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2021: A Look Back on a Monumental Year for St. Johnstone

2021 was the year where St. Johnstone celebrated its 137th birthday, marking this occasion with a historic cup double victory, a 5th placed finish, and memorable European ties against Galatasaray and LASK.

[Kerr lifts the Scottish Cup]

Here is our in-depth review of the most successful 12 months in the Perth club's existence.

Early Promise

Saints began the year in 9th place, 3 points above Hamilton Accies' in 12th, who had a game in hand.

Despite a pretty poor start to the season the performances were there, it just felt like a case of waiting for everything to click. St. Johnstone was drawing too many games, struggling to convert chances into goals. Yet, were only 6 points away from the top 6.

This theme continued with 2 consecutive stalemates, with away draws to Ross County and Dundee United (where Lawrence Shankland scored one of the best goals we have ever seen from the halfway line). However, more importantly, Guy Melamed scored his first goal for the club. Davidson's side then earned their first victory of the new year with a 1-0 win over St. Mirren at McDiarmid Park courtesy of a Kane goal.

[Kane celebrates his opening goal]

Saints then had their first trip (of many) to Hampden Park of the calendar year, facing Hibernian in a 'Betfred' Cup Semi-final. The Perth men were billed as underdogs and would have to pull something special out to beat the then favourites for the trophy.

And pull something special out they certainly did.

Jack Ross's Hibernian came flying out of the traps and peppered the St. Johnstone goal early doors, Clark was forced into a couple of early saves and Jamie Murphy should have nudged his side in front. He had 2 golden chances to score unmarked in the box, the first being saved by Zander and the second crashing off of the bar.

Hibernian then almost took the lead, with Irvine flashing one header wide and another crashing back off of the post.

Then Saints won a corner on the left-hand side, Wotherspoon swung it into the box where Jason Kerr rose highest - thumping his header into the top corner leaving Marciano with no chance. Saints had taken the lead 10 minutes before half-time.

[Highlights of St. Johnstone's win over Hibs]

4 minutes after the break Conway swung a free-kick into the box from far out, which Rooney met in the air powering it into the back of the net, 2-0 St. Johnstone.

Saints then added a 3rd with some intricate build-up play on the right between Wotherspoon, McCann, and Rooney creating space before drilling it to the back post for Conway to slot into the goal.

St. Johnstone ran out 3-0 winners, a resolute and effective performance from the entire starting 11 earning a place in the 'Betfred' Cup final for Davidson's side, where they would face Livingston.

The Perth side closed January out with a goalless draw against Aberdeen before a second comeback win at Rugby Park of the season. Saints went into the half-time break 2-0 down but goals from Melamed, Davidson, and McCann wrapped up an incredible victory - showing the resilience of the squad.

[Ali McCann scores the winner]

In the transfer window, Danny McNamara headed back down South to Millwall with James Brown joining in his place, on a loan until the end of the season, whereas Hendry joined Aberdeen on loan. Glenn Middleton arrived, also on loan, from Rangers.

St. Johnstone's first loss of the year came on the 3rd of February - losing 1-0 to Rangers at Ibrox, however, the headlines were stolen by Murray Davidson - who hobbled off injured, his chances of appearing in the looming cup final now appeared slim.

Saints then ended Livingston's 14 game unbeaten run, with a 2-1 win at the Tony Macaroni, a great sign ahead of the upcoming 'Betfred' Cup final showdown.

Davidson's side narrowly lost to Celtic 2-1 at McDiarmid Park before trouncing Motherwell 3-0 in North Lanarkshire, with a Melamed double + a Kerr goal sealing the victory. New recruit Charlie Gilmour also made his debut from the bench.

Betfred Cup Final Success

Then, on the 28th of February, St. Johnstone headed to Hampden to face Livingston in the 'Betfred' Cup final. Sadly behind closed doors.

The game got off to a cagey start and Livingston almost took the lead. Mullin struck from the edge of the box and his driven effort forced Clark into an excellent diving save, to keep the score level.

In the 32nd minute Saints won a corner on the right-hand side which Conway whipped into the box, his outswinger finding Rooney who broke free of his marker and headed the ball into the back of the net.

[Rooney scores the only goal as Saints lift the cup]

Saints looked comfortable with anything Livingston could throw at them from this point onwards, with Kerr, McCart, and Gordon halting attackers in their tracks - leaving Clark virtually untroubled.

Once the final whistle blew it was St. Johnstone who was holding the League Cup trophy aloft for the first time in their existence. This was a huge day in the history of the club and although we could not be there to witness it the League Cup triumph was a shining light in the dark, with Scotland well into lockdown in February of last year.

Top 6 Push

St. Johnstone was back into league action with the focus firmly on securing an 8th top 6 finish in 10 years.

It looked as though it was all over until a piece of utter magic from Guy Melamed in the 90th minute, which drew comparisons to Dennis Bergkamp, against Hamilton to scrape a 1-1 draw away at New Douglas Park kept the dream alive.

[Melamed's late equaliser]

Saints then followed this up with a 1-0 win over Hibernian at McDiarmid Park, a Liam Craig goal (which would eventually win the SPFL GOTM for March) against his former side was enough to claim all 3 points.

Next up was Ross County, Saints knew that as long as they won and St. Mirren drew/lost to Hamilton then the Perth side would secure top 6. Glenn Middleton ensured that St. Johnstone maintained their end of the bargain, scoring a lovely turn and finish with just 4 minutes left on the clock. Then, Hamilton equalised in the 89th minute through Kyle Munro.

[Middleton's late winner]

St. Johnstone had done it, yet another top 6 finish secured!

This wrapped up a successful March for Saints and in particular Callum Davidson who earned the manager of the month award.

[Davidson posing with his manager of the month award]

Cup Run

After winning the 'Betfred' Cup no Saints fans could really expect much else from the team and it was touch and go whether the Scottish Cup may actually be canceled for the 20/21 season due to a fixture pile-up.

However, this never happened (fortunately) and Saints were drawn away to Dens Park to play Dundee in the 3rd round. A first-half Guy Melamed goal was all that could split the sides, with St. Johnstone having an off day in the "not a derby".

[Melamed celebartes his eventual winner]

The home side had a goal disallowed and Charlie Adam had a penalty saved by Zander Clark, which saw the Perth side progress to the next round.

St. Johnstone was then drawn at home to Clyde in the round of 16, and the winner of Celtic vs Rangers - a mammoth tie lay ahead.

Saints brushed part-time Clyde away 2-0 at McDiarmid Park, whilst Rangers defeated Celtic by the same scoreline. St. Johnstone would travel to Ibrox for the quarter-final clash.

On Sunday the 25th of April Callum Davidson's side headed to Ibrox. Saints were virtually flawless, with a number of key performers all over the park - including Clark in particular who refused to be beaten. 90 minutes were up and Saints fans dared to dream.

Tavernier nodded Rangers in front in the 117th minute and it felt like game over, we had come so far but sadly it looked like it was a bridge too far.

Until a Craig corner in the 122nd minute found Zander Clark unmarked in the middle of the box, with the St. Johnstone goalkeeper powering his header into the back of the net (via Kane on the line) to equalise with seconds remaining. Unbelievable scenes.

[An unforgettable night for St. Johnstone]

This took the game to penalties, where Clark would once again prove the hero - saving 2 from 4 penalties faced, whilst Saints were flawless from the spot; converting all 4 of their penalty kicks, with Ali McCann converting the decisive spot-kick with conviction.

This is the moment where many Saints fans believed that the double could actually happen.

Saints were then drawn to face St. Mirren in the Semi-final at Hampden, arguably the best draw that they could ask for.

St. Johnstone made hard work of it though and the first half was probably shaded by St. Mirren. The game changed following the introduction of Glenn Middleton, who came on for Melamed in the 65th.

[Middleton's match-winning performance]

Middleton set up Kane's opener 7 minutes later and then doubled St. Johnstone's advantage with an emphatic free-kick from range. An absolutely stunning goal and one worthy of winning any game.

St. Mirren managed to grab a late goal to put some pressure back on the Perth Saints, but they could not get another and it was St. Johnstone who would make it to the Scottish Cup final, where they would face Hibernian.

Confirming European Football

Despite all of the cup action, there was still plenty of work to be done in the league, with a 5th place finish enough to confirm some form of European football for at least another season. After a good run of results all Saints now had to do was avoid defeat at home to Livingston and we would end the season above them on goal difference on the final day.

Whilst there wasn't much in the way of entertainment value, St. Johnstone got the job done and a goalless draw at McDiarmid Park confirmed that European football would be returning to Perth in 2021/22.

Cup Double Win

On the 22nd of May 2021 Saints would face Hibernian at Hampden Park in the Scottish Cup final. Sadly it would be behind closed doors after weeks of speculation and debate.

St. Johnstone were once again underdogs for the final if you were listening to the media and various pundits, however, the general consensus of Saints fans themselves actually seemed more confident with this one than the 'Betfred' Cup final. Davidson's side had something over Ross's Hibernian.

That was proven once again on the day, Saints once again did their job to a tee and gave 'Hibs' nothing. Then, like clockwork, on the 32nd minute, Callum Booth snapped into a tackle and the ball bounced to David Wotherspoon who 'Spoony chopped' Gogic into orbit before launching an inviting cross to the back post for Shaun Rooney to head home! St. Johnstone was 1-0 up.

[St. Johnstone celebrate winning the Scottish Cup]

Kane won St. Johnstone a penalty on 75 minutes and really that should have been game over, but Macey did well to save from Middleton with Kane unable to dispatch the rebound into the back of the net.

Saints held firm and Hibernian could not break them down, despite their best efforts they failed to really create any chances and St. Johnstone was incredibly comfortable for most of the 90 minutes, outshooting their opponents on the day.

Once the full-time whistle went the greatest achievement in domestic Scottish football was confirmed - St. Johnstone had won the cup double!

An absolutely enormous feat for a club of our size to manage and something that will live long in the mind of any Saints fan. It still feels surreal to this day.

Return of Fans

July saw the return of fans to McDiarmid Park, albeit in a limited capacity, for the friendlies against Preston North End and Fleetwood Town.

Whilst the games themselves were nothing to write home about it was amazing to be able to celebrate the double win and show the players how much it meant to us supporters (although the 32nd minute Rooney clap could probably have gone amiss).

European Adventure

St. Johnstone was drawn against Turkish giants Galatasaray in the 3rd round of Europa League qualifying. An absolutely massive tie.

Davidson's side traveled to Turkey and instead of admiring their opponents and getting lost in the spectacle, they stood up to them and gave Galatasaray a game.

Jason Kerr put Saints 1-0 up away from home against Galatasaray from the spot after Kane was fouled by Muslera (who was subsequently dismissed). What a massive moment for the Perth side.

[St. Johnstone vs Galatasaray]

Saints were then pegged back minutes later but still managed to take a 1-1 draw back to Perth, giving themselves a fighting chance of going through.

The home leg at McDiarmid Park is the best atmosphere that has been had at the stadium in years, with an almost full crowd taking the game in. The noise was incredible and the supporters did the club proud.

In the end, Saints lost 4-2 against a side full of internationals and Champions League regulars. The fact Saints were still in the game until the second half is a huge achievement, Galatasaray have a club value 90 million pounds greater than St. Johnstone's (according to transfermarkt).

Following defeat to Galatasaray Saints dropped down into the Europa Conference League play-off. Win and group stage football was secured, lose and we were out of Europe altogether.

St. Johnstone were drawn against LASK, who have been in the Champions League in recent and have faced many of Europe's elite in the Europa League. Saints once again took the lead in Austria through Kane before a sloppy penalty was dispatched on the hour mark to mean that Saints had yet another 1-1 draw to bring back home.

Another brilliant atmosphere at McDiarmid Park followed but sadly Saints just fell short, failing to take their chances which were few and far between before going a goal down, then whilst chasing the game they went down to 9 men before conceding a 2nd from the spot with not long to go. In the end St. Johnstone lost 2-0 and LASK were probably worthy winners.

[LASK ran out 2-0 winners at McDiarmid Park]

Our European adventure was over, but those games at McDiarmid Park will still remain a highlight of the year for many, playing in Europe is always special and the atmosphere was outstanding.

Summer Transfers

This has been a well-trodden topic so I will keep it short, but simply put; the summer transfer window was a tough one for Saints.

Notably, Saints allowed Conway, Tanser, and Melamed to leave before then selling Kerr and McCann on deadline day, to the ire of supporters.

In came a raft of 6 loanees, Vertainen (who has barely featured), and Brown.

Overall, it was handled badly and it is safe to say that it has been a huge factor on how the second half of 2021 has gone.

Premier Sports Cup Run

St. Johnstone bypassed the group stage of the Premier Sports Cup due to playing in Europe and entered at the round of 16 stage. Saints were drawn against Arbroath, away at Gayfield.

Saints made hard work of the game, drawing 1-1 in normal time and then 2-2 after extra time, which meant that the game must go to penalties.

Arbroath missed 3 of their penalties whilst St. Johnstone failed to convert 2, with McCann scoring the winning penalty for the holders of the competition, going Into the quarter-finals, where saints were drawn against Dundee.

Davidson’s side traveled to Dens Park, and the first half was a cagey affair. In the second 45 Saints managed to grab 2 goals through Rooney and Crawford without reply on a memorable midweek away day.

[Rooney celebrates his opener against Dundee]

This secured another trip to Hampden Park, the 5th of the year for St. Johnstone, where this time we would take on Celtic on November 20th.

It was a scrappy game and Saints were well in it until the final whistle, despite having periods under the cosh where it felt like they were holding on for dear life St. Johnstone made life difficult for Celtic and they actually didn't really threaten until their controversial winner from James Forrest with 15 minutes left on the clock.

[St. Johnstone just fall short against Celtic]

In the end, Saints lost 1-0 to Celtic, who went on to win the trophy. However, this was about more than just the result and it gave fans the day out at Hampden that we missed out on last season.

Tough Start to the League Season

St. Johnstone have struggled in the 21/22 cinch Premiership season, with a slow start and some patchy form soon turning into a 7 game losing run in the league.

Results and performances have nose-dived, with injuries to key players (no worse than to club legend David Wotherspoon), as well as some shocking refereeing decisions, both not helping.

Saints have particularly struggled in front of goal - scoring just 11 goals in 20 games but also only conceding 25. The Perth side have only won 3 games in the league this season and that will have to change in 2022.

It has been a grim way to end a magnificent year - with the last game of 2021 played with McDiarmid Park limited to just 500 fans in attendance against Celtic on boxing day culminating in a 3-1 home defeat.

[McCart and Dendoncker battle with Abada]

However, there is still plenty to celebrate and 2021 should always be remembered as the year where Callum Davidson's St. Johnstone won the cup double; something never thought possible in the wildest dreams of any Saints fans - starting the year with odds of 10000/1.

Despite the predicament, St. Johnstone finds themselves in there is still hope, and every chance that we dig ourselves out of this hole and can climb the table.

Here is to a successful 2022!

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