St Johnstone: Can Callum Davidson build on success in Perth?

St Johnstone: Can Callum Davidson build on success in Perth?

Zander Clark and Callum Davidson
Callum Davidson has led St Johnstone to a top-six finish and League Cup triumph
Venue: Hampden Park, Glasgow Date: Sunday, 9 May Kick-off: 14:15 BST
Coverage: Watch on BBC One Scotland, listen on BBC Radio Scotland, plus updates on BBC Sport website & app

When you’ve won a trophy and finished in the top six on a bottom-half budget in your first season as a manager, what do you do next?

That’s the fortunate position St Johnstone boss Callum Davidson finds himself in, having already brought the League Cup to the McDiarmid Park trophy cabinet.

The short-term answer is to secure a cup double by navigating a semi-final and final in the Scottish Cup in the next three weeks, having stunned Rangers in the quarter-finals.

But looking ahead, how on earth does Davidson improve on such an impressive debut campaign?

Dream start

St Johnstone’s performances this season have been very consistent, even when results have not always gone in their favour.

They won just four of their first 20 Scottish Premiership games this season, losing 11, and were bottom of the league in October.

However, only Celtic, Rangers, and Aberdeen have managed to beat Davidson’s side since the turn of the year as they have racked up seven wins from their last 15 league games, drawing five.

Despite those statistics suggesting a dramatic improvement in the latter part of the season, their early season stutters were down to poor finishing in front of goal, combined with the odd defensive error. Through good coaching and slight tweaks rather than a major overhaul, those losses have turned into draws and wins.

That’s borne out by the fact that Davidson’s men are never played off the pitch – only unbeaten Rangers (twice), Celtic, and Livingston have managed to beat them by more than one goal in the league. St Johnstone never make life easy for opponents.

Their solidity – having kept 10 clean sheets in 2021 – comes from a consistent selection, particularly at the back, where centre-backs Liam Gordon, Jason Kerr, and Jamie McCart have formed an impressive unit alongside goalkeeper Zander Clark.

Meanwhile, long-serving players such as David Wotherspoon, Murray Davidson and Liam Craig provide valuable experience and consistency at Premiership level alongside some talented prospects like Ali McCann.

In fact, the Perth side are arguably a clinical striker away from pushing for a top-four spot.

Vultures circle

The first problem for manager Davidson is that maintaining all the positives above is difficult on a budget like St Johnstone’s, which is among the lowest in the division.

The manager has already admitted English clubs have been watching his players and McCann, Kerr and others will likely be the target of offers.

Fortunately for Davidson, he worked under a man who was able to operate impressively in those very circumstances. Tommy Wright – who Davidson assisted in Perth for five years – backed up a sixth-place finish and Scottish Cup triumph in his first season in Perth by ending the next three campaigns in fourth.

The caveat there is that at least one of Rangers, Hearts and Hibernian was missing from the league during that run.

Nevertheless, Wright’s ability to recruit players like Joe Shaughnessy, Matty Kennedy and Drey Wright over the years, as well as the bulk of the current squad, will be something Davidson will have learned from and must now replicate.

But, on a more personal level, as a young ambitious manager, there is always the consideration of striking while the iron’s hot. Davidson, who is under contract until 2023, is undoubtedly committed to the club he has had a long association with, but if an attractive offer were to come in it would provide some food for thought.

“It’s a big ask,” the St Johnstone boss told reporters recently when asked how they could emulate this season’s success. “We’ve got a lot of interest in our players, which is great for St Johnstone. You’ve got teams down in England coming to watch our young talent. For me that’s a massive positive.

“How can we improve on the season? It’s tough, very tough.”

‘What more can Davidson do?’ – analysis

Former St Johnstone defender Richard Foster on BBC Scotland’s Sportsound

I think [the St Johnstone squad] missed Callum’s enthusiasm when he left as assistant manager in 2018. I knew that’s what he would bring. He’s very knowledgeable about the game and he’s got a real hunger and desire to improve himself and his team. I just think it was a good fit for St Johnstone. He is already a good manager and he will go on to become an even better one.

Former St Johnstone defender Allan Preston on BBC Scotland’s Sportsound

I would honestly be worried if I was [St Johnstone chairman] Steve Brown, looking around. Not that Callum wants to go – far from it. But what more can y

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