St Johnstone 1 - 0 Partick Thistle: Saints confirm European return

St Johnstone's Danny Swanson celebrates the goal which sent St Johnstone into Europe. Pic: SNS/Kenny Smith

St Johnstone's Danny Swanson celebrates the goal which sent St Johnstone into Europe. Pic: SNS/Kenny Smith

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Danny Swanson’s penalty steered St Johnstone to a 1-0 win over Partick Thistle and a place in next season’s Europa League.

The focus has been on Alan Archibald this week, with the Partick Thistle manager the subject of overtures from down south. But while the Firhill boss has undoubtedly been worthy of credit this season, St Johnstone will be delighted that it is not their gaffer being chased by clubs elsewhere.

St Johnstone's Grham Cummins in action against Liam Lindsay. Pic: SNS/Kenny Smith

St Johnstone's Grham Cummins in action against Liam Lindsay. Pic: SNS/Kenny Smith

Time and again he delivers, proving a perfect fit for a club that simply goes about its business efficiently and effectively, without any fanfare, and while players come and go, he still manages to produce teams capable of upsetting the odds.

Based on what had happened at Ibrox in the early kick-off, where Hearts succumbed to another defeat, the home side started this game well aware of what was required to book their place in the Europa League qualifiers next term.

A solitary point would have been enough but against troublesome opposition, they went better than that, grabbing all three to allow them to relax and enjoy their final two matches of the campaign and, for a side who trailed Hearts by five points not so long ago in the battle for fourth, that is a mark of how well they have performed this season.

“I’m so proud of the players,” said the manager who has now guided them into Uefa competition four seasons out of his five at the club. “It has been a tremendous season but we deserved the victory. I thought we were the better team against a side that has done particularly well this year. But my players have done a tremendous job again and for us to finish above some of the clubs that we have done shows what a good side we are and we fully deserve the prize of Europe because of that.”

It was a tough ask to finish the job off against a Partick Thistle side who have defied pre-season predictions themselves this term and who have proved something of a bogey team to Saints in Perth. The last four head-to-heads at McDiarmid Park have ended in victory for the away side and in early periods of this game it looked like they may engineer a way to do that again.

In a fairly open start to the match, Thistle had been marginally the better outfit. More threatening in possession, they were working well together. But there is a steel about the Saints that means they weren’t going to pass up the chance of wrapping up Europe without a fight. And they are very adept at counterattacking and having gained an advantage they are far from profligate.

While Thistle, who still harbour hopes of chasing down Hearts to finish fifth, had tested Saints with the movement and deep running from Ryan Edwards, Adam Barton and Kris Doolan, there was no end product and it was costly. St Johnstone had a couple of attempts through Liam Craig but Tomas Cerny dealt with everything that came at him from open play all day.

Only when Danny Devine and Niall Keown squeezed out Danny Swanson, Keown clipping the attacker as he burst into the box, was Cerny presented with something he couldn’t keep out.

Swanson, who has already signed a pre-contract with Hibernian, was decisive from the penalty spot, stepping up to send a low strike into the bottom corner and while Cerny dived the correct way, the shot was too powerful and well-placed. When the scorer left the field in the 86th minute, to a standing ovation, it was clear that many wished he was returning for at least another term. Wright is one of them but isn’t fazed by the prospect of replacing him

“Listen, life goes on. Stevie May went and people said we couldn’t replace him and while we didn’t that year, we only scored 34 goals but still found a way to finish fourth. So for me as a manager it is about how we adapt tactically. Michael O’Halloran has gone and we replaced him, so when Danny goes we will find somebody else and Danny goes with my good wishes. His attitude and his quality are brilliant but we will find someone else to come in and hopefully we progress and still produce the standards.”

In the second half Cerny again kept Thistle in it, as Tam Scobbie’s header was foiled and he later raced off his line to block from Richard Foster and then got back up to pounce on the loose ball before the in-rushing Craig could follow up.

The home side were in the ascendency and they could have had another penalty when Keown’s nudge on Paul Paton sent the midfielder sprawling. Saints seemed to have a strong argument but referee Stephen Finnie did not see it that way and ended up booking Craig for remonstrating a tad too vociferously.

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