2007 Scottish League Cup semi-final – St Johnstone 1 Hibernian 3 aet

Continuing this look back at St Johnstone’s previous League Cup semi-final appearances when we go back to the 2006/07 season for the 7th time the club had reached the last four of the competition.

After the joy of defeating Hearts in the1998 semi, only to experience the despair of losing to Rangers in the final, it was something of a barren 9 years before the next appearance.

The Managerial changes had continued since that 1998 campaign with Sandy Clark, Billy Stark and John Connolly all trying to restore Saints fortunes. Equally, the highs of matches in the UEFA Cup and Premier League had been replaced by relegation to the First Division and visits to the likes of Stranraer and Gretna.

Fresh enthusiasm had been instilled by the appointment of Owen Coyle and following a good run towards the end of the 2005/06 campaign Saints had finished second in the League table.

The first round draw for 2006/07 favoured Saints with a home tie against Third Division East Fife. After a first half in which Saints had struggled, Jason Scotland eventually made the breakthrough just after the hour mark. Martin Hardie added a further goal two minutes later and Scotland netted his second of the match on 70 minutes. The Fifers got a late consolation as the match ended 3 – 1.

Elgin City, also of the Third Division, were the next opponents at “McDiarmid” and, the lowest attendance in the history of the stadium, of only 1,198 turned up to witness Saints bombard their opponents goal for 90 minutes without scoring. In extra time Paul Sheerin did his usual immaculate job of scoring from the penalty spot to open the proverbial floodgates. Ryan Stevenson, Steven Milne and an own goal gave Saints a 4 – 0 victory. All four goals were compressed into a 16 minute period.

Next up was a real test, with Premier Division Dundee United coming to Perth  in the 3rd round. However, goals from Jason Scotland, Steven Milne and Simon Mensing, without reply demolished the Terrors.

The quarter finals produced a plum tie with Rangers at Ibrox where a fabulous Steven Milne double gave Saints a famous victory and passage through to the penultimate stage. ( You will find a full article on this particular match which I published on this site on the 8th November last year ).

The CIS Insurance Cup semi final saw Saints come out of the draw paired against Premier League opponents in Hibernian with the neutral Tynecastle Park as the venue. A crowd of 16,112 turned up for the match on Wednesday 31 January 2007.

Manager Owen Coyle selected the following team : – Kevin Cuthbert, Andy Lawrie, Goran Stanic, Derek McInnes, Allan McManus, Kevin James, Martin Hardie, Simon Mensing, Peter MacDonald, Jason Scotland, Paul Sheerin. Subs : – Bryn Halliwell, Filipe Morais, Andy Jackson, Steven Anderson, Willie Dyer.

Saints got off to the worst possible start. With only 3 minutes on the clock Steven Fletcher put the Hibees ahead from 6 yards when he turned a Sproule cut back past Kevin Cuthbert for 0 – 1.

Showing their character, Saints players responded and Jason Scotland came close when his shot whizzed narrowly past the post.

Hibs really had Saints under the cosh for the first 20 minutes or so and came near to making it two when Scott Brown hit the crossbar with a fierce shot.

However, gradually Saints midfield began to get in more tackles and to gain better possession of the ball. Kevin James height was also causing problems in the opposition penalty box and he almost found an equaliser with a header from a Martin Hardie free kick.

Just before half time Paul Sheerin went close with a shot at the postage stamp corner and then Hardie watched his effort from just inside the box go past the target.

The second half started with Hibs initially holding the upper hand but McInnes, Mensing, Hardie and Sheerin soon restored Saints control. As we all know, Paul Sheerin has a wonderful left foot, and when he delivered the perfect corner to the back post it seemed that Martin Hardie must equalise. Unfortunately, his shot went wide of the goal and the chance had gone.

A little later the same combination worked again, this time from a free kick, but unfortunately Hardie’s acrobatic attempt met with the same end result.

As Hibs broke away, Cuthbert was called upon to make a fine save from Stewart to keep his team in with a chance.

Saints then came close to equalising when a Peter MacDonald snapshot was deflected and hit the junction of the post and bar. This was followed by a Derek McInnes 20 yarder which shaved the post as Saints piled on the pressure.

Their reward finally came in 76 minutes when a smooth passing move involving Goran Stanic and Filipe Morais saw the winger’s cross being headed home by Jason Scotland for a fully deserved 1 – 1.

As Saints strove for the winner 6’ 7” Kevin James was pushed forward into a centre forward role. However, at the end of the regulation 90 minutes the teams were locked at 1 – 1 and so 30 minutes of extra time followed.

Two minutes into the first period Saints were hit by a sucker punch when Hibs were awarded a free kick 25 yards from goal. Murphy curled his kick around the defensive wall and whilst Cuthbert managed to get his hand to the ball, he could not keep it out. 1 – 2.

Saints tried manfully to get back on level terms and just before the half time changeover they had a strong penalty claim turned down. Scotland appeared to be fouled in the box when attempting to get on the end of a Morais cross but the referee said “no pen”.

The final 15 minutes followed a similar pattern as Saints tried their utmost to level the match but just could not find the equaliser. Seconds from the full time whistle in a Hibs breakaway Benjellou made it 3 – 1 and the dream was over.

As in previous semi finals Saints had given an excellent account of themselves against higher level opposition and on this occasion the final scoreline definitely flattered Hibs.

Once again Saints found that the team that had beaten them in the semi’s would go on to lift the cup as Hibernian defeated Kilmarnock 5 – 1 in the Hampden final.

Saints would also miss out on promotion to the Premier Division on the final day of the season when Gretna scored a late, late, goal to win the First Division by a single point.

Once again it was proved that there are such fine margins between success and disappointment.

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