Concluding this series looking back at St Johnstone’s previous appearances in the semi final stage of the Scottish League Cup.
After losing to Hibs at the penultimate stage of the 2006/07 season just three years later would see our favourites reach the last four for the 8th time in their history. Once again Saints faced Rangers and despite two previous defeats at this stage to the Glasgow giants there was still optimism that this improving Saints side could reach the Final.
Both progress and change had been seen during the intervening years with Saints winning the Challenge Cup, narrowly losing two Scottish Cup semi’s to either side of the Old Firm, Owen Coyle moving to Burnley and with his replacement Derek McInnes, guiding Saints back to their rightful place in the Premier League.
So when the rebranded Co-op Insurance Cup got underway in the 2009/10 season Saints had a potentially “banana skin” trip to Ochilview to meet Stenhousemuir on their artificial pitch. However, After Steven Milne had put Saints ahead midway through the first half, further goals from Kenny Deuchar (2) and Collin Samuel (2) eased them into the next round.
The second round draw took Saints to Arbroath and in similar fashion to the previous round won comprehensively by 6 goals to 0. Scorers that night at Gayfield were Steven Milne (2), Filipe Morais, Kenny Deuchar (2) and Collin Samuel.
The draw for the third round gave Saints another away trip. This time it was Hibernian at Easter Road and in one of the peculiar twists of the fixture list Saints visited their opponents on the previous Saturday in the Premier League. That match had resulted in a 3 – 0 win for the Hibees but the scoreline didn’t reflect the chances Saints had created but squandered. The cup fixture started badly with Stokes putting the home team ahead in the first minute. However, Gavin Swankie levelled 6 minutes later and further strikes from Chris Millar ( 3 minutes after he had come on as a sub ) and Jody Morris gave Saints a 3 – 1 success.
Dundee United were the visitors to McDiarmid Park in the quarter final stages and two own goals in the second half put Saints in the driving seat. A late goal for the visitors meant a nervous end to the match but eventually Saints progressed 2 – 1 on the night.
And so a cold, wet and snowy night welcomed Saints and Rangers players to Hampden Park on Wednesday 3rd February 2010 with 17,371 hardy souls also turning up to watch.
St Johnstone Manager Derek McInnes selected the following team: – Graeme Smith, Gary Irvine, Danny Grainger, Jody Morris, Dave Mackay, Graham Gartland, Chris Millar, Murray Davidson, Cillian Sheridan, Liam Craig, Filipe Morais. Subs: – Alan Main, Steven Anderson, Kevin Moon, Steven Milne, Peter MacDonald.
Saints, wearing their maroon strips, started confidently enough but it was the ‘Gers who nearly took the lead in just 5 minutes. Novo broke clear and after drawing Smith well out of his goal slipped the ball past the ‘keeper towards the gaping net. Thankfully, Dave Mackay got back in time to clear the ball from the goal line. A really close shave.
Minutes later it was Gary Irvine who came to the rescue ( on the first of many occasions that night ) when he managed to head clear when it looked as if Lafferty would get his head to a Novo cross to the back post.
However, the best chance of the match so far fell to Saints’ Murray Davidson in 17 minutes. The tall midfield man burst into the box to get on the end of a great Irvine cross but unfortunately his header flew past the post.
Next it was Cillian Sheridan who tried a shot from the edge of the penalty area without success
Then a Liam Craig corner was only palmed out by Alexander in the Rangers goal towards Filipe Morais at the edge of the 6 yards box but the winger’s shot was blocked.
Gary Irvine was again the saviour as he cleared a Steven Davis effort from a tight angle. However, the Rangers man was not to be denied as a minute later he was on the end of a Novo cross and, although his first effort was saved by Graeme Smith, the midfield man turned the rebound into the Saints net. 0 – 1 after 28 minutes.
Saints responded with Filipe Morais trying a long range effort which again Alexander struggled to hold in the difficult conditions and minutes later David Weir almost put through his own goal as he headed a Morais cross just over his own crossbar.
But just as we thought that Saints might get back on level terms Rangers increased their advantage with 37 minutes showing on the clock. This time it was Lee McCulloch who scored with a 25 yard shot which slithered under Smith’s body and into the net for 0 – 2.
Steven Milne replaced Morais at half time and midway through the half Peter MacDonald came on for Sheridan as Saints tried to get a goal and get themselves back into the game. You kind of know that it’s not your day when “Peaso” managed to get in the way of a goal bound Murray Davidson header!
Minutes later Saints man of the match Gary Irvine fouled Naismith in the penalty area and the referee pointed to the spot. Naismith took the kick himself but although he struck it well Smith dived full length to save.
The remainder of the match was played out in heavy snow showers with only a very good Steven Milne shot which went over the crossbar 7 minutes from full time giving rise to any real excitement.
Accordingly, another semi-final ended in disappointment.
Rangers went on to defeat St Mirren 1 – 0 in the Final to lift the cup.
In putting this series together it is interesting to note just how often over the previous 8 semi’s that Saints have played well enough but just didn’t get that little rub of the green which is often needed.
In 5 of the 6 occasions that Saints have failed to progress to the Final, the team which did so, went on to win the cup! Only Dundee in 1967 ended up losing.
Equally, the 1960’s teams did superbly well to reach 4 semi’s in 9 seasons.
And just how special were the teams of 1969 and 1998 which did us proud in reaching the Final.
So, hopefully, this year allied to their undoubted skill St Johnstone will get that little bit of luck that is needed to go on to win this competition.
Come On You Saints.