THE odds for St Johnstone winning the Cup Double were double that of Leicester City winning the English Premier League in 2016. That is the scale on what the Perth side achieved following their Scottish Cup triumph against Hibs yesterday, which followed their League Cup success against Livingston in February, thus becoming only the fourth club in Scotland to win both domestic Cups in the same season.
In his first season, manager Callum Davidson has managed to double the trophy haul of predecessor Tommy Wright. Wright was considered St Johnstone’s greatest ever manager after guiding them to Scottish Cup success in 2014, the club’s first ever piece of major silverware, and taking them into Europe three times in his seven years. The fact Davidson has won two in one season is incredible, and undoubtedly should be making him manager of the season. Whilst Steven Gerrard has had a tremendous season with Rangers that should not be ignored, an unbeaten league season and last 16 of the Europa League is pretty good going, he’s had a far bigger budget to work with than Davidson.
Put it this way, St Johnstone have the third LOWEST budget in the Scottish Premiership. By that scale, they should be nowhere near two Cup Finals let alone winning them! But what they do with that budget is spend it wisely on a tight squad on modest salaries, with Davidson maintaining the great team spirit put in place by his predecessor. After a tricky start to the season, where the club were bottom of the table in October, they’ve ended the season in spectacular fashion, finishing fifth in the league and deservedly winning both Cup competitions.
Some of the players stories in Saints Super Season are amazing in themselves. Take Murray Davidson, a man who’s been at St Johnstone since 2009. Injury deprived him of the 2014 success at Celtic Park, and a horrible challenge by Keymar Roofe ruled him out of the League Cup triumph. To get a winners medal at the third time of asking is justice for the midfielder who’s given his all for the club. Another man who thought his Scottish Cup opportunity had passed him by is Liam Craig. He originally left Saints in 2013 to join Hibs and was drowning in the sorrows of relegation whilst his former teammates lapped up their Scottish Cup success. He made his way back to McDiarmid Park that summer and now has that Scottish Cup winners medal draped around his neck, and how fitting it was achieved against his former employers.
Local boy David Wotherspoon gave an emotional interview to Sportscene’s Jane Lewis at full time, summarising in an instance what this means to him. Let go by Hibs in 2013, he’s revelled with his boyhood team and more than played his part in the clubs three trophy successes, brilliantly setting up the winner for Shaun Rooney. Of course, this is a case of lightning striking twice for the wing back dubbed the “Bellshill Cafu” as he also headed the winner in the League Cup Final, also in the 32nd minute. For a man who was out of the team in the early part of the season, to become only the fifth man this century to score in two Cup Finals, becoming a Saints legend is a brilliant story.
Two more players who are revelling this morning are Craig Bryson and Stevie May. The duo came in for criticism after their respective spells at Aberdeen didn’t work out, with Bryson being slated for his fitness record and May not fulfilling his £400,000 move to Pittodrie. Both now have won double the trophies in three months to what the Dons have had in ten years, with May now having three winners medals overall with St Johnstone.
Even the most diehard Hibs fan can’t say that St Johnstone didn’t deserve their success yesterday. Over the 90 minutes, they were the better side after Zander Clark made a big save from Jackson Irvine, once they got in front through Rooney’s header they were in control of the game, created the better chances and should’ve had a second but for Matt Macey saving Glenn Middleton’s penalty and Chris Kane’s rebound. Hibs found it difficult to breakdown a Saints defence brilliantly led by skipper Jason Kerr and their frustrations were summed up when Martin Boyle took a desperate dive to attempt to win a penalty, only for the referee to correctly book him for simulation.
Becoming only the second club outwith the Old Firm to complete the Cup Double is momentous, not just for St Johnstone but for Scottish Football. It is refreshing to see stories like this emerge and reminds a lot of us that our game does not revolve around two clubs, and is something that the media in particular need to pay more attention to.
There was one let down from St Johnstone’s achievements in that fans were not in attendance to witness their historic triumph. The decision by the Scottish Government to overturn their original approval of 600 fans to attend was disgraceful and once again emphasised why people have the perception that they brownnose football in this country. Whilst their rationale in trying to get Covid infection rates under control are understandable, they could at the very least have allowed the players families to attend given they would’ve been going straight to Hampden and out again. Having witnessed the FA Cup Final being played in front of 25% capacity at Wembley, it was a real shame that our Cup Final had nobody there to witness it and summed up the misery of the last twelve months with fans being locked out. Whilst most of what Nicola Sturgeon and Jason Leitch have done in the pandemic has been correct, their constant failure to give football an opportunity to prove it can be run without an increased risk to Covid infection has been questionable, and yesterday emphasised that.
Fans or not, nothing can take this achievement away from St Johnstone Football Club. To go 130 years without a major trophy to three in seven years is tremendous, and for two of them to come this season is truly remarkable. This success will be talked about for years and is up there with anything achieved domestically in the Scottish game.