Santa came early this year as we got a wonderful gift of three points, three goals and a very funny red card at MacDiarmid Park on Wednesday evening. An attacking line up looking to possibly counter the potential of another stuffy opponent, however St Johnstone played with a lot more attacking intent than our previous opponents which, although initially a challenge for the side, eventually worked in our favour. A shot from the edge of the box was parried into the path of our oncoming attacker to give us the lead, before excellent link up play with our two midfielders put us two up at the half. The second half was again quite straight forward, and another goal on the rebound, taking advantage of a very poor goalkeeping performance for our opposition, helped us secure the three points and making the remainder of the game a relatively comfortable one, save for a couple of stops from our keeper. The joy of seeing Michael O’Halloran receive two yellow cards in quick succession to be ordered off just added to the festive cheer all us bears now feel, his involvement was as ridiculous as the decision to bring him to our club in the first place.
But we are now at the half way point of the season. 19 games played. 17 victories. 2 draws. An absolutely exceptional defensive record, and our attacking play looks a lot better as well. To be in such a strong position is so heartening, and when we are in this place, the only thing that we, or any other club, need to worry about. We look unstoppable in the league, and I have full confidence the players will not let up during this holiday period and keep grinding out those wins.
Here is how you rated our players after our pre-Christmas victory in Perth.
Allan McGregor – 6.8 (7)
St Johnstone were more attacking than Motherwell but all the same McGregor had very little to do in the match, as is standard for a Rangers goalkeeper of course. He did have to make a good diving save from a Stevie May shot, and not long after that had to be alert to collect a high ball into the box, but other than that this was an easy night for Allan, who probably celebrates Christmas by phoning up Sasa Papac to shout at him. It does make you wonder whether he is the kind to wear one of those crowns you get in crackers, or whether he just looks at you with a scowl at the sheer mention of the idea. “Eat your turkey and behave.”
James Tavernier – 6.6 (7)
Can’t really think of any major attacking moments for the captain in this game but I want to give a mention to his defensive work this time. I did criticise him for that last time but I thought on this occasion he did a lot better, particularly with aerial challenges, and his role was defined by that type of work this time round. And now and again it will need to be that, and when it is, he has to be ready to do that job, and he did that so well done. I can see him being the one to serve the Christmas dinner in his house. Up and down and up and down from the dining room table grabbing all sorts of food, his work ethic is always tireless.
Connor Goldson – 6.8 (7)
Quite early on in the game he was fouled in an aerial challenge which looked a real sore one for the defender, having to receive treatment for what potentially looked like a dislocated shoulder, he certainly landed very awkwardly on his side following that tussle. The fear I had when he was receiving his treatment told me just how important I feel he is to the team right now, and I am sure you all had that same gut wrenching nervousness watching that. Thankfully he is made of strong stuff so he was able to carry on and complete the 90 without looking to be suffering from any real discomfort. And I hope that he is well looked after on his Christmas day, feet up with some good Christmas movies like Die Hard (I say this in the hope of triggering one person, that will be a success).
Filip Helander – 6.6 (6)
It was quite interesting to see that when St Johnstone brought on Stevie May that he was clearly targeting Helander as the defender to get at, and the shot that May had that I mentioned before was their best chance of the game which came from Helander not doing well enough in handling him. It was a mixture of moments for Fil in this game, getting caught out a couple of times like that when specifically targeted but he had other occasions where he was the cool, calm and collected centre back we expect. I’m stopping the Christmas analogy’s now as I can’t think of how all our players will be on the 25th!
Borna Barisic – 7.2 (7)
I was very encouraged with the link up play he had with Ryan Kent, the understanding the two have is fun to watch, especially as it now looks like they both have a fair idea of what is the better route to go down, whether it be letting Kent cut inside or letting Borna get the ball into a position to cross in. With the latter of those options, the crossing looked fair without there being any real danger to them, the main threats we had and the successful ones came from the centre on this occasion, but it was still a shift that Barisic put in.
Glen Kamara – 7.9 (8)
A really great goal that put us two nil ahead, finished off by the rarely goal hungry Kamara. Considering he played a really slack ball that could have led to a real chance for St Johnstone early on, he picked himself up and not only tried shots from the edge of the area, but being so assured in possession and making it so difficult for the defenders to steal the ball from us. He runs on to an excellent ball and calmly places it past Clark, getting that crucial second goal that really turned that pressure tap off of the side who could then start playing. When he plays well he looks a level above the teams we are up against, and he was part of a really excellent looking midfield.
Steven Davis – 7.0 (8)
His class is eternal. Of late, the work he does in the middle of the park has been so important to our progress. Whether we need someone to steal the ball from the opponents or to set attacking moves in motion, he does them in equal measure. This was one of those games were he looked like he had his Christmas socks on (couldn’t resist) but was still buzzing around and being a pest for the St Johnstone players. He won the header that found Aribo who set up the second goal, and was found all over the place on the park. The temptation is to try and compare him to the Xavi’s and Pirlo’s of football history, but lets actually be fair here, there is no one who does what Steven Davis does for us, and in the future people need to be talking about the “New Steven Davis”.
Joe Aribo – 8.3 (8) – Man of the Match
Was important in our comeback victory on Saturday and was just as important in this game, playing a really good game in the middle of the park, and probably the best game he has played since returning from injury earlier in the season. What was so positive was the fact he was working both up front as well as at the back, coming deep to win balls and bringing it forward looking to create things. There looked to be a real hunger in his play, and the assist for our second goal was absolutely superb, and was the silk that went along with his steely display. He also does well in his forward run that eventually leads to the third goal as well. This is the performance we want from Joe, this is the potential we know he has. It’s good to see that back from him again.
Ianis Hagi – 7.9 (8)
I was really hoping Hagi would start this game, off the back of being as good as he was against Motherwell, he deserved the chance to prove he could do it from the start. Without wishing to toot my own horn (screw that, I’m delighted to do so) this was exactly the right call for Steven Gerrard to make. Not only did Hagi again do the nice looking stuff on the ball, he was not afraid to get stuck in as well, getting a lot of fouls and not willing to let the St Johnstone defenders hurt him in the process, sticking up for himself. His shot on the edge of the area is turned in by Roofe to open the scoring, although not a direct assist as such, it was good to see us look bold in shooting from distance, there is no harm in doing this with the right players, of which Ianis certainly is one of them. Roofe returned the favour, in a way, in the second half when his shot was saved but Hagi was there to follow up with an effort that snuck underneath the St Johnstone keeper to complete the scoring. It was so good to see that bow back, and very much “Take a bow son” because this was a really solid performance from him, a reminder to us that he is still more than capable of being a difference maker in this side.
Kemar Roofe – 7.6 (7)
What a difference Kemar Roofe makes to our side. Playing as the main striker on this occasion, he gave us a presence up top which again was that obvious level above any other attacker in the league right now. Although his goal was not spectacular, he anticipates the opportunity to run in to tap it in, not all strikers do this. That is intelligence which, combined with talent, leads to this feeling of total quality he possesses. He is in great space in the second half with his shot which leads to Hagi knocking in the third, again this is intelligent running. It goes to show that whether he plays off the main striker or does perform that role, he is someone who needs to play week in week out for us, and the way he has been managed to get to this level of performance is something we should heap tonnes of praise on the coaching staff for.
Ryan Kent – 6.5 (7)
Again, a hard working performance and looking to do a lot more in the middle of the park, seeing if he could influence play a bit more from that area. What was interesting about this was it gave Borna more space to run into, which I think benefits both players ultimately so I hope this continues. I know this always seems the plan but it felt a bit more exaggerated on this occasion which I think works. That link up play with Barisic is something that I think can help bring the best out of Kent, as he will gain confidence by making the right decisions over which players plays the key ball. And as we know, when he gets that confidence, he plays a lot better and gets us that output that he craves.
Alfredo Morelos – 5.4 (6)
Speaking of confidence. Alfredo really needs that goal to make him feel more comfortable in front of goal again. Now that should not take away from the link up play he was doing from deep again, I thought that looked really good, but to be in that position in the box, with no one around you, and put the ball wide like that, I was stunned to see it. The Morelos of last season is thumping that into the net before we could say “Ba Humbug” but he screws it wide this time. It will be a bit tougher for him to regain that starting place if there is a lack of belief that he can put away chances like that.
Bongani Zungu – 5.4 (6)
Made a crucial headed intervention from a St Johnstone corner which I think shows just how important it is to have someone of his style in the team. He takes great joy in being that destroyer, it’s what comes naturally to him obviously.
Cedric Itten – 4.8 (5)
To think he has scored some really important goals recently and it still does not feel like a surprise to see him enter the field late on here. I think that says more for our side than it does for him, we have some great attacking options and Itten is one of them, and one who will get better and better.
Scott Arfield – 4.8 (5)
I really hope that Arfield does not lift a finger on Christmas day. I hope he just sits with his feet up and lets everyone else do the work. He has to regain his energy from somewhere, although given how well our midfield looked, he may struggle to win back his place in the side straight away.