Can cup magic strike again for Davidson’s double hopefuls?
How are your heart rates Scotland?
That was some way to remind the masses why we love the Scottish Cup; three penalty shootouts and a thumping win on the road for Dundee United. The quarter finals desperately deserved crowds, and you just know that Easter Road and the away crowd at Ibrox would have made themselves well and truly heard after some of the heroics we saw on the pitch. Now we find ourselves with one of the most intriguing group of semi finalists the competition has seen in many years, and it is a pretty tricky one to call, but if you are looking for the powerful cup narrative, look no further than Callum Davidson’s St Johnstone team. After taking apart Hibs in the semi final of the League Cup, they would go on to down a resurgent Livingston to lift the silverware. Now they face the prospect of Jim Goodwin’s St Mirren, who have been a stubborn side at times this season, on their third trip to Hampden Park. If you had told a St Johnstone fan their team were headed to Hampden three, possibly four times this season with a new manager and a limited budget, you would be guaranteed they would rip both your arms off. But it is the reality we live in, and what an advert that in itself is for Scottish football rather than the Old Firm narrative of Celtic and Rangers blitzing knock out cup ties.
It will be hard work this weekend after news that four first team players were ruled out due to two players testing positive for Covid and two more being required to self-isolate, but nevertheless the task in hand can still be completed; here’s to praying for St Johnstone fans it isn’t the heroic Zander Clark after his efforts against Rangers last month. But Covid concerns aside, this is a team who have every right to go to Hampden and get a result against Goodwin’s team, who only just made it past Kilmarnock after a 3-3 draw led to a dramatic penalty shootout.
For St Johnstone to complete a cup double, it would be one of Scottish football’s greatest underdog stories. They should carry every ounce of confidence in Perthshire that this team can face anyone on their day. All three of the teams still in the cup have failed to show consistency in recent results, whilst St Johnstone have held in-form league leaders Rangers and beaten them at Ibrox; a warning sign to those in black and white this weekend. To go on and win a cup that Celtic have held tight for four years straight, and to then deny the runaway champions to a semi final, surely makes this team one of the Scottish Cup’s greatest surprises. They had no right to even dream of this trophy at the start of the season, and now here we are, with the holders gone and the league winners beaten, and St Johnstone in pole position.
Davidson has been keen to shun the cup favourites label, and that isn’t exactly hard to get your head around. This new found pressure on this team to create one of Scottish football’s greatest stories is hardly ideal when going into a tense encounter. Hibs are technically the team to beat if we base things on league position, but Davidson’s men dissected them in the League Cup semis, so quiet confidence might be the best medicine to sedate the excitement.
This week four managers were put forward for manager of the season, and quite frankly I can’t see anyone other than Davidson being worthy of the award. Yes, Steven Gerrard is on the brink of an unbeaten league season, but he has had all the finances he could possibly need and still has failed to even come close to a Scottish Cup final. Davidson has had barely any of the money Gerrard’s had, and neither has he had several practice runs with the Saints in previous seasons.
He has come in with a tightened budget and turned this team into cup winners who now stand an incredibly good chance of a second, and that to me deserves far more plaudits than what Gerrard has done this season. Even if it does go wrong this weekend, you have to give Davidson credit where it’s due for a League Cup win and a semi final appearance in the Scottish Cup. He and Saints fans can be incredibly proud of what their team has achieved this season, but onto Hampden to face another set of Saints to see who can make the most of the occasion and show us some more of that cup magic we all crave.
By Ruaraidh Britton