The last 12 months have been a steep learning curve for Jason Kerr as he has gone from being farmed out to East Fife and Queen of the South to becoming a key component in manager Tommy Wright’s St Johnstone side.
The highly-rated Scotland Under-21 international, who penned a new long-term deal just days after Saints threw out a cheeky six-figure bid from Barnsley, has been passing tests with flying colours.
He has already faced a Celtic strike force featuring Leigh Griffiths and Moussa Dembele. And with a Scottish Cup fifth-round clash with the Parkhead side this afternoon, Kerr insists Brendan Rodgers’ options are just as hot to handle.
“You want to play against the best and I have enjoyed coming up against the strikers at this level,” he said. “I prefer playing against Odsonne Edouard, Timothy Weah, Oliver Burke and all these guys because it’s a challenge and you want to test yourself.
“When you play against these top guys you have to be on your game and stay focused because they punish you if you switch off.
“We have had a few bad results lately so we want to get back to winning ways.”
Saints are facing Celtic for the third time in 11 days, after twice posting 2-0 league losses. Late strikes from James Forrest and impact sub Weah defeated the Perth side at McDiarmid last weekend. A first-half Kerr tackle on £15 million loan striker Burke triggered controversy. The defender admits it was a tough one to call. But he insists referee Willie Collum got it spot-on.
“I thought it was a great tackle. I went in for it and kicked the ball off his foot. Then I saw people looking back at it and saying it was a penalty. I think they did that after the eighth time of looking at it. I know I touched him a bit but I got a lot of the ball and if you are giving penalties for that then you’d be as well banning tackling altogether.
“If you need to watch an incident eight times to make your mind up, I think that tells you the ref got it right in real time. He got one shot at it in full speed so it’s easy for pundits to slow it down, look at different angles and all that stuff.
“But even after watching it myself, I still don’t think it was a penalty.”
Kerr revealed there was never any chance of heading for Barnsley.
“I didn’t really know much about the interest from Barnsley. The first I found out about it was when some of their fans started following me on Twitter and then talking about me on it. Their fans seemed to know about it before I did.
“I wasn’t interested though. I was always going to be staying here because I see my future with St Johnstone. When the club offered me a new deal I just wanted it signed and wasn’t interested in going anywhere else. It wasn’t a temptation. I am focused here and didn’t want to talk to another club.
“The gaffer knew I wanted to stay because this is the best place for my development.
“I have played a full season every season since I was 17 so the club have handled my career well. The loans to East Fife and Queen of the South have been great for me.
“As a centre half it’s quite a delicate position, you need the experience so you know where to be and are able to think about the game properly.
“Playing against men from a young age has helped me do that and what I’ve learned has stood me in good stead now.”