WITH the clock ticking down towards half-time at McDiarmid Park, the ball broke to Motherwell’s Mark O’Hara on the edge of his side’s box as his team-mates tried desperately to fend off the St Johnstone blue tide

He turned, looked up, and began the long furrow upfield, when out of nowhere Ali McCann, his distinctive blonde hair bouncing, made up the yards to claw back possession for his team. 

Seconds later, the ball was with David Wotherspoon whose deftly disguised pass into the box proved too tempting for Bevis Mugabi and it was a penalty to the Saints. 

Stevie May did the rest and in a game where the drama was off the pitch rather than on it – predictably after another covid farce – this snapshot from St Johnstone and Motherwell's draw showed exactly why everyone is talking about the talented midfielder. 

HeraldScotland: Ali McCann says he has been inspired by Rangers midfielder Steven Davis Ali McCann says he has been inspired by Rangers midfielder Steven Davis

It's little wonder Celtic made sure to have a closer look at the new Northern Ireland cap and scout Tosh McKinlay would have no doubt been suitably impressed by what McCann had to offer. 

How does the 20-year-old cope with the extra noise surrounding him? By keeping his head down, of course. 

“There were more interviews after the Northern Ireland games," he said. "I’m not great at them – I just throw as many clichés out as I can! A typical footballer, I suppose.

“If there’s any speculation I don’t take notice of it.

“I just keep my head down and keep doing what I’m doing in the best way I can. Hopefully that will mean I keep producing good performances.

“You’ve got to be ambitious. You want to do as well as possible and go as high in the game as you can in your career.

“But you can’t get too far ahead of yourself. I just want to make sure I’m doing my best for St Johnstone." 

If there's ever any chance of McCann getting too far ahead of himself, he can look to the example of Northern Ireland and Rangers stalwart Steven Davis, who continues to excel at the age of 35. 

“Just being in and around people like that is brilliant," McCann said. "They helped me whenever they could.

“The more bits of knowledge you can pick up, the better. It can only benefit you going forward.

“It wasn’t a case of going up to them to ask questions. It’s about seeing how they go about things.

“If I can have a career that gets anywhere near to the likes of Steven Davis, then I’ll be very happy." 

While he was foiled by McCann in the build-up to the Saints' equaliser, it was O'Hara who had given Motherwell the lead at McDairmird Park on Saturday when he finished off the game's best move. 

There was poise, patience, and ambition in the Steelmen's attack and the 24-year-old was there to finish with aplomb when Liam Polworth's initial effort was blocked. 

Like McCann, there's talk he could be playing himself onto the international stage and the Barrhead boy can happily admit to chasing that ambition. 

"I’d be lying if said it wasn’t a dream I’d love to achieve," O'Hara said. "That’s surely the case with every Scottish player. Hopefully If I work as hard as I can I’ll catch the eye.

"It was good to be back in midfield [on Saturday]. I enjoyed playing centre-back and I’m happy to play wherever. It’s good to try to be effective all over the pitch.

"The goal was a good well worked, build-up move and was probably the highlight of the game football-wise.

HeraldScotland: Mark O'Hara, pictured during his Peterborough United days, impressed on Saturday Mark O'Hara, pictured during his Peterborough United days, impressed on Saturday

"That’s how we want to play, through the lines and move it about, and we didn’t do that enough today which was disappointing. But we showed at times that we are capable of doing that." 

Motherwell's preparations were hindered just hours from kick-off when they discovered Allan Campbell – the team's "best midfielder", according to boss Stephen Robinson – and Barry Maguire were ruled out after being identified as close contacts on international duty. 

When asked how the blow affects the players, O'Hara said: "To be honest it makes no difference. We just prepare as usual and treat it like every other day. 

"If you have illnesses and call offs there are people ready to step in. That‘s why got the squad we do."