St Johnstone’s 600th Match at McDiarmid Park – Part 3

Concluding this short look back at some of the memorable matches played at McDiarmid Park.

Season 1999/2000 would see Sandy Clark’s team overcome Finnish side VPS Vaasa 3 – 1 on aggregate in the UEFA Cup Preliminary round and then get a plum draw in the first round proper against the millionaires of AS Monaco.

The away leg was a brilliant occasion for the fans, and for 70 minutes Alan Main, virtually single handedly, kept the scoreline blank as he made fantastic save after fantastic save. Perhaps if Miguel Simao had scored when clean through with only the keeper to beat the outcome might have been different but he didn’t and Saints eventually went down 3 – 0. Fabian Barthez, the French World Cup winning goalkeeper was so impressed with Main’s performance that at the end of the match he ran the full length of the pitch to congratulate the Saints number 1 and present him with his jersey as a momento of an incredible performance. One of the finest goalkeeping performances ever seen!

So on to game number 7 on my list of best matches. This was the second leg against AS Monaco which kicked off at 5 o’clock to accommodate European television and the 7,706 fans who turned up on Thursday 30 September 1999 were in for a real treat.

Saints got off to the perfect start with a goal in just 5 minutes when Simao’s shot took a wicked deflection of Leonard and flew past Barthez for 1 – 0 to Saints. The advantage was, however, short lived as four minutes later Prso scored a stunning goal. Cutting in from the left side of the pitch he curled an exquisite shot into Alan Main’s top corner and the score was level at 1 – 1. The visitors then went ahead on 24 minutes when Riise got the better of Danny Griffin to score from a tight angle. But Saints were far from out of it and on 33 minutes Nick Dasovic levelled the score at 2 – 2 when he crashed home a Nathan Lowndes knock down.

Then, just before half time came the really big moment in the match. Simao was brought down in the penalty area by Barthez and nearly everyone in the ground thought, penalty, and the keeper must go. I said nearly everyone, because there was only one person who didn’t think it was a penalty, and that was the one person who mattered. To everyone’s consternation the Spanish referee waved play on. Needless to say the crowd were not slow to let him know their thoughts as he left the field at the break.

A future French international star – a young David Trezeguet – replaced Simone at half time. Midway through the second period Legwinski scored to put the visitors in front again, but this Saints team had both resilience and quality, and a short time later John O’Neil equalised, prodding home a McAnespie corner from close range. A pulsating match ended 3 – 3 and Saints fans were left with many wonderful memories.

Saints team was: – Main; McQuillan, Bollan; Dasovic, Griffin, Kernaghan; Simao, O’Neil, Lowndes, O’Halloran, Kane. Subs: Ferguson, McAnespie (for Kane), Grant (for O’Halloran), Thomas, McCluskey, McBride, O’Boyle (for Lowndes).

The star-studded Monaco team was: – Barthez; Marquez, Lamouchi; Legwinski, Leonard, Sagnol; Prso, N’Diaye, Irles, Riise. Simone. Subs: Contreras, Giuly (for N’Diaye), Trezeguet (for Simone), Gallardo (for Lamouchi), Farnerud, Rodriguez, Silva.

It is also worthy of mention that Rafael Marquez went on to captain Mexico in four successive FIFA World Cup tournaments – 2002, 2006, 2010 and 2014.

For memorable match number 8 we need to fast forward more than 10 years to 30 March 2010 when Rangers were humbled 4 – 1 in a Premier League match by a brilliant St Johnstone team performance.

Going into the match Rangers were 10 points clear of Celtic at the top of the table and this fixture was one their two games in hand over their Glasgow rivals. Saints Manager Derek McInnes had moulded together a team of youth and experience and although more recent results were a bit mixed Saints still occupied a mid table position.

On a bitterly cold night the majority of the 6,189 fans were soon warmed up as Saints got off to a great start. With 7 minutes on the clock Cillian Sheridan fired in a left foot shot from the edge of the penalty box, which went over ‘keeper Allan McGregor’s head, hit the far post and then rolled back across the goal line, before hitting the other post, and going in for 1 – 0.

Just 5 minutes later it was 2 – 0 when Chris Millar scored a rare goal. Latching on to a Liam Craig pass “Midge” cut in from the left wing and hit a wonderful shot which took a bit of a deflection off Davie Weir and flew into the net with ‘keeper McGregor again a virtual spectator.

Minutes later Papac pulled one back for the visitors, which in the past might have seen heads go down, but with the experience of Jody Morris and Michael Duberry to draw upon, the opposite happened. Before half time Saints were 3 – 1 ahead when Liam Craig headed in a delightful Millar cross. However, the dubious goals panel subsequently decided that Lee McCulloch had provided the final decisive touch and, regrettably, you will not find this “goal” on Liam’s record of goals scored.

Saints controlled the second half and Murray Davidson came on to prod home a Duberry header for number four and complete a fabulous performance. At the season’s end Rangers were crowned champions, having suffered only three defeats in the league all season, with this Saints score being their heaviest reversal.

Saints team was: – Smith, Anderson, Grainger; Mackay, Duberry, Morris; Millar, Craig, Deuchar, Sheridan, Morais. Subs: Main, Irvine (for Millar), Davidson (for Morais), Sheerin, Swankie, Reynolds, Samuel (for Sheridan).

The 2013/14 Europa League competition provides match number 9 in this review with Rosenborg BK being the visitors to Saints ground.

Our Norwegian opponents had a rich European pedigree and could boast that in their heyday they had defeated Real Madrid 2 – 0 in a 1998 Champions League match. Although not the force that they once were they were still regarded as formidable opponents.

In Manager Tommy Wright’s first match in charge of St Johnstone the team confounded many neutral observers by winning 1 – 0 in Trondheim thanks to a first half Frazer Wright goal.

On Thursday 25 July 2013 a big crowd of 7,850 made their way to the Crieff Road venue from Perth, Perthshire and further afield, in the hope that with the advantage of an away goal Saints would successfully finish the job.

That job become all the more difficult after just 4 minutes play, when Soderlund received a defence splitting pass 12 yards out, and stroked the ball past Alan Mannus in the home goal to level the tie. Game on.

After some end to end play Saints fans suddenly found themselves a new cult hero. Step forward Stevie May. Whilst the youngster had come through the various levels of the youth system more recently he had scored goals galore in loan periods at both Alloa Athletic and Hamilton Accies. These were at a lower level but now he was being tested at the top level … and boy did he rise to the challenge.

With 21 minutes gone he latched on to a David Wotherspoon through ball and, bravely getting himself between the advancing goalkeeper and the central defender, stuck out a foot and lifted the ball over the ‘keeper and into the empty net. 1 – 1 on the night and the stadium erupted as the home fans cheered with joy.

As you might expect Rosenborg tried everything they could to get an equaliser, which would have effectively put them through to the next round on the away goals rule, but Saints defence superbly marshalled by Wright and Steven Anderson held firm and our favourites progressed 2 – 1 on aggregate.

Saints team was: – Mannus; Mackay, Scobbie; Cregg, Wright, Anderson; McDonald, MacLean, Wotherspoon, Hasselbaink, May. Subs: Banks, Edwards (for Hasselbaink), Caddis, Miller (for Anderson), B.Easton, Fallon (for May), D.Easton.

Stevie May would go on to score 27 goals in all competitions in a season that famously culminated with Saints winning the Scottish Cup on 17th May 2014.

The 10th and final game in this review is also a Europa League match and if you like your football with tension and excitement then there is nothing better than a penalty shoot out to provide both of those ingredients.

A Steven MacLean goal had earned Saints a very creditable 1 – 1 draw with FC Luzern in Switzerland the previous week in the 2nd Qualifying Round of this competition and when Stevie May converted a first half penalty in the return fixture on 24 July 2014 it looked like Saints were on track to progress into the next round. However, just before the hour mark the majority of the 8,486 crowd fell silent when substitute Schneuwly equalised with a 10 yard shot into the corner of Alan Mannus’ net. No further scoring took place and when 30 minutes of extra time failed to separate the teams it was then down to penalty kicks.

After seeing off Rosenborg in the previous year’s competition Saints had gone out in the next round when, disappointingly, they lost 3 – 2 on penalties at McDiarmid to FC Minsk. So there was more than a bit of trepidation around the stands when we were faced with a very similar scenario.

Luzern started proceedings when Freuler scored the first, as did Steven MacLean to level matters. Then Mannus brilliantly dived to his right to save from Schneuwly before Liam Caddis put Saints 2 – 1 ahead. The next three Swiss takers all scored with aplomb as did Dave Mackay and Stevie May. So at 4 – 4 the final kick was the responsibility of Tam Scobbie. Despite some unsavoury gamesmanship from the ‘keeper any doubts there may have been about Tam’s nerve were quickly dispelled when he drove his effort high into the net giving the keeper no chance. So, 5 – 4 to Saints, and the start of mass celebrations in the stadium as we celebrated success in another of those unforgettable European nights.

Saints team was: – Mannus; Miller, B.Easton; Brown, Mackay, Wright; Millar, Wotherspoon, MacLean, May, O’Halloran. Subs: Banks, Scobbie (for Miller) McDonald, Caddis (for Wotherspoon), Croft (for O’Halloran), Kane, D.Easton.

I’m sure that every supporter has matches that are particularly special to them and I hope that this short series has rekindled memories of what I believe to be some of the really great times at McDiarmid Park. Lets hope that there are many more such occasions to come in the future.

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