St. Johnstone- everything you need to know about Scotland’s unlikely double winners.
For many reasons it is arguably harder than ever to make a breakthrough at the top of Scottish football. Celtic dominated with 9 trophies in 3 seasons just 2 years ago, and while they have currently regressed Scotland’s other giant, Rangers have just gone invincible and completely taken the league by storm under Steven Gerrard. There is still a strong monopoly from the old firm duo and the impact of covid will not have done any of Scotland’s more ambitious sides any favours in attempting to halt this almost ever-present dominance. Despite this there is newfound hope for the rest of the Scottish top sides with the emergence of the UEFA conference league enabling a potential of 5 Scottish teams to play in Europe year on year following Scotland’s improved coefficient ranking. Amongst these sides is St. Johnstone. Following their victory in the Scottish cup final they have achieved qualification to the Europa league, and should they exit the play off rounds they will drop into the newfound conference league- either way they are guaranteed European football. St. Johnstone finished 5th in the premiership and achieved a remarkable cup double, the first team to do so outside of Celtic and Rangers for over 30 years. In this article We will run through everything you need to know about St. Johnstone and the factors behind their historic season.
A quick backstory of St. Johnstone
St. Johstone's Home- McDiarmid Park
Perth based side St. Johnstone have enjoyed varied success in their near 140 year existence. The Saints have 7 second division titles to their name but have never won the premiership, in addition to this seasons Scottish League Cup and Scottish Cup double St. Johnstone also won the Scottish Cup in 2013-14 and the Scottish Challenge Cup in 2008. In the past decade St. Johnstone have been one of the better SPL sides, finishing 3rd in 2012-13 and 4th in 3 successive seasons from 2014-15 to 2016-17. The club dropped off finishing midtable and in the lower half of Scotland’s top tier prior to this season where they ended 5th.
In Europe, the Saints have competed in the Europa League 8 times but have never made it beyond the third qualifying round, disappointing considering that in their last 3 ventures in Europe they have exited to Mid-table sides from Lithuania and Slovakia despite playing in a league with a high superior coefficient. In fairness St. Johnstone have very tight finances especially compared to some of the teams they could potentially face in Europe. Despite not going far in Europe in recent times St. Johnstone still bettered experienced teams such as Luzern of Switzerland and Rosenborg of Norway over 2 legs, as well as drawing 3-3 with Monaco in 1999 before a 3-0 defeat in the away leg after a valiant effort- this Monaco side boasted elite players such as Fabien Barthez, Rafael Marquez, and David Trezeguet.
St. Johnstone have been led by Callum Davidson since 2020. Davidson played almost 100 times at left back for the saints as a player and also played briefly in the premier league with Leicester and Blackburn Rovers. Davidson had been caretaker since 2014 and took over as manager after Tommy Wright resigned following 7 years of service. Davidson favours a 3 at the back and has mostly played a 3-5-2 and a 3-4-2-1 at times this season. Taking the saints 2 cup finals as case studies, in the 1-0 Scottish League Cup win over Livingston a 3-4-2-1 was deployed with the winning goal coming from wing back Shaun Rooney. In the Scottish Cup Final St. Johnstone played the same formation and also won 1-0 with Shaun Rooney again the hero, this time against Hibernian. St. Johnstone only finished in the top half of the SPL on goal difference and only scored more goals than 3 of the bottom 6, it was there superior defensive attributes and physicality which has won them games. Callum Davidson sets up the team to play as a unit and it has been effective, clearly working in one off games highlighted by the professional 1-0 cup final victories. Had Steven Gerrard had not done such a remarkable job at Rangers then Davidson would have practically been nailed on to win the SPL manager of the year in only his first full season as a manager.
The key players
2 time cup final hero-Shaun Rooney
The obvious place to start is Shaun Rooney, without his goals ( despite him being a defender) they would not have done the double. The 6’3 24 year old played lower league football his whole career, playing for Inverness Caledonian Thistle in the championship as recently as 2020. Rooney plays as a right wing back in Davidson’s 3-4-2-1, and scored 6 in all competitions including 3 in 4 Scottish League Cup games. In the premiership Rooney wins almost 3 aerial duels per 90 and gets off 0.5 key passes a game as well as 0.9 shots, impressive stats for a more naturally defensive player. Defensively Rooney is still strong with 1.1 interceptions and 1.9 clearances averaged per 90.
In Midfield, Alistair McCann holds the highest market value of any St. Johnstone player at around £700,000. The 21 year old is an academy product and already has 5 senior caps for Northern Ireland, scoring his first goal in a recent friendly against Malta. The young midfielder has 2 goals and 2 assists from 34 games and has one of the highest ceilings of any player in the squad. If he continues to impress and earn more caps for Northern Ireland then a move across to England could potentially beckon for him.
A more experienced head in midfield is 31 year old David Wotherspoon. Wotherspoon has 4 assists and 3 goals and is a Canadian International with 4 caps and a goal to his name. The ex-Celtic youth product is a key creative force for the saints. in a goal shy team as well as offering quality on the ball Wotherspoon has over 40 goals and assists in the league during his 8 years in Perth, including 10 goal contributions this season.
As touched upon St. Johnstone do not score many goals, with just 36 in the league. Israeli striker Guy Melamed was a vital January signing scoring 5 and laying on 2 assists. Stevie May also scored 5 although 3 came from the penalty spot as well as contributing 4 assists. May is in his second spell with the saints after he scored 27 goals in 2013-14 which earnt him moves to Sheffield Wednesday and then Preston North End in the English Championship, where he never really got running. 3 poor years with Aberdeen followed and now May is in his second season of his second spell, having scored 6 in 24 last season. May has hit double figures in all competitions this season and although he is far from prolific anymore his experience and hold up play is crucial for a team starved of goals.
What does next season hold?
Saints’ fans should embrace next season, they will still be on a high from the cup double and they have another stab at European football to look forward to. On paper there should be plenty of optimism, however if they were to go far in Europe this could distract from league performance and mean they struggle to cope with more playing time and slip down the table. There is also the glaring lack of goal threat that must be addressed, whether it is a loan signing or veteran on free transfer, St. Johnstone must find a reliable source of goals and could do a lot worse than Northern Irish Journeyman Kyle Lafferty who may be available following Kilmarnock’s relegation- he is more than proven at this level and has potential to score in Europe if his international career is anything to go off.
If St Johnstone retain key players and address goalscoring issues then they should have real reason for optimism as the conference league offers a route for regular European football for a n extra Scottish team now, and all it would take is one solid campaign and cup run in Europe to potentially raise funds to compete across a longer period in the top half of the SPL, potentially just giving a glimmer of hope to dream of dethroning Celtic or Rangers in the future.
Written by- Joe Langlands
LinkedIn- Joe Langlands