OTD 1999 St Johnstone met AS Monaco in a UEFA Cup 1st Round 2nd leg match at McDiarmid Park.
Despite a tremendous team performance in Monaco two weeks earlier the first leg had ended in a 3 – 0 defeat for Saints.
The result might have been different had Miguel Simao been able to convert a wonderful chance to put Saints ahead early in the second half. Put clean through by a Kevin Thomas pass he was one on one with Fabien Barthez the French International but the ‘keeper managed to save with his legs and the chance of glory was gone.
However, the highlight of the night was undoubtedly the display of Saints goalkeeper Alan Main who put on one of the finest performances ever given by a Saints keeper. He made save after save before finally being beaten in the 70th minute. Two late goals made the task in the return leg something of an uphill struggle. Barthez was so impressed with Main’s performance that after the match he gave him his jersey and was glowing in his praise of the Saints number one.
When the 2nd leg came around some 7,706 fans turned up at the Perth stadium for the 5 o’clock kick off hoping that their favourites could cause a major upset and overcome a team packed with full International players.
Jim Weir missed out on the return match and Alan Kernaghan, although clearly not fully fit, made his first start of the Season.
Saints Manager Sandy Clark selected the following team: – Alan Main, John McQuillan, Gary Bollan, Nick Dasovic, Alan Kernaghan, Danny Griffin, Miguel Simao, John O’Neil, Nathan Lowndes, Keith O’Halloran, Paul Kane. Subs – Alan Ferguson (gk), Kieran McAnespie, Roddy Grant, Kevin Thomas, Stuart McCluskey, John-Paul McBride, George O’Boyle.
Monaco Manager Claude Puel selected the following team : – Barthez, Marquez, Lamouchi, Simone, Legwinski, Leonard, Sagnol, Prso, N’Diaye, Irles, Riise. Subs – Gallardo, Trezeguet, Giuly, Contreras, Farnerud, Rodreguez, Silva.
Saints started the match with a bang and in the second minute Nathan Lowndes had a wonderful chance from a Simao pass but the striker shot straight at Barthez and then sent the rebound over the bar. A great chance missed.
Then in 5 minutes the home fans were celebrating. 1 – 0 Saints when Leonard could only divert a John O’Neil cross into his own net. Maybe the miracle could happen!
However, the lead was short lived, as 4 minutes later Dado Prso cut in from the left wing and from the edge of the penalty box curled a spectacular shot into Alan Main’s top left hand corner. A fantastic goal. 1 – 1. This was the first goal St Johnstone had conceded in European matches in Perth.
John Arne Riise gave early warning of his ability when he had a shot saved by Main but on 24 minutes he squeezed the ball in from a tight angle to make it 2 – 1 to the visitors on the night.
But this Saints team was made of strong character and after both Simao and O’Neil had missed chances to equalise Nick Dasovic raced on to a Nathan Lowndes pass on 33 minutes to fire a fierce shot past Barthez. 2 – 2.
Then just before half time Barthez brought down Simao in the penalty area. Everyone in the stadium thought – penalty. Except for the Spanish referee who waved play on! Very much a pivotal moment in the match.
The second half followed a similar pattern to the first with end to end play. On 69 minutes Legwinski headed home from a corner to put the visitors ahead again. 2 – 3.
Once again Saints came back and Kieran McAnespie, who had replaced Paul Kane, sent in a corner which was not properly cleared from the Monaco box and John O’Neil was able to stab the ball through the crowded area to level the scores. 3 – 3.
George O’Boyle replaced Nathan Lowndes and late on Roddy Grant came on for Keith O’Halloran.
However time ran out and a fantastic match finished 3 – 3 with Monaco winning 6 – 3 on aggregate.
Saints had given everything but it was not a night for miracles. Who knows what might have happened had Barthez been dismissed and Saints awarded a penalty?
The European adventure was over but fantastic memories for Saints supporters. Monaco would go on to the 4th Round of the competition where Real Mallorca defeated them 4 – 2 over the two legs.