish to embarrass Craig Gordon at Tynecastle suggested the Irishman would live up to his billing but that afternoon was the season’s peak so far.
There have been 21 shots from distance since then (and three inside the 18-yard area) but no more goals apart from two penalty kicks.
Carey has had four shots at goal from free-kicks, with the nearest thing to a goal being one that clipped the woodwork in Dingwall.
Maybe if he had chosen scissors instead of rock, he would have ended the two-year run of no free-kick goals for St Johnstone and set-up an exciting climax to Sunday’s game.
But seeing him play better than he has in months has the potential to be of far greater significance for the rest of Saints’ season.
The former Plymouth Argyle and CSKA Sofia playmaker remains their biggest set-piece danger.
Hopefully, rediscovered confidence will soon be reflected in an in-swinging corner being dropped on a team-mate’s head by that wand of a left boot or the postage stamp being found from a free-kick.