LIAM Craig wants to leave St Johnstone a going-away present of a place in Europe before he joins Hibernian in the summer.
The 26-year-old midfielder signed a pre-contract agreement with the Easter Road side in January, but his continuing commitment to the Perth club was exemplified by his celebrations following his injury-time leveller against Dundee United at McDiarmid Park on Monday night. The goal secured Steve Lomas’s side a top-six finish in the Clydesdale Bank Premier League for the second successive season.
With a game against Inverness on Friday to go before the split, St Johnstone are in fifth place on 45 points, behind Ross County only on goal difference and Craig is looking to push Saints back among the European places again, following last year’s sojourn when they lost to Turkish side Eskisehirspor in the second qualifier. “I’d love to leave here in the summer with the team in Europe again,” said the former Falkirk player. “That’s what I’m aiming for.
“People might wonder if I still care about the club because I’ve signed elsewhere, but I think the way I celebrated the goal shows what it means to me.
“I’ve loved my time here. It will be hard to walk away. St Johnstone have been a massive step in my career.
“This is a well-run club, we get looked after well and it’s a great place to play your football.
“Now is the right time for me to move on, but this club means a lot to me and I want to bow out on a high.
“Finishing in the top six two years in a row is a big achievement, no doubt about that.
“But with the squad we’ve got we would have been disappointed if we didn’t make it in there.
“We got a taste of Europe last season and that’s where we want to be again. We’re striving for that now.”
Craig admits there was an element of relief as well as pride about his goal given that he had been at fault when United opened the scoring through 17-year-old Ryan Gauld midway through the first half.
“I felt I owed it to the boys,” he said.
“I gave the ball away on the half-way line and that caused their goal.
“The goal is up there in terms of importance. I missed a penalty against United in our first year back (in the SPL) and that cost us a place in the top six.
“I wouldn’t say this was total payback but it’s nice. I didn’t have a great game, but I was proud of the way we showed character.
“Going to Inverness on Friday needing a win wouldn’t have been easy, so we were hoping to avoid that.
“But it’s done now, we’re in the top six and we’re looking to kick on now.
“We want to push ourselves further up the league.”