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4 St Johnstone talking points: Clinical Perth side profit from Craig Levein prediction as key players suggest route to Premiership safety

Saints' disciplined away-from-home display was rewarded with a potentially priceless win at Easter Road.

(L to R) Craig Levein, Dimitar Mitov, Dan Phillips and Adama Sidibeh, who all played key roles for St Johnstone against Hibs.
(L to R) Craig Levein, Dimitar Mitov, Dan Phillips and Adama Sidibeh, who all played key roles for St Johnstone against Hibs.

St Johnstone earned what could be their most precious three points of the season with a gutsy, disciplined display at Hibs.

It was a win that arrived in defiance of statistics.

But defiance is exactly what Saints need to secure their Premiership status at the business end of a third consecutive season battling the drop.

Saturday’s showing should give fans hope that this squad; poked, prodded and recruited into functionality by Craig Levein – and now four points clear of 11th placed Ross County – can become the latest to get the job done.

Courier Sport has picked out four talking points from Saturday’s superb victory at Easter Road.

Manager’s crystal ball

St Johnstone unveil Craig Levein as their new manager.
Craig Levein’s pre-match assessment of Hibs’ approach was spot-on. Image: SNS.

That Hibs were set up to attack was no shock.

It has been the Easter Road side’s calling card under manager Nick Montgomery – and a quintet of attacking players were tasked with overrunning St Johnstone’s defence on Saturday.

Levein knew it was coming and expressed it to Courier Sport during Friday’s pre-match press conference.

But he also highlighted the opportunities likely to be coughed up by an opposition so fixated on getting forward.

So it proved, with both Nicky Clark and Adama Sidibeh – again deployed together up front – enjoying chances on the break in the first half.

Neither managed to capitalise.

But the second 45 had barely got going when Sidibeh latched onto a perfect Matt Smith through-ball, outpaced his marker and finished ferociously past Hibs keeper David Marshall one-on-one.

Adamah Sidibeh has been a talking point two weekends in a row for St Johnstone. Image: SNS

It was exactly as Levein had predicted.

After Hibs’ quickfire equaliser, protecting the point they then possessed became Saints’ primary concern.

Tony Gallacher’s winner was, like Sidibeh’s opener, opportunistic, but in a different way, coming from a corner cheaply gifted and poorly defended by the home side.

In general, the game panned out exactly as Levein suggested, with a forward-thinking, casually-defending Hibs leaving gaps for Saints to exploit.

That they managed to do in such a clinical manner is worthy of celebration.

Goalkeeper’s redemption

St Johnstone fans love Dimitar Mitov – and with good reason.

His mistake last week against Dundee could justifiably be classed as a howler.

But it’s arguably his only one of the season.

And without his top-class shot-stopping and confident command of his six-yard box, Saints would be far worse off than they currently are.

Craig Levein and Dimitar Mitov at full-time.
Craig Levein and Dimitar Mitov. Image: SNS.

That isn’t lost on anybody who has been paying attention.

The manager refused to criticise him in the aftermath of last weekend’s loss to Dundee, then backed him to bounce back against Hibs.

That’s exactly what he did.

He made a number of solid saves in Saturday’s encounter, but two in particular from Hibs strikers Adam Le Fondre and Myziane Maolida were frankly ridiculous.

Without Mitov, St Johnstone would not have won the game.

It’s as simple as that.

Midfielder’s value

St Johnstone midfielder, Dan Phillips.
St Johnstone midfielder Dan Phillips. Image: SNS.

Craig Levein felt Dan Phillips was a yard off his snapping, snarling best against Dundee.

Perhaps it was down to the extra week on the training ground after a few long flights on international duty for Trinidad and Tobago, but he was fully present at Easter Road.

Just ask Hibs’ midfield.

Phillips, when he is at it, is a monstrous presence. But he’s not all brawn. He’s got brains to match.

Add to the mix the calmness on the ball and deftness of touch he possesses when in full flight and it becomes obvious why the soon-to-be out-of-contract star is a wanted man.

Courier Sport understands he was watched at Easter Road by representatives of Bristol Rovers – and they are not his only summer suitors.

Saints will miss him when he’s gone.

Striking options

Sidibeh celebrates with St Johnstone fans after his goal against Hibs. Image: SNS

Adama Sidibeh’s second goal in as many weekends is evidence of a striker full of confidence.

His effort against Dundee was stunning; an overhead kick that few would have tried and even fewer could have finished.

In the sense that he had so much time to think about it while one-on-one with David Marshall, Saturday’s strike was just as impressive.

The Gambian hit man gave the Hibs keeper no chance with a powerfully struck, yet perfectly placed shot.

Nicky Clark was a predictably shrewd partner, dropping deeper, dragging defenders with him, leaving space for Sidibeh in behind.

Benji Kimpioka also showed his worth when introduced with 10 minutes to go. He looks increasingly strong on the ball and increasingly capable of bringing team-mates into the game.

His pace and finishing prowess are not in question.

With Sidibeh, Clark and Kimpioka fit and ready to contribute (plus Stevie May warming the bench), making the most of each is becoming something of a headache for Craig Levein.

But it’s one he’ll be delighted to have.