I felt that at Aberdeen, the manager got it completely right. The right starting XI, the right subs at the right time and ultimately the right result.

And it was probably right to start the same XI against Livingston on Saturday. But it quickly became apparent that changes might be needed and when the opportunity presented itself when Jaiyesimi went off injured, the wrong decision was made.

Quite what we hoped to achieve with Graeme Carey and Matt Smith playing as inverted wingers is beyond me, but it stifled us badly and blunted any creative threat we hoped to pose.

There were, however, two factors we were fighting against over and above our own poor performance and weird tactical choices – one that was totally out of our hands and the other a long-standing structural issue that has to be addressed.

First off was the way Livingston chose to play the game. As soon as they took the lead their enthusiasm for taking part in the game completely disappeared. Throw-ins took an eternity. Someone went down “injured” virtually at every break in play. There were 18 minutes of injury time added across both halves and to be quite honest, the 10 minutes at the end of the second period was probably at the low end of what could have been legitimately added.

That was aided and abetted by some remarkably lenient refereeing. There was an abject failure to get to grips with it from a very early stage – not a single booking dished out, and only once was a word had with someone taking an egregious amount of time over a throw-in.

But more worryingly, what has happened to the McDiarmid Park pitch? Only a few weeks ago I felt it looked in better condition than it has at this stage of the season for several years, but on Saturday it was rutted, potholed, bobbly and looked a nightmare to play on.

I don’t think we necessarily have slick, Barcelona-esque football in us – but it would be nice if it was possible to at least be able to try it. It becomes hard to break down a packed defence if every player needs two or three touches to get the ball under control because it invariably arrives at them at knee height.

We take on Celtic away from home next, That feels like a write-off at this stage – the Champions coming off the back of a bruising defeat and with their backs up over refereeing again (never mind that they missed their own nonsense of a penalty at Tynecastle – all focus, naturally, has to be on the one they conceded). The pre-split run-in then comes in thick and fast. Points on the board – and quickly – are a must.


The Herald: Billy Stark was Saints manager in 2002Billy Stark was Saints manager in 2002 (Image: sns)

April 6 2002. Motherwell 1-1 St Johnstone. A Paul Hartley strike midway through the first half secured a draw – but left us 14 points adrift of the pack with just four games remaining. Game over, relegation confirmed.

But in the Fir Park away end, I distinctly remember sitting in a (quite small) crowd singing “we’ll have fun in Division One…” The feeling being that trips to smaller grounds and winning more games – which wouldn’t be hard given we’d only won five that season – would be an upgrade, or at least a more fun experience than the purgatory we had just endured.

That narrative has a tendency to creep in when teams of St Johnstone’s stature start to founder. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad, we tend to imagine. Go down, visit your Somerset Parks and Gayfields, have a bit of a laugh, jettison the poor players on big contracts and rebuild to come back stronger and better for the next Premiership stint.

We know what happened last time for Saints. We plumbed the depths for periods, looked more likely to go down than come up and played second fiddle to financial dopers like Gretna.

Right now there’s no guarantee that Dundee United – who have greater financial resources than us – will get back up this season. If Raith Rovers had got their act together even two or three weeks ago they’d be clear at the top, and there’s still time for them to do so. The Championship will likely feature Falkirk next season and be packed with teams notionally of a similar size and stature all fighting it out for one guaranteed place at the top table.

I don’t envy the team or teams that drop out of the Premiership this season. Right now I feel like we’re keeping the playoff place at arm's length – it is critical we get ourselves far away from it as soon as possible.