Why St Johnstone's strength isn't just back-three solidity
Forward lines win matches, but defences win trophies is a spin on the old football adage.
It is on such foundations that St Johnstone will seek to move within one game of the most extraordinary cup double in Scottish football history.
The setback endured by the Perth club of losing four players to a coronavirus outbreak for their Scottish Cup semi-final against St Mirren on Sunday will be tolerable, frankly, as long as their back three of Jamie McCart Jason Kerr and Liam Gordon is firmly in place at Hampden. As it has been for the vast majority of the campaign.
This youthful trio were central to the League Cup success, which required Callum Davidson’s men to hold firm under pressure across their eventual 3-0 last-four victory over Hibs. And as a durable unit, they were to the fore again in the pulled shock penalty shoot-out win at Rangers’ – until then – domestic fortress of Ibrox in the Scottish Cup quarter-final a fortnight ago.
Yet ball-playing pivot McCart is at pains to stress that St Johnstone’s unyielding nature doesn’t revolve around the endeavours of his mini-team within the team. Even as he acknowledges the dovetailing of the three has burgeoned under the direction of Davidson, who has developed a midas touch since succeeding Tommy Wright in the summer.
“A lot of credit has to go to the people around us as well,” said the 23-year-old. “The players in front work so hard to stop balls coming in while we have a great goalkeeper behind us. We are a well organised team in general. [in terms of the back three] we have got used to how each other play. I only joined in the January [of 2020] but we hadn’t played with three all that often under Tommy [Wright]. It was just a case of getting more used to each other and seeing how we could benefit the team. They are two good guys off the park and I get on really well with them. We all compliment each other as we have three different styles. I really enjoy playing beside both of them.
“[At Hampden this season] I think our organisation and our hard work was important. In the semi-final against Hibs we rode a storm against. In the first half hour we were really under the cosh, but we rode that out. After that we went from strength to strength. Then when you are playing Livingston [in the final] it is always a tough game and you always have to be at it. I think everyone to man has been working hard and I think that has shown in our organisation. Teams have been struggling to break us down.”
“There has been belief there all season but maybe just the wee moments were going against us [during a difficult start]. We have all shown character and resilience. At Rangers they scored with five minutes to go [of extra-time] and it was deflating to be honest. But we just kept going until the last minute and nobody could have foreseen the big 6ft 5in goalie [Zander Clark] coming up and heading towards goal. I think that just shows we never give up and when you show that resilience and character you get those wee bits of luck.”
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