At that point in the season Callum Davidson’s men had played 23 matches and sat ninth in the Premiership, three points off the bottom. The teams in tenth and 11th had a game or games in hand. Meanwhile, St Mirren – three points ahead in eighth – had three fixtures outstanding.
It had reached one of those moments in the campaign where St Johnstone’s season could go one of two ways. They either start converting their impressive displays into points or they prepare for a relegation battle.
It would have been easy for Davidson, in his first managerial job, to rip up his plan and go back to basics. Play a stodgy style, eke out results and just simply exist.
Instead, the St Johnstone legend trusted the process.
Taking over the wheel
On taking over from Tommy Wright in the summer, Davidson, in a way, was presented with a thankless task. How the hell do you follow the man who led the club to their first ever major trophy, five top-six finishes in seven seasons, qualifying for Europe three times?
This writer assumed the former Scotland international, having been part of Wright’s coaching set-up, would simply be a continuation. Take over the wheel, keep the same pressure on the accelerator and not change gear.
Early on, it was clear he wanted to drive his own way. Davidson, who was this week named manager of the month for March, implemented a 3-4-3 system which morphed into a 3-4-1-2 as the season progressed.
St Johnstone’s style under Wright was often looked upon unfairly as being boring but efficient, usually by fans of teams annoyed Saints had defeated. But there has been a clear change under the new manager.
Saints are a bit more expansive, look to attack a bit more and play with a higher tempo. Shots, crosses, touches in the box and passes into the final third are all up.
Questioning the process
However, there was a run of games in August and September where they struggled to score. Then in December they struggled to win games.
“I had to question myself a wee bit,” Davidson said last month. “I wasn’t sure if what I was doing was right when we lost three or four games 1-0. Some of them were in very unfortunate circumstances.
“I just looked at stats, performances, watched games again and just believed in what I and the players were doing was right.”
If you are that way inclined, in the Expected Points table via ModernFitba, St Johnstone are 11 better off and sitting fourth.
A few days after that United game St Johnstone defeated St Mirren. They followed it up with a 3-0 win over Hibs in the Betfred Cup and, of course, would go on to win the final.
In the league, they snuck into the top six in the final round of fixtures before the split. But it wasn’t by accident. They have lost to just Celtic and Rangers this year, they have quality all across the pitch and depth despite a small squad.
The main, and most impressive thing, however, has been Davidson. In his rookie campaign he stuck to the process and has reaped the rewards.