If St Johnstone’s resolve under Callum Davidson remains at Saturday’s levels, he has no reason to fear walking in the legendary Tommy Wright’s footsteps. His predecessor would have been justly proud of the mentality shown at Tannadice as the ten-man visitors earned a 1-1 draw.
The Scottish Premiership kicked off in empty stadiums around the country but there were definite echoes of Wright’s grit in St Johnstone’s display. Facing another new manager in United’s Micky Mellon, Davidson derived plenty of satisfaction at how his players coped following Michael O’Halloran’s 45th-minute red card.
He was sent off for two cautions for late tackles and got away with another in between after going in on the home goalkeeper Ben Siegrist.
Newly-promoted United were 1-0 ahead at the time through Nicky Clark’s early penalty but O’Halloran’s colleagues rallied to bail him out.
Once Liam Craig lashed a brilliantly-volleyed equaliser ten minutes into the second half, there was no way Saints were prepared to relinquish what they had.
“It’s a bit disappointing for Mikey,” said defender Jason Kerr. “He had three fouls and could have been sent off and then obviously was sent off. He put his hand up and said sorry and we’ll accept that, but I feel we were the better team over the 90 minutes. He was going for the ball all the time so you can’t be too harsh on him. He said he is sorry. He will get us out of a hole later in the season and I think we got him out of one. He will bounce back.”
It was all the more remarkable given St Johnstone had played only two pre-season friendlies. “A few of the boys would have been thinking about that.
“We did start off a bit slack and looked a bit leggy,” admitted Kerr. “After 15 minutes, I thought we started moving the ball better and playing a bit.
“It’s disappointing getting that sending off because I feel we could really have gone at United with 11 men in the second half. It shows how good the squad is that we still stayed in the game with ten men and got the goal. We had chances to win it as well.”
Davidson’s 5-2-3 formation was certainly something different. It flipped into a 3-4-3 in attack but needed adapted when O’Halloran saw red. Kerr helped by stepping from central defence into midfield, starting the move from which on-loan Danny McNamara crossed for Craig’s goal.
“I always enjoy playing in a back three. It gives me licence to go forward a bit more,” said Kerr. “The gaffer has come in and he likes that style of play. He has done that down south, so he likes it and I’m happy doing it.
“We had two in midfield and three up top. Sometimes you need to be a bit narrow and help the midfield. There is always a danger of them getting overrun but I thought we dealt with that well. I’ve got more licence to go forward and it showed with our goal. I dribbled with the ball a bit and gave it to Danny.”
United were the more frustrated team at full-time. Mellon, pictured, also employed a three-man central defence and had Jamie Robson outstanding at left wing-back. The hosts should have capitalised on their numerical advantage, although Clark enjoyed a personal milestone with his first Premiership goal at the age of 29. “That’s my first one. I’m delighted with it on a personal level. It was great to see it going in but it’s disappointing overall because it’s probably two points dropped for us,” he said.
“It’s great for the club to be back where it definitely belongs, so it was a good goal for us. We are just disappointed not to get the three points. We could have gone in at half-time two up, or maybe three, as their goalie had a couple of good saves. It’s a learning curve for us.
“I’ve had chances before to go to the Premiership and I’ve gone to other clubs in other leagues. I’m just delighted to be here now with this club. It’s a great club which should be in this league. It’s great to be playing and scoring my first goal.
“I’m comfortable taking penalties. I hit a couple last year in derbies, which are pressure moments. Shanks [Lawrence Shankland] is comfortable hitting them as well.”
The prolific Shankland had the game’s best chance in open play after dribbling past St Johnstone’s Liam Gordon moments after the break. Had he put United 2-0 up instead of shooting over the crossbar from close range, the game would have assumed a very different complexion.
“I really fancied Shanks there and he was unlucky it went over the bar. I’ve no doubt he will start banging them in over the next few weeks,” said Clark.
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