St Johnstone bid to seal top-six berth

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ST JOHNSTONE need just a point from tonight’s Tayside derby to book their top-six place, but midfielder Liam Craig insists his side will be going all out for a victory as they bid to finish the season with a flourish.

Consecutive top-six finishes would represent an excellent achievement for Steve Lomas’s fifth-place side. But Craig is not content with that alone. St Johnstone set up a Europa League clash with Eskisehirspor last year by finishing fifth but they ended the season in unspectacular fashion and Craig wants to leave the club on a high before he joins Hibernian. “You wouldn’t have expected the top six to be there with two games to go before the split,” he said. “But this year has been tight and we’re delighted to put ourselves in a position to make the top six again, especially after the start we made.

“We always knew we had the quality in the team and over the season so far, it has proved right. But when you look back to last season, we didn’t win any of the last seven games, which by our standards isn’t good enough. There are seven games left now and we don’t want to stumble into the top six – we want to get there with two wins and give ourselves a chance of climbing the table. We want to make sure we go in there positive and make a better account of ourselves.”

Victory in the televised clash would move St Johnstone into fourth, three points adrift of a guaranteed European spot. “After we got a wee taste of it last year, we are determined to get back there,” Craig said. “For a lot of the boys it was their first experience. It was a great trip to Turkey, albeit the result wasn’t what we wanted. It was something we wanted to build on this year and we have put ourselves in a position to do it again, so it is up to us to finish it off.”

United manager Jackie McNamara, meanwhile, admits he doesn’t mind how his side get the three points in Perth, just as long as they get them. The Tannadice side – a point outside the top six with two games to play – are facing crunch time as tonight’s clash is followed by the visit of fellow top-six-chasers Aberdeen this weekend.

McNamara said: “We always try to play good football, but when it gets down to this stage of the season it can be more about the result than the performance at the end of the day. I know the players can dig deep to win even if they’re not at their best. That’s a side of their game they’ve shown since I came in so they may have to do that again.”

United’s last game was a 1-1 draw with Dundee before the international break. McNamara reckons his side have benefited from a free weekend and are raring to go again. He added: “The lads are buzzing to get going again. The players have come back fresh and are really looking forward to this match with St Johnstone. It’s a big one and we’re under no illusions about that.”

United’s inspirational winger, Gary Mackay-Steven, is battling to shrug off a hamstring injury, while John Rankin is suspended and Johnny Russell is still missing with a knee injury.