Second only to Celtic - how St Johnstone became Scotland's second most successful club of last decade

It felt regrettably low-key due to the circumstances and the game could have been described as living down to expectations.

St Johnstone match-winner Shaun Rooney lifts with the Betfred Cup after his header was the difference in a 1-0 win over Livingston. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

Nevertheless, and despite there being no fans to acclaim them, St Johnstone have achieved something that will echo through the ages.

The club's history book, now due another major update, is titled “Bristling with Possibilities”. Since its publication in 1997, the Perth club have won two major honours. The possibilities are no longer bristling. They are materialising.

Sign up to our Football newsletter

Sign up to our Football newsletter

St Johnstone are now the second most successful team in Scotland in the last decade. Their haul of two trophies – one Scottish Cup in 2014 and now, following this deserved victory over Livingston, a first-ever League Cup – places them behind Celtic and ahead of the likes of Hearts, Hibs, Rangers and Aberdeen.

They are also joint third in the league table covering that same timeframe in terms of top-flight points won, behind Aberdeen and level with Motherwell. It’s a (light)blueprint for other clubs to follow. It was pleasing to note that Steve Brown was joined at Hampden by his father Geoff, who he succeeded as chairman, as their careful stewardship of the club was rewarded once again.

Shaun Rooney, a pre-contract summer signing who initially struggled to command playing time under Callum Davidson, struck the decisive goal with a fine first-half header. It was sourced from his side’s first corner of the game and following an opening half hour in which they were the poorer side.

While Livingston manager’s David Martindale’s backstory caught the public's imagination in the countdown, Rooney’s role as match winner is a heart-warming tale. His mother, Elizabeth, passed away two years ago from cancer. The 24-year-old dedicated his most important-ever goal to her.

He also related the family connection to a St Johnstone great of the past – his great uncle is former club skipper Benny Rooney, who played in their 1969 League Cup final defeat to Celtic. That was the first of the Perth club's four cup finals to date. After losing the first two, they now have a 50 per cent success rate.

Rooney's great grandfather, Bob, was also Celtic physio that day. Understandably, emotions were running high when he stood with the League Cup medal hanging round his neck talking to reporters afterwards.

“My dad says he doesn’t drink on Sundays so we’ll see if he has a drink today,” he smiled. Rooney has scored in each of his side’s knock-out round ties since coming through the group stage - he was only playing in the quarter-final win on penalties over Dunfermline because Danny McNamara, brought in on loan from Millwall, was on international duty.

Fans initially mourned when McNamara was recalled by his English club but now Rooney has surely propelled himself into Scotland manager Steve Clarke's thoughts. There’s nothing Stephen O’Donnell does on the right flank that he can’t do. Livingston even adapted tactically in an attempt to shackle Rooney. Skipper Marvin Bartley was shifted out wide.

It was his tackle to dispossess the right wingback that conceded the corner from which St Johnstone scored one of the most significant goals in their history.

They never really looked back after going in front. St Johnstone might have extended their lead at the start of the second half when the ball just evaded the excellent Chris Kane after Robby McCrorie’s desperate save from David Wotherspoon.

March is supposed to come in like a lion. Not these Livi Lions. This was a step too far in their fairytale. They had one chance of note when Josh Mullin's angled shot was pushed wide by Zander Clark. Otherwise, it was a curiously flat performance.

St Johnstone finished the game with three locals on the pitch. Two, Liam Gordon and Wotherspoon, attended the same school - Perth High School. The school - motto: "Lift is abundant" - sent out a tweet wishing them luck on the eve of the game. Their former pupils did them proud, although we’ll overlook a dive from Wotherspoon in the second half when he collapsed under a non-challenge from Jon Guthrie.

Life is certainly more abundant at present for St Johnstone fans. Once, all they wanted was to win one major trophy. Indeed, that is the plea included in the postscript of the aforementioned club history. Authors Alastair Blair and Brian Doyle note that if Raith Rovers, who had beaten Celtic three years earlier to lift the League Cup, can win a trophy, then why not Saints?

Well, now they have two to their name. Jason Kerr became the first non-Celtic skipper to lift a trophy in the air since David Gray did so with Hibs in 2016. St Johnstone were supposed to be getting ready for a marked downturn in fortunes when Tommy Wright stepped down to be replaced by Davidson, a novice in managerial terms.

Another (relatively) local boy, the Dunblane-raised Davidson has delivered a major trophy after just 255 days in charge. An all-round sportsman of some repute, who could have chosen golf or tennis as a career, he is proving something of a natural at football management as well.

He can give himself 10 out of 10 for his performance here. He made some difficult decisions, including leaving Guy Melamed– who had scored twice in an excellent 3-0 win over Motherwell eight days earlier – on the bench throughout. In fact, Davidson only made one substitution.

Stevie May, one of the heroes of their 2014 Scottish Cup triumph and another Perthshire lad, was given the last 15 minutes as a replacement for Craig Conway. He made himself busy in an unlikely midfield enforcer role with some telling challenges.

On an afternoon when five substitutes were permitted, it seemed notable that Davidson kept changes to a minimum. His side seemed mostly in control and he was clearly hesitant about making alterations when they were not necessary. Don’t fix what isn’t broken. It could be the new St Johnstone motto.

A message from the Editor:Thank you for reading this article. We're more reliant on your support than ever as the shift in consumer habits brought about by Coronavirus impacts our advertisers.If you haven't already, please consider supporting our trusted, fact-checked journalism by taking out a digital subscription - https://www.scotsman.com/subscriptions

 0 comments

Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.