It’s been a season of ups and downs so far for St. Johnstone as the club approaches the halfway point of their Scottish Premiership campaign. The consistency of previous seasons has been lacking a little in a league which is as strong as it has been for a number of years, yet despite this the club remain in a strong position for yet another top six finish.
In fact, as the club head into the busy festive period they’re only a few points shy of where they were at this time last season and after an incredible 3-1 victory at Ibrox against Rangers, the players are brimming with renewed confidence going into the hectic end of year schedule.
It was always going to be one of the toughest campaigns yet for Tommy Wright’s men, with the return of Hibs to the top-flight and many clubs adding real quality to their squads in the shape of players and managers during the summer and early parts of the season. One Saints player, who has been a lifelong fan of the club, believes that despite some inconsistent performances of late it’s been another promising start to a season in what he believes is a golden era for Saints.
Bridge of Earn lad David Wotherspoon has been going to the games since he was just a young boy and the midfielder is now in his fifth season at McDiarmid Park, following his move from top six rivals Hibs in 2013. Sitting in the Main Stand on a glorious December morning looking out over the pitch, he reflected on the season so far following the win at Ibrox and the disappointing 3-0 home defeat to Aberdeen.
“Expectations were already quite high going into the season,” he said, “and then when we came flying out of the traps I think everybody got a bit excited. I think it made some people lose sight of just how difficult it was always going to be this season. If you look at the league table, we’re still in a very good position and in a relatively similar place as we were at this point last season.
“To beat any side in this league is difficult, and this season is probably the most competitive it has been for many years. If you look at the league table though, we’re still in a very good position and we’re in a relatively similar place as we were at this point last season. Obviously we’ve been a bit inconsistent in recent months but if we can find that consistency again and get back to making ourselves hard to beat then there’s no reason why we can’t kick on and cement another top six finish.”
The campaign did start brightly with Saints rubbing shoulders with Celtic at the top of the table, albeit for just a few games. The fast start came after the club exited the Europa League in the first qualifying round, with some directing criticism towards the side for failing to beat the Lithuanian outfit Trakai.
David thinks that this was undeserved and having featured frequently in continental football since he arrived at McDiarmid Park, he hopes that he’ll be able to sample European football again in a St. Johnstone shirt.
“I felt the criticism was quite harsh but I also think that had we played them a few weeks later and had more match practice under our belts we could’ve beaten them. They were a decent side though and they came here and banged in an absolute wonder goal too.
“Over in Lithuania we dominated large parts of the game but just couldn’t make the breakthrough. We were obviously disappointed not to progress but these games are very difficult when they come right at the start of pre-season and you’re coming up against a team who are midway through their own.
“It’s a massive achievement for a club like Saints to get into Europe at all, so to have done it so often over the past few years has been incredible. Everyone loves it – it’s a great experience for the players and fans, and you get to see different playing styles and cultures. I think everyone has benefitted from it and hopefully we’ll get more chances to play at that level in the future.”
The Perthshire-born midfielder was always a fan but started his career away from his hometown club. After a spell in the youth ranks at Celtic, Wotherspoon made his name at Easter Road playing for Hibernian in the Scottish capital.
Handed his debut by John Hughes, he went on to make 132 league appearances for the Leith side between 2009 and 2013. He still has fond memories of his time with the club but the opportunity for more first-team opportunities and to play for the club that he and his family had long supported was too good for him to turn down, and it seems to have been the right decision.
“It was an amazing moment for me,” he told me, “to join the club that I’d supported as a boy was great and most of my family are big Saints supporters too. My mum and dad try to get to games as much as they can, and my big brother is a big fan and sometimes brings my nephew along as well.
“I love being out on that pitch. It’s the same pitch I would come along and watch the club all those years ago and it’s been a really fantastic four years for me here. I had a few options when I was leaving Hibs and how they might have turned out, well I guess I’ll never know. I just had a great feeling about coming here – I felt it was the best move for me and I’ve never looked back since.
“I was a wee bit disappointed with how I left Hibs in the end but I knew I had to move on to progress my career. I could never have imagined the amazing success that the club has had since I joined though, it’s arguably been the most successful period in our history and to have been a part of it has been incredible.” It’s arguably been the most successful period in our history and to have been a part of it has been incredible.
Since joining in July 2013, the club have finished in the top six in all four seasons and competed in the Europa League qualifying rounds four times too. There’s no doubt though that the most significant highlight of David’s St. Johnstone career came at Celtic Park in May 2014, and even just mentioning the Scottish Cup win brings joy to the midfielders face.
“That was incredible. It was my first year at the club and I think I played in just about every game of that whole season, around fifty games all together when you include the two cups and Europe. We knew our main chance of success would be one of the cups so we did put a lot of emphasis on them.
“I think looking back you need to look at the Aberdeen game as the big one for us in that cup run. They’d beaten us pretty comfortably in the League Cup semi-final, and our record against them wasn’t great going into the match. When we went in at half-time 1-0 down, it would’ve been easy for us to crumble.
“I can remember looking around that dressing room and every single player in there believed we could turn it around. The manager told us we had 45 minutes to give it our all and every single player was fired up. Mayzo was obviously the difference in the end but it was a team effort and we played brilliantly in that second half.
“We were probably slight underdogs going into the final as well against Dundee United but I think we all felt it was our time and we knew we could win. To win the Scottish Cup with my boyhood club and my family watching on was a special feeling.”
With Saints in a decent position going into the second half of the season, the club has a great chance of making it a 7th top six finish in a row which would be a remarkable achievement for the Perth side. Although it’s a team effort, it’s hard not to single out manager Tommy Wright for praise for his achievements over the past few years.
It was Wright who brought Wotherspoon to McDiarmid Park in the summer of 2013, and the midfielder thinks very highly of the Northern Irishman and credits him for playing a big part in his decision to make the move to the club.
“The manager has been absolutely brilliant for me personally and great for the club over the years too. I met up with him before signing here and it was a really positive meeting. He definitely played a big part in me making the move and I really wanted to play for him.
“I’m really surprised that a club from down south hasn’t tried to snap him up, although I’m not complaining because that means we still have him here! You look at his record in comparison to some managers that have got moves and I think his is better. He’s achieved fantastic results consistently year on year but as I said I’m glad he’s still here and hopefully we can hang onto him for as long as possible.”
The images for this article were provided by Perthshire Picture Agency/St. Johnstone F.C.
The next match is Saturday's Tayside derby at home to Dundee. Visit the St. Johnstone website for more information.
Half season tickets are now on sale and Saturday's match against Dundee is the first home game that the ticket will be valid. They are available for purchase at the McDiarmid Park ticket office, and you can find out more on prices here.
Live Active Leisure has launched a new campaign encouraging the residents of Perth and Kinross to ‘Travel the World with LAL’.
May 27th Wednesday 2020
Chrystal Matthan is the 24 year old netball player from Perth who was recently selected for the Scottish Thistles Long Squad!
February 27th Thursday 2020
Foundation trustee Charlie Gallagher recently handed over a £2000 cheque to Academy head of youth development Alistair Stevenson.
January 31st Friday 2020