What is Behind St. Johnstone's Post-Kelty Hearts Resurgence?

The 22nd of January was a low point in the recent history of St. Johnstone Football Club. Over the years the Perth club have experienced their fair share of lows, but this one felt different.

[Hendry and Gordon celebrate beating Motherwell]


Crashing out of the Scottish Cup as holders at the first hurdle against League Two side Kelty Hearts, culminating in a club-record-equalling 10 defeats in a row. I'm sure nobody needs reminding of the ugly scenes at full-time, or the sign put up outside McDiarmid Park, but it is safe to say the general feeling amongst fans was grim. The relationship between the club and fans was beginning to appear strained and risked becoming volatile.


With Ross County pulling away from the pack and Dundee plodding along it seemed as though relegation was all-but-confirmed for Saints for the first time since promotion in 2009. Confidence in Callum Davidson and his playing staff was at by far the lowest of his tenure, and there would need to be a sharp turnaround to give themselves even a chance of avoiding the drop.


Well, it has been 73 days and 11 matches since St. Johnstone's Scottish Cup exit and it is undeniable that the mood has shifted.


There is no doubt that this season was a missed opportunity - with the league tighter than it has ever been and a serious chance of a European spot up for grabs. However, as it stands things have certainly improved.


Whilst there is no denying that we are entrenched in a relegation battle, that is better than sinking like a stone. Saints are currently 6 points above Dundee in 12th and 6 points behind St. Mirren in 10th. There are no guarantees in football and a few games could easily change everything for better or for worse, but currently, St. Johnstone are a team on the up.

[Hendry and Crawford celebrate taking the lead against Livingston]


In the months since the Kelty Hearts game both Dundee and St. Mirren have had a change in manager, it would appear that neither are for the better. This has benefitted Saints, who have stuck by Callum Davidson - this has yielded results. Nobody is claiming that St. Johnstone are setting the world alight, but the improved performances have given them a fighting chance of survival, whether that is via a play-off or automatically.


At the very least it feels like the St. Johnstone of old, a team who will put 100% on the line and give everything they've got every game. This has helped win large portions of the fanbase back over, and there is course for optimism.


So, what has been behind this resurgence?


Results


An obvious one, but it needs to be said; results have improved drastically.


In the 11 games before the Kelty Hearts defeat St. Johnstone's record was abysmal. This nightmare running leading up to the cup exit was:


11 Played

1 Won

1 Drawn

9 Lost

4 Goals Scored

15 Goals Conceded


A dreadful return and one which saw St. Johnstone's season go from below par to disastrous.


Contrast this with the 11 games played since the 22nd of January, and it paints a much better picture:


11 Played

4 Won

4 Drawn

3 Lost

10 Goals Scored

10 Goals Conceded


Despite not being an outstanding haul, it is a big improvement and reverts back to what you may typically expect from a St. Johnstone side. This is a much more consistent output and one that could easily have us fighting for a place in the top 6, had it been maintained throughout the season.


St. Johnstone currently sit 4th in the Premiership "form table" (last 6 games), on 10 points. Whilst Dundee and St. Mirren languish at the bottom, both tied on 3 from the last 18 on offer.


Changes in Personnel


The January transfer window might well have saved St. Johnstone's season and is currently the only reason they have a fighting chance of staying up.


The Perthshire club brought in some quality players, with Dan Cleary, Melker Hallberg and Tony Gallacher, in particular, helping to transform the starting 11.


Clearing out a majority of the raft of loanees at the club was also a necessary act, whilst bringing in better and, importantly, permanent replacements have helped really freshen up the squad. The current dynamic is much more like the side that went on to win the cup double last season.

[Dan Cleary in action]


The best piece of business conducted by Saints in the January transfer window, without a doubt, was not the one that many people would have been expecting - recalling Callum Hendry from his loan spell at Kilmarnock.


Hendry has been a revelation for St. Johnstone since returning to the club in January. The 24-Year-Old has been on fire, scoring 7 goals in 11 games. This makes him the club's top scorer by quite a distance.


If Saints do stay up then Hendry will be a massive reason for it, his goals and performances have been a catalyst for this improving form. He is like a completely different player.


Dan Cleary has solved the Right Sided Centre conundrum, and this consistency has improved the defensive solidity, whilst his forward runs have also impacted the attack in a positive way. Hallberg has brought a calmness to the midfield, whilst also becoming pivotal to the way Saints attack.


Underperformers Improving


It is safe to say that very few players covered themselves in glory during the first half of the campaign. However, some players in particular were singled out as perhaps being the worst of the bunch.


In particular, Ali Crawford and Jamie McCart were most often scapegoated for their underwhelming performances. New signing, and at the time loanee, Crawford was criticised for his work ethic, whilst McCart's dip in form resulted in plenty of backlashes, compared to his excellent performances last season.


Since the Kelty Hearts game both players have steadily improved, and to their credit have both shown why Callum Davidson has persisted with them.


In the 11 games since Crawford has scored twice, with one being a late winner against Livingston and the other an early opener against Hearts. Saints won both games by a solitary goal. His noticeable increase in intensity and work ethic have endeared him to the fans now and it is clear that he is up for the fight.

[Crawford against Livingston]


Overall, Crawford has scored 4 goals for Saints so far this season - all in victories - which has him as the club's 2nd top scorer this season. Certainly not a bad return.


Jamie McCart has been back to his best in recent weeks. Rock Solid at the back, and pinpoint in the pass once again. Despite some heavy criticism he has bounced back better than anyone could have expected, especially with his contract up in a matter of months.


His winner in the 2-1 triumph over Heart of Midlothian was the cherry on top of the cake, any calls to drop the 24-year-old are now distant memories.


If both players can carry this form into the split then there is every chance of staying up. When they are at their best, they are two of St. Johnstone's most important players.


Looking Ahead


At the end of the day, there are still 18 points left to play for. The split will make-or-break St. Johnstone's season, put a decent run together and they could easily finish 10th or 11th. However, a dip in form could prove fatal.


It is too early to call now, but you would not bet against Callum Davidson's side on current form. The mental strength shown to bounce back from a 10 game losing streak is now paying dividends, and despite not playing the best they can the ability to grind out results is even more important at the moment.



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