Craig Levein was upbeat despite St Johnstone’s midweek defeat to Hearts.
Courier Sport explores the reasons behind that positive post-loss mindset, finds another example of VAR-induced inconsistency and looks forward to the opportunity that is before the Saints manager and his team at Dens Park on Sunday.
Pragmatism remains key
St Johnstone are a hard team to cut open these days.
Those words should neither be taken for granted nor should their importance be underestimated.
Making sure Saints became a competitive team, week in and week out, was arguably the most important task facing Levein when he took over from Steven MacLean in November.
And he has achieved it.
Whether it’s a back three or a back four, Levein has identified (and in some cases, improved) the players who can take on board his and Andy Kirk’s positional direction.
There will be frustration that they ended up losing to Hearts on the back of a long, looping ball down the middle that by-passed the midfield.
And he’s operating at the peak of his powers, showing a subtlety of number nine play that nobody else in the country can match.
Pragmatism is and was Saints’ route to Premiership safety.
If it continues that teams as good as Hearts need individual, attacking brilliance to beat them then there’s every reason to believe Levein’s side will keep the bottom two sides at arm’s length.
There were wobbles against Airdrie and Motherwell but it now feels as if Saints have restored their backline reliability in their last two fixtures.
We’re well into February and the only games they have lost – under MacLean, Alex Cleland and Levein – were against the top three in country.
Continue along that road and Saints are staying up.
Then the pragmatism/adventure balance can be altered when the squad rebuild takes place in the summer.
The decision not to award Saints a second half penalty wasn’t nearly as infuriating as the decision to chalk off Graham Carey’s goal against Aberdeen at the same end of McDiarmid Park a couple of weeks earlier.
Probably not as infuriating as the Dons’ spot-kick in that match either.
And if we’re talking football common sense I don’t think Alex Cochrane’s block of Adama Sidibeh’s shot was worthy of a penalty.
But when has common sense been a thing in Scottish football, particularly in the VAR era.
If you’re penalising Lee Ashcroft on the Saturday afternoon you have to penalise Cochrane on the Wednesday night.
Officiating consistency remains as futile a hope as ever.
It’s not often you get a one-game Premiership weekend card.
The ifs, buts and maybes surrounding other fixtures can be taken out of the equation.
Saints have a simple goal – beat Dundee and they leap four places from 10th in the table to sixth.
Not only would such a move significantly alter perceptions about the Dark Blues’ direction of travel, you could multiply the ‘season-changing’ factor in relation to the visitors.
And it’s not just the league position and the points’ gap to the drop-zone that would matter.
It’s the ‘feel’ a Dens Park win would create.
Beating Ross County (twice), St Mirren and Hibs is one thing.
Levein making a long post-win walk down the pitch to the Bob Shankly stand has instant status-elevating potential.