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St.Johnstone – To the top six and beyond?

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It provided a refreshing change when young Celtic supporter Jay Beatty picked up the award for January’s ‘Goal of the Month’. He has a tougher task on his hands this month, however, after Danny Swanson’s incredible 25-yard strike consigned the league leaders to their first domestic defeat since December. Jay will have to score an absolute screamer before the end of March.

It certainly pleases me to be writing my first St. Johnstone blog for Scotzine in the immediate aftermath of a 1-0 victory against Celtic, a result and performance which will certainly be remembered by Saints supporters for many years to come (OK, I’ve slightly fabricated the truth. I wrote a couple of blogs for Scotzine at the very beginning of its existence, but a lot of time has passed since then).

The outstanding nature of St. Johnstone’s performance is certainly not in any doubt though. Tommy Wright has drilled a fighting mentality into his players. No match is unwinnable if you possess the belief and put in the hard work to turn that belief into something more tangible.

Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the match at Parkhead. In fact, the last time I watched a match at Celtic Park was on May 17th 2014. To clarify, this was the day that St. Johnstone won the Scottish Cup for the first time in their 130-year history after a 2-0 victory against a lacklustre Dundee United side. Apologies to any United supporters for the unwelcome reminder. I simply had to make sure that everyone knew what I was talking about. We’re all on the same page now. There will be no other mention of that match.

To tell the truth, St. Johnstone supporters such as myself have recently been very fortunate to witness so many great performances/results seemingly ‘against all odds’. To mention a few, there have been a couple of underdog victories in the Europa League against Rosenborg and Luzern. A double from Steven Milne sealed a shock 2-0 victory in the League Cup quarter-final against Rangers in 2006, we absolutely pummelled the same team 4-1 in a 2010 league match, and we’ve also pulled off a few surprise results against Celtic. Most importantly, St. Johnstone, a so-called ‘diddy’ club who have always erred on the side of caution in a financial sense, overcame all of the odds by successfully navigating their way through a number of difficult matches and eventually winning the cup..

..against Dunfermline. Ahh, great memories. The Challenge Cup Final 2007. What a day.

No need to worry, Dundee United supporters, I told you I wouldn’t mention your Scottish Cup defeat again. Ach.. sorry.

These results mean an awful lot to supporters of a club like St. Johnstone. When you are forced to endure numerous hardships, these high points become even more enjoyable and meaningful. If a season could epitomise this contrast in fortunes, this current season would be a very good place to start. After the finest moment in our history (a 2-0 Scottish Cup victory against a lacklustre Dundee United side), we soon became witnesses to one of the most uninspiring summer transfer windows in recent memory. I may go into this in further detail for a future blog. However, this also coincided with another pleasing European run which culminated in a fantastic two-legged victory over Luzern.

In the league, we have consistently struggled in front of goal following the departure of Stevie May. Michael O’Halloran has thus far proved himself to be our main attacking threat, but we have struggled to adequately replace last season’s top scorer.

Our league form has been frustratingly schizophrenic in nature. A poor run of form against some of the weaker SPFL teams can quite easily be followed by an impressive run of form against some of the stronger ones. Undoubtedly, the lowest points of the season have been our two cup defeats against teams we generally should be beating: The Rangers and Queen of the South. The latter was a particularly tough pill to swallow, as it signalled the end of our attempts to defend the Scottish Cup trophy. It also signalled, in a lot of supporters’ minds, the end of our season. We would have to settle for a top 6 place in the league. Nothing more, nothing less.

Yet here we are. After a 1-0 win away to Celtic, we are perfectly capable of pushing on. Maybe we don’t have to settle only for a top 6 place. Hamilton seem to be in a constant state of free-fall, Dundee have a tough run of fixtures coming up, Dundee United have struggled to cope with the loss of Armstrong and Mackay-Steven. Whether or not Tommy Wright believes that Steve Brown gave him a suitable level of financial backing at the start of the season, our manager has remained publicly positive throughout. This positivity has clearly rubbed off on the players and, ‘against all odds’, we might even be capable of bettering last season’s league position.

Whilst I was celebrating the glorious 1-0 victory against Celtic by running around my living room, I must admit that Tommy’s positivity was beginning to rub off on me as well. I began to make a few calculations.. The Scottish Cup runners-up don’t automatically qualify for the Europa League this season. The top 4 teams in the Scottish Premiership could potentially all qualify for Europe. Maybe, just maybe. Maybe our season isn’t over quite yet.

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