On this day in 1978 St Johnstone made the short trip down the Carse of Gowrie to meet Dundee in a League Division 1 match at Dens Park.
A local derby always has a competitive edge to it and if any further spice was needed for this fixture, then it was that Saints were harbouring a huge sense of injustice from the previous meeting at Dens in November. Dundee had won that encounter by 5 goals to 3 but the scoreline comes nowhere near in reflecting the drama of that particular match.
The Dens men had started the game in whirlwind fashion and were 3 – 0 ahead after just 27 minutes. However, Manager Jim Storrie’s boys were fired up for the second half and Bobby Thomson got one back 4 minutes after the restart. Later in the half Dundee keeper Thomson Allan was stretchered off with a head injury, and with no goalkeeper on the sub’s bench, winger Simpson courageously donned the goalie’s jersey. As Saints piled on the pressure the substitute was helpless to stop a brilliant solo effort from Davie Ross followed by a wonderful curling shot from Jimmy Wright to bring the score to 3 – 3. Even if Scotland Internationalist Allan had still been between the sticks even he would have not saved either goal. With15 minutes still remaining both teams went all out for the equaliser with no quarter being asked or given.
In a pulsating finish Dundee scored in the 92nd and 94th minutes to secure their victory. The sense of injustice mentioned earlier came from the first of these two goals. Saints defender Dave Clunie had clashed with Sinclair and the linesman immediately put his flag up to signal a foul for Saints. Most of the Saints players had seen this and stopped playing, but to their consternation, the referee did not blow his whistle and stop the game. This allowed the winger to continue goalwards and when Drew Rutherford brought him down in the penalty area, the referee awarded a spot kick. Pandemonium ensued as Saints players surrounded the officials, but despite convincing the whistler to consult with his linesman, he ultimately stuck with his original decision to award a penalty, which Pirie duly dispatched past Derek Robertson.
If this was not bad enough further injustice was felt when Pirie netted the fifth goal when he was clearly offside and the ( same ) linesman kept his flag down.
Going into the January match Saints had won both their previous games over the festive period beating Montrose 2 – 1 at Links Park and Alloa Athletic at Muirton Park 3 – 0. These successes had help lift them into a mid table position whilst Dundee were sitting on top of the pile.
Manager, Jim Storrie selected the following team: – Andy Geoghegan, John Mackay, Stuart McBean, Drew Rutherford, Doug Houston, Dave Clunie, John Pelosi, John Brogan, Derek O’Connor, Bobby Thomson, Davie Ross. Subs: Micky Lawson and Jimmy Wright.
Shooting down the Dens Park slope, Saints started well and after only 3 minutes took the lead. John Brogan fired in a fierce shot that Allan could only parry and John Pelosi ( making only his second start for Saints ) was on hand to slot home the loose ball for 1 – 0.
In 34 minutes it was 2 – 0 and the first of O’Connor’s treble. Pelosi and Brogan were again involved with the winger’s inswinging corner being met by the Saints striker but his mishit shot fell into O’Connor’s path and he lost no time in firing home.
Dundee pulled one back 5 minutes from the interval to set up an exciting second half.
The home fans were now expecting their favourites to go on to win in the second period but were stunned when O’Connor struck again in 56 minutes. This time he headed home a perfect John Mackay cross for 3 – 1.
In almost a reverse of the earlier match it was the Dens men who came storming back and the Saints defence was under almost unrelenting pressure. Despite their gallant efforts midway through the half two goals in 3 minutes brought the home team back on level terms at 3 – 3. The equaliser again had a large amount of controversy about it when the Dundee striker, Williamson, was allowed to run through and score. A long upfield punt had found him clearly in an offside position but after hesitating the linesman allowed him to go on. Pandemonium again.
You might have expected Saints to wilt after this reversal, but far from it. They responded brilliantly and play now raged from end to end as both teams strove for the winner.
In those days there was no announcement of how long added time the referee would allow beyond the ninety minute time so when Saints won a corner in the 92nd minute everyone was expecting that the match would end in a draw. Imagine the delight, therefore, when John Brogan’s flag kick from the left wing was met by a soaring Derek O’Connor to head into the net for his hat trick and a 4 – 3 win.
There was merely time to kick off again before the full time whistle was sounded bringing a fantastic match to a conclusion. The delighted Saints fans in the 12,785 crowd that day gave their heroes an unbelievable ovation as they made their way back to the dressing room.
It was a most pleasurable drive back down the Carse of Gowrie that night.