One year ago today, St Johnstone manager Callum Davidson was preparing for his second game as a boss away to Rangers in the Scottish Premiership. It’s hard to sum up the size of his achievements since.
He’s guided St Johnstone to an unprecedented League Cup and Scottish Cup double. Now Davidson and his players are one game away from European group stage football, facing Turkish giants Galatasaray in the return leg of their Europa League third round qualifier. A 1-1 draw in Istanbul was inspiring, now it’s time for the ultimate step.
Victory tonight will guarantee a Europa Conference League group stage spot and a chance to fight for a place in the Europa League equivalent. It could be a game-changer for St Johnstone and one of their most famous sons is at the helm. After no fans at McDiarmid Park last season, they are approaching a full house tonight to spur his team on.
Davidson holds the club’s record-transfer fee after his departure to Blackburn Rovers in the 1990s. He returned to end his playing days in Perth before joining Tommy Wright’s coaching team as assistant manager, helping the club win the 2014 Scottish Cup.
Midfielder Murray Davidson has been on the pitch with Davidson and listened to his advice from the dugout. He knows how big the Galatasaray meeting is for Saints and fans eager to see their inspirations: “There is probably an extra buzz because Galatasaray are such a big name. I stay in Perth and there’s a buzz about the place.
“We have gone from one extreme to another, from playing in front of nobody to playing in front of as close to a full house as we can get. Being honest, it will take a lot to intimidate the Galatasaray players from what I saw last week.
“Last week in Turkey there were only 9,000 fans there but it’s still probably one of the best atmospheres I have played in. In the warm-up, you can see how players get intimidated because it was intimidating. You’ve got to try and enjoy it and thrive in it and I thought we did that.
“But I have seen McDiarmid Park before when we get a good gate through and it is a good atmosphere. We probably did take fans for granted because it was so normal. For the first month or six weeks last season it was great because we were just buzzing to be playing football again.
“But as time goes on, we had so many big games and it’s days like that where you think the fans here would be brilliant. Fans are a massive part of football and it does show us now how important fans are for the game. So we are buzzing they are back in.”
Manager Davidson knows the ‘magnitude’ of Galatasaray’s visit. It’s one of St Johnstone’s biggest games, which is startling given the success of 2021. Built on a solid defence of Liam Gordon, Jason Kerr and Jamie McCart, with goalkeeper Zander Clark behind them, Saints have the strength to allow players like Ali McCann to thrive.
There’s an added excitement around McDiarmid Park, and their manager wants to pen another unbelievable chapter with a happy ending: “I notice the buzz about the place, everyone is working unbelievably hard behind the scenes to get ready. It’s a game of huge magnitude for St Johnstone.
“For a club like us, to be challenging against Galatasaray, who are probably one of the sort of powerhouses of Europe… It’s a big challenge, a huge game and I think we’re all looking forward to it. We’re delighted we managed to take them back to McDiarmid with a chance. They are all buzzing, I just need to calm them down a little bit!
“European nights, under the floodlights at McDiarmid with a full house – I think all St Johnstone players, fans, myself, coaches, the hierarchy, it’s what we want, what we want to remember. We need to play the team, enjoy the occasion, and that’s what we’ll try to do on Thursday.
“We need to make sure we play against a team, rather than play the occasion, and that we’re focused right. If we do the right things and try to perform to a high level, it gives us a small chance to get through. Galatasaray undoubtedly are the big favourites, but it’s sometimes good being the underdog, the pressure is on the other team to go through.”
Galatasaray are currently playing in a stadium named after their manager, Fatih Terim. The entire city of Perth might be renamed in Callum Davidson’s honour if his team wins tonight.
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