As we near the end of another Scottish football season, there are many narratives that can be written. A season behind closed doors, the demise of the dominant Celtic, a first league title at Ibrox in a decade, the return of the national team to the big stage after more than two decades, the usual governing body sagas hanging over from decisions made at the start of lockdown.
One of the most fascinating of all though is undoubtedly that of Perth’s finest. Back in 2014, St Johnstone lifted the Scottish Cup at Celtic Park to finally taste major success for the first time in their 129 year history. When Tommy Wright, the man responsible for guiding them to that maiden victory among many other successes including a number of journeys into Europe, stepped down in May last year there were many who thought St Johnstone would struggle.
Yes, myself included. If you check back on the predictions we made on the podcast at the start of this season, I tipped St Johnstone to end up in the relegation playoff!
St Johnstone undoubtedly took a gamble in giving Callum Davidson the role of replacing Tommy Wright as manager. Yes he knew the club, but he had a job on his hands even to replicate the recent successes. Tommy Wright had set a high bar, one that an inexperienced man like Davidson might struggle to match.
But here we are eleven months on, and St Johnstone have once again achieved a top six finish in the league, may even finish fifth, they have added a second major honour in the League Cup thanks to victory over Livingston in February’s final, and they now stand just one game away from a domestic cup double if they can overcome Hibernian in the Scottish Cup final in less than a fortnight’s time.
Lets just put that one in perspective. I won’t bore you with the full details, but the highlights are pretty much as follows. Celtic won the first domestic league and Scottish Cup double in 1906/07. Rangers won the first league and League Cup double in 1946/47. Rangers won the first treble in 1948/49. It was 1961/62 before Rangers won the first domestic cup double by picking up both the League Cup and the Scottish Cup but losing out on the league title to Dundee. As you would expect, there’s a lot of Celtic and Rangers winning two and three trophies a season before and after that. Go look it up if you’re really interested.
In 1959/60 Hearts became, to date, the only Scottish team other than Celtic or Rangers to win both the league and the League Cup in the same season. They haven’t won the league again since, and only picked up the League Cup once more three seasons later.
In 1983/84 Aberdeen became, to date, the only Scottish team other than Celtic or Rangers to win both the league and the Scottish Cup in the same season. They have only won the league once more since then, and that came the following season.
Arguably they also became the only Scottish team other than Celtic or Rangers to win a treble, because they also won the UEFA Super Cup in this season – and they are the only Scottish team INCLUDING Celtic and Rangers to have won that particular trophy.
Aberdeen are also the only Scottish team outside of Celtic and Rangers to have managed the domestic cup double – winning both the League Cup and the Scottish Cup in the same season. They actually achieved that feat twice, first in 1985/86 and again in 1989/90. They haven’t won the Scottish Cup since, and have only won the League Cup twice more since too.
But that’s it for domestic doubles away from the big two. Hearts once, Aberdeen three times.
The fact that St Johnstone could be 90 minutes away from matching that achievement is simply remarkable in its own right, never mind remembering this is Callum Davidson’s first season in charge of a team with a tiny budget compared to most of the top flight in Scotland never mind the two Glasgow giants.
I’m all but sure Steven Gerrard will win the manager of the year awards with his team just two games from an unbeaten league season. They do the voting many weeks in advance after all which has always been something of a farce so that’s nothing new. But Gerrard has had three seasons to put this run in place and for a team like Rangers not to reach Hampden at all this season even Gerrard himself admits that there have been failures at Ibrox.
You just can’t say the same about St Johnstone regardless of how the Scottish Cup final plays out now. Even losing the cup would see them in Europe if they do indeed finish fifth in the league. Callum Davidson is manager of the year by a country mile, and acknowledging that in no way takes away from the huge achievements of Steven Gerrard. It’s purely a statement of just how truly stunning the achievements of Callum Davidson are.
Hibernian will of course have their say on the final destination of the Scottish Cup, and of course the Edinburgh side were the last team to get their hands on the trophy prior to the four season stranglehold Celtic held on all the domestic honours. No one will forget how they ended 114 years of waiting to do that. But it also won’t be forgotten that the last time these two met at Hampden was the League Cup semi final earlier this year, and St Johnstone ran out comfortable 3-0 winners. Whether that helps or hinders the psychology of the game, we will find out soon enough.
If the Perth Saints are having the season of their dreams as everything seems to be going right for them, it’s actually amazing how it’s almost a mirror image of the season that the Paisley Saints have had.
St Johnstone were the team to kill off Rangers hopes in the Scottish Cup, but that victory in a penalty shootout came months after St Mirren’s ninety minute victory over Rangers in the League Cup – still Rangers only real domestic defeat this season (penalties are technically only a tiebreaker, not an actual defeat in a game).
St Mirren also managed to reach Hampden twice this season – twice more than Celtic and Rangers managed combined. But while St Johnstone went on to victory in their League Cup semi final, St Mirren were narrowly defeated by Livingston. And of course, St Johnstone just saw St Mirren off in the second Scottish Cup semi final this past weekend too.
Indeed, the final minutes of round 33 of the Premiership fixtures also saw St Johnstone narrowly edge out St Mirren.
With St Mirren leading Hamilton 1-0 going into the final few minutes, the only goal of the game in Perth as St Johnstone took a late lead over Ross County shouldn’t really have worried Jim Goodwin’s men. But just a couple of minutes later, a Hamilton equaliser hit the net and that goal meant that St Johnstone pipped St Mirren for a top six finish on goal difference, just two goals between them.
At the start of the season, many people laughed when Tony Fitzpatrick suggested St Mirren would hit the top six this season. Again, myself included. We were just a couple of minutes from having egg on our faces with that too.
But sadly for St Mirren, season 2020/21 looks to be one of so close and yet so far. On paper there is actually very little between St Johnstone and St Mirren. St Mirren have two narrow semi final defeats and were edged out of the top six at the death. St Johnstone have two semi final victories, a narrow victory in one final and a final to come, and sneaked into the top six at the death.
It only serves to highlight how the finest of margins in Scottish football can be the difference between massive delight and massive disappointment.