Continuing the series of looking back on St Johnstone’s previous League Cup semi final appearances.
For the third time in their history St Johnstone qualified for the semi-finals of the League Cup in season 1967/68. On this occasion their opponents were local rivals Dundee at a neutral Tannadice Park.
In the group stages Saints had been drawn in a section containing Hearts, Falkirk and Stirling Albion. Outside of Perth The “Jam Tarts” were the clear favourites to progress to the next stages but Willie Ormond’s team had some surprises in store for them.
The opening match was played at Tynecastle and the home team fielded former Saints Jim Townsend and Bobby Kemp in their starting eleven. When Hearts took a 7th minute lead it seemed that everything was going according to script. Indeed for the next hour it was all Hearts. Then in 70 minutes all this changed when Kenny Aird, making his Saints debut, scored from close range after the Hearts ‘keeper dropped an in-swinging Fred Aitken corner kick. Suddenly the team had a spring in their step and it was no surprise when Gordon Whitelaw headed Saints into the lead 5 minutes from time for a 2 – 1 win.
Next up it was Falkirk at Muirton and a dour match ended goal less.
On the following Saturday Stirling Albion were the visitors to Perth. George Ryden put Saints ahead after 17 minutes but despite having total supremacy the team could not add to their goals total. When Jim Kerray equalised for the visitors on the hour mark the home fans in the 3,400 crowd feared the worst. However, the Manager brought on substitute Alex Macdonald and within minutes the little buzz bomb had put Saints ahead 2 – 1.
Saints were top of the section on 5 points when Hearts came to the Dunkeld Road stadium in what was something of a group decider. 6,000 spectators turned up to see a goal from Traynor and an own goal from the unfortunate George Miller put the visitors 2 – 0 ahead at the interval. In almost a repeat of the first match between the sides Saints sparked into life on the hour mark. Centre forward Tom Wilson scored two goals in 3 minutes and when big Fred Aitken scored a third in the final minute it was Saints who were very much in the group driving seat.
A midweek visit to Falkirk saw Saints confirm their supremacy, sweeping the Bairns aside in a convincing 3 – 0 win. Fred Aitken, Gordon Whitelaw and Aitken again being the scorers as Saints clinched the section.
The final match was something of an anti climax. Ex Saint Jim Kerray scoring the only goal at Annfield as Stirling Albion gained an unexpected victory. Henry Hall was on the Albion left wing that day.
The Quarter Final draw paired Saints with Second Division Queen’s Park with the first leg at Hampden. Although Saints won 5 – 0 that night they were assisted by an injury to the amateurs goalkeeper just before the interval with the score standing at 1 – 0. Alex Macdonald had earlier opened the scoring and when the keeper could not take his place after the interval, being replaced by an outfield player, it meant Saints could press home their advantage. A Gordon Whitelaw hat trick and a “Buck” McCarry goal saw Saints effectively secure their passage to the semis.
Saints won the second leg at Muirton 3 – 1 with Kenny Aird, Tom Wilson and Ian McPhee netting in the second half after the visitors had taken a surprise lead early in the second period.
And so it was on to Tannadice for the semi final on 11 October 1967.
Saints league form had been good, being undefeated in their first five matches with one win and 4 draws. This included a highly creditable 1 – 1 draw against the European Cup winners, Celtic, at Parkhead.
Manager Willie Ormond selected the following team: – Jimmy Donaldson, Findlay McGillivray, Willie Coburn, George Miller, Benny Rooney, Ian McPhee, Kenny Aird, Gordon Whitelaw, Tom Wilson, Bill McCarry, Alex Macdonald. Sub George Ryden.
Saints were wearing their change shirts of red with Dundee in white and for many of the players ( on both sides ) this was their first semi final. Accordingly, early nerves were a factor, and whilst Saints started the better it was midway through the half before the first real threat on goal was created. The Dundee keeper, Donaldson, dropped a Houston pass back in front of Gordon Whitelaw but the goalie just managed to retrieve the situation before the Saints man could get his foot to it.
The keeper was not quite so fortunate when Gordon Whitelaw deservedly put Saints ahead in 41 minutes. The keeper had lost the ball to Tom Wilson and was relieved when his defender, George Stewart, managed to partially clear the danger. However, he only succeeded in hitting the ball against Alex Stuart and the rebound spun up into the air to Gordon who was perfectly placed on the six yard line to nod the ball into the unguarded net. 1 – 0.
Just before half time Saints keeper Jimmy Donaldson had to make a superb diving save to keep the slender lead intact.
After changing ends there were only five minutes on the clock when the scores were level. The unfortunate George Miller when under severe pressure managed to hit an unstoppable shot into his own net as he tried to put the ball out for a corner.
This clearly gave Dundee new confidence and matters would get worse for the unlucky George when 15 minutes later he scored his second own goal of the night. This time, whilst trying to clear a cross he completely mishit the ball and could only watch in disbelief as the ball flew past the despairing dive of Jimmy Donaldson. 1 – 2.
Saints players and fans alike were shattered by these setbacks and when the referee later awarded a penalty to the Dens Parkers for a Rooney foul on Campbell which Jim McLean converted, then it really was game over.
So the hopes of a Hampden final were dashed thanks to two own goals and a penalty. Not the best of memories.
In another of the ironies of the fixture list, Saints met Dundee in a League match at Dens Park on the Saturday following the semi final, and trounced the Dee 4 – 1. Oh what might have been!
Dundee lost the final to Celtic by 5 goals to 3.