St Johnstone’s road to Europe goes through Dundee

St Johnstone's Dave Mackay. Picture: SNS
St Johnstone's Dave Mackay. Picture: SNS
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St Johnstone’s bid to make this season a historic one may depend on stopping a recent trend when they host bogey team Dundee United tomorrow evening.

The Perth club are in the hunt for European football and should they achieve it they will have qualified for competition on the continent in successive seasons, the first time they will have done so in their history.

In order to close the gap on the teams currently occupying the European spots, Motherwell and Inverness, they will have to overcome their Tayside rivals.

The visitors have not lost to their A90 neighbours since a League Cup win in October 2009, going 12 games unbeaten in the meantime.

Despite that dreadful run, former St Johnstone and Dundee United winger Allan Preston views the home side as favourites for this clash. Steve Lomas’ team currently hold the second-best home record in the league and Preston fancies them to utilise that advantage to better Jackie McNamara’s United side in what should prove to be an intriguing encounter.

“It’ll be an interesting game,” said Preston, pictured above. “McNamara’s philosophy is like the kind of man he is, he’ll be looking for his team to go for it.

“I expect goals from this game. United are very dangerous going forward. Johnny Russell is out but they’ll have Gary Mackay Steven coming back from the Scotland set-up, which will give him a lift and of course Jon Daly is capable of scoring goals at any ground.

“St Johnstone will try to keep it tight. I do expect them to concede, but I think they’ll nick one more than United. I think being at home will just give them that edge.

“They are capable of scoring through a number of players. They’ve got Gregory Tade and Nigel Hasselbaink, Steven MacLean has been going well recently and then there’s Rowan Vine, who scored a cracking double at Easter Road not too long ago.”

Another threat to get on the score-sheet will be Murray Davidson. The midfielder recently ended the season-long speculation regarding his future by confirming his plans to move away from McDiarmid Park in the summer, joining Liam Craig in heading for the end-of-season exit door.

Losing two high-profile players will be a tough situation for Saints and they will be difficult to replace, but Preston feels that the re-signing of another player with an expiring contract deserved more recognition.

“Murray Davidson is a fantastic player who will go on to better things, which will be a huge loss to St Johnstone,” admitted Preston.

“But, for me, it was huge that they re-signed a player like Dave Mackay [pictured at bottom of page], someone who plays every game and gives it his all.

“There is no doubt he’d be in my starting XI, he’s a real unsung hero, probably appreciated more by his team-mates than the fans, but there is no doubt he is a big player for St Johnstone.

“[Former St Johnstone boss] Derek McInnes may not have had much time in management, but for someone of his quality to call Dave Mackay his best signing in football says everything you need to know.”

Preston’s confidence that his former employers will continue to prosper comes from witnessing the ascendancy the club has enjoyed since hiring Owen Coyle as manager in 2005.

Since then, St Johnstone have been forced into changing their manager twice, but it has had no apprent negative impact on the fortunes of the team, with Lomas coming in last season to guide the team towards Europe before embarking on another assault this campaign.

“Steve Lomas has done a wonderful job,” said Preston. “Usually a manager will come into a side that has been struggling and be expected to turn things around. That’s what makes the St Johnstone case an unusual situation. The team has done well, so the managers have done well and gone on to bigger challenges. Then the next manager comes in and right away he’s got a good squad with which to work.

“The team train as they play and if he can guide them to European football once again then it would be a hell of an achievement.

“St Johnstone staying in the SPL is an achievement in itself. To finish in the top six and possibly qualify for Europe for a club of their size would be outstanding.

“They do not spend much money to bring in players, but what they do is pay big bonuses. That’s how it should be: you want to reward players but to get their reward they have to be winning games, it’s no use rewarding players sitting in the stands.”