Manager Callum Davidson made seven changes to his Saints starting XI from the team that stunned Rangers in the Scottish Cup, clearly keeping one eye on next weekend’s semi-final against St Mirren, but you would not have noticed.
Elliot Parish, James Brown, Callum Booth, Craig Bryson, Michael O’Halloran, Chris Kane and Glen Middleton all came into the team and did their chances of playing at Hampden no harm at all as the Perth side defeated Hibs 1-0, nicking a goal on 22 minutes via Middleton and then suffocating their hosts for the rest of the match. This is a well-oiled machine that has only lost three times in 2021, to Aberdeen, Rangers and Celtic, and they are in red-hot form going into the closing games of the campaign.
One constant is the back three. Jamie McCart, Jason Kerr and Liam Gordon were selected again and were outstanding once again. However, St Johnstone defended from the front, with Davidson singling out his forward players for their constant harrying of the Hibs defenders, forcing them to rush passes.
Davidson reserved his most fulsome praise though for goalkeeper Parish, who came into the team at very short notice after Zander Clark – the hero of Ibrox – pulled out with a toe injury. The St Johnstone manager does not know if his No.1 goalkeeper will be fit to face St Mirren, but was reassured by Parish’s performance. The 30-year-old Englishman made an important save from Martin Boyle in the first half and put in a near-flawless performance.
“Elliot was absolutely fantastic,” said Davidson. “He wasn’t in the team on Friday but got a late call on Saturday morning to say he had to step in. I think it shows a really good character with how he performed. I thought he commanded his box in the second half and pulled off a fantastic save.”
Asked if Clark will be fit for the St Mirren match, Davidson said: “I don’t know yet. I hope so, I hope it’s not too bad, but we’ll just need to wait and see how it settles down.”
Davidson did admit that he now has some selection posers. "It’s funny, I probably did have,” he said of being settled on his strongest starting XI, “but a few of them have put question marks in my head with how well they’ve played. That’s good – but difficult – for me. Hopefully we get through this week in training and everyone will be fit and healthy.”
The victory at Easter Road, coupled with Livingston’s 2-1 loss to Aberdeen, means that St Johnstone and the Lions are level on 44 points in the race for fifth place with two games remaining. Davidson’s men hold that position by virtue of having a superior goal difference (-6 as opposed to Livi’s -9) and the two meet on the final day of the season. Depending on the outcome of the Scottish Cup final, fifth place could bring the reward of a UEFA Europa Conference League second qualifying round place.
“It’s that balancing act,” added Davidson as he tries to juggle cup responsibilities with league. “The carrot of the Scottish Cup is there for all four teams and that’s why I’m so pleased with the performance here.”