BY THE end Aberdeen were enjoying themselves. The players were trying wee flicks and backheels in the box, the fans were in full voice and the management team had calmed down enough to acknowledge the jubilant punters who occupied three of the four stands at Tynecastle.
Scorers: Aberdeen - Hayes 3, 79; Pawlett 31; Rooney 62
But despite the scoreline it was not a completely fraught-free afternoon. The opening goal in the opening minutes should have been enough to settle the nerves but such has been the suffering in the past and so successful have Aberdeen been at dredging up disaster on these kind of occasions, it was always going to take more than one goal to exorcise the demons of semi-finals past.
No matter how often Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes tried to play things down, the fact was his side went into the match as favourites to not only make it to the final but to win the whole competition. It put a side who had failed to reach a final for 14 years, lost the past five semi-finals and had been without a trophy win since 1995, under incredible pressure and the tension was tangible in the stands and in the technical area.
In those circumstances the last thing St Johnstone wanted to do was gift them an early goal to offer them any respite. But that’s exactly what they did. The Perth side have not won a major trophy in their 130-year history and any hopes of redressing that in this season’s League Cup took a massive dunt after just three minutes.
With regular goalkeeper Alan Mannus suspended and sidelined anyway with a broken thumb, there was a starting berth for 41-year-old Steve Banks and it wasn’t the kind of start he will have wanted. A sclaffed goalkick went straight to Adam Rooney and when the ball was cut back across the box it was Jonny Hayes who was made sure to find the net.
There was celebration but no one in the Aberdeen ranks relaxed as the match raged on in frantic fashion, with the Aberdeen defence having to hold firm as St Johnstone battled to get back into it. But while they tested the nerve of their opponents, they rarely tested Jamie Langfield in the Aberdeen goal.
Lee Croft had a great chance in the 26th minute but his angled drive failed to find the net and they were hit on the counter in the 31st minute. The pass was slid in from the left flank and although David Wotherspoon did well to get back and intercept, he couldn’t get his clearance beyond Peter Pawlett, who punished him.
It was a blow to St Johnstone who must have felt that if they had found an equaliser then they could have really rattled Aberdeen. But while the Pittodrie side posed a real threat in attack, they also had a solid defence.
Derek McInnes had brought Shaleum Logan in on loan from Brentford during the week and immediately thrust the right-back into the starting line up. Alongside the likes of Mark Reynolds, Russell Anderson and Andrew Considine, he gave the Perth side few openings. The latter two have had their fair share of cup anguish in the past but they ignored the ghosts of yesteryear and held firm yesterday.
St Johnstone did come close in the 51st minute but a header from Dave Mackay crashed back off the junction and when Gary McDonald found Steve May with the loose ball, his shot at the back post was blocked by Reynolds.
At the other end Aberdeen were awarded a penalty only for referee Bobby Madden to change his mind when he realised that Adam Rooney had been flagged offside. But by the 62nd minute they were 3-0 up anyway and it was Rooney who scored it. Pawlett dispossesed Dave Mackay and played the ball through to the striker and he slotted the shot beyond Banks.
For all St Johnstone’s effort, it was obviously going to be Aberdeen’s day and as the Pittodrie fans sang for McInnes it was hard to believe that there was a section of them who had not even wanted him appointed.
Yet here he was, engineering something that had seemed impossible after so many failed attempts. The final goal was netted by Hayes and it gave the scoreline more polish than was probably fair to St
Johnstone, who have now lost seven successive cup semis.
That was with 11 minutes remaining. By that time the tension had eased and the reality had sunk in, Aberdeen were in a final for the first time in 14 years.
Now they, and their fans, just need to keep a lid on the soaring expectation levels.
Aberdeen: Langfield, Logan, Considine, Flood, Anderson (Tate, 81), Reynolds, Pawlett (Low, 87), Robson (Vernon, 82), McGinn, Rooney, Hayes.
Subs not used: Weaver, Zola.
Goals: J Hayes 3, 79; P Pawlett 32; A Rooney 63.
Booked: A Considine, B Robson.
St Johnstone: Banks, Mackay, Easton (Miller, 88), McDonald, Wright, Anderson, Wotherspoon, Croft (O’Halloran, 72), May, Hasselbaink (Iwelumo, 61), Millar.
Subs not used: Hurst, Cregg.
Booked: D Wotherspoon
Referee: B Madden