- BY GORDON WADDELL
THE Saints boss has watched his side go unnoticed for two seasons but is happy that they are finally getting the credit they deserve.
TOMMY WRIGHT has spent two seasons cultivating success by stealth for St Johnstone .
Now he admits they’re flying so high he can’t keep them under the radar any longer. They’re bang in the middle of it. And he wants his players to embrace it.
Saints have racked up nine wins in the past 11 games in all competitions and have already scored more goals in 17 league games this term than they did in all 38 last season.
And although he’s content with constantly being underestimated, despite their Scottish Cup win and back to back top-six finishes on his watch, Wright believes they’ve earned the right to be respected.
As he prepared for two tough tests of those credentials, starting today with Celtic before hosting Hearts next weekend, he confessed: “I think the radar has picked us up. That wee drone has finally spotted us!
“It’s because we have been scoring goals. We haven’t achieved anything yet but that is what people are picking up on and maybe pointing out we are more exciting this year, and more offensive-minded. That is probably the case.
“Because of the goals, we can’t be trying to keep under the radar any more, although I do enjoy both approaches.
“It has suited us playing it under the radar but now we have no choice. We are cornered.
“The big difference is that I can’t go into press conferences now and say I am happy just to be 10th and stay in the league. My nose would have been hitting the cameras.
“The run we are on, if it continues or even dips just a little bit, is the sort that can get you into the top three.
“But continuing this sort of form is what it’s going to take.”
Wright is careful not to diminish what’s gone before, though. He knows there’s more than one way to skin a cat.
The 52-year-old said: “As a manager and coaching staff, we took a lot of pleasure out of last season. You don’t get the headlines and probably rightly so because we only scored 34 goals.
“But to achieve fourth with that goals tally was some achievement by my staff and my players.
“It’s different this year. We’ve scored 35 in 17 games and people see us as a more exciting team to watch, with players like Michael O’Halloran and David Wotherspoon who are pleasing on the eye and who get fans off their seats. That brings more attention. So we are being classed as one of the teams you’d want to go and watch.”
Not that he’s gone full gung-ho – yet. Wright laughed: “You still get Steven Anderson and myself complaining we don’t keep enough clean sheets.
“They say you can’t have everything but we want it all. More clean sheets and we’ll pick up even more points because of the goals we are scoring.
“If we continue this run, we can have another helluva season.”
The good thing for Wright is that the players believe as much in each other as he does in them.
Liam Craig said: “I think all you have to do is look at the way we’ve played this season.
“Three times we’ve been down to 10 men and we’ve taken nine points from these games. We’ve taken a lot of points coming from behind in games as well so it says a lot about our mentality and the demands we place on each other.
“The manager doesn’t like me saying it but we have a lot of players in that dressing room who manage the team themselves.
“Everyone from Allan Mannus forward pretty much. The core of the squad has been here a long time and they’ve all got strong voices. it’s a difficult team to play in sometimes because the demands are so high from everyone.
“I knew when I came back here what I’d have to do to actually play in this team but fortunately I’ve come back and fitted in well. And if I want to stay here I have to keep working just as hard and playing just as well. We’re an honest team who work hard and never know we’re beaten, so when you have a group of players like that, you always have a chance.
“And we have to get away from this idea we’re just a hard-working team.
“Look at the squad with boys like Michael. There’s a lot of ability and we’ve scored goals from all over the pitch. We’re in a good place just now.”
Craig sat in front of his TV on Thursday night and studied Celtic’s battling 1-1 performance in Istanbul ahead of their visit to Perth today.
But he admits there’s little point in passing judgment based on their European performances.
He said: “Obviously they were disappointed with the goal they lost but you just need to look at the strength in depth of their squad to know whatever team plays us is going to be difficult.
“ Leigh Griffiths comes back in, maybe Kris Commons starts after getting his goal – it won’t be easy.
“But with them and Hearts in our next two matches, they’re the games we want to be involved in, right in the thick of the top four.”