ST JOHNSTONE were hurting after their semi-final exit from the Scottish League Cup last weekend, but a convincing victory in the country’s other major knockout competition yesterday started the healing process.
SCORERS - May 27; Wright 42; O’Halloran 63; Dunne 79
Two goals in each half, including a 21st of the season for Stevie May, and one each for their recent signings, James Dunne and Michael O’Halloran, ensured that they will be in the hat for today’s William Hill Scottish Cup quarter-final draw.
With a number of their Premiership rivals – including Celtic – already out, the competition is wide open, although Tommy Wright knows better than to get caught up in all that. “We said that about the League Cup,” warned the managerwho saw his side hammered 4-0 by Aberdeen last weekend. “We’ll see what the draw brings. We are not looking too far ahead.”
This, though, was a sound and thoroughly professional way to get back on the horse, albeit against League One opponents. It was an awkward tie in windy conditions, but St Johnstone were comfortably the better team and clinical at key moments.
Wright was particularly pleased with O’Halloran, making his first start since joining from Bolton Wanderers, and James Dunne, newly-acquired on loan from Stevenage. Lee Croft was also prominent, having a hand in all of the goals. “We knew the attitude had to be right,” said Wright. “Coming here is never easy, and the wind made it difficult, but I’m really pleased with how we went about it.”
Forfar knocked Rangers out of the League Cup this season, but the impression here was that challenging a Premiership side is another matter. They had their chances, especially at 2-0, but ultimately, they could have no complaints. “St Johnstone were the better team,” said Dick Campbell, the Forfar manager. “I didn’t realise they would be as good as that.”
While there was a gulf between the teams, both were full of experience. Quite apart from 38-year-old Darren Dods shoring up the Forfar defence, and Marvin Andrews – who is the same age – warming their bench, the goalkeepers alone had 80-odd years between them.
St Johnstone’s Stevie Banks turns 42 today. Rab Douglas, his opposite number, will do the same in April. The latter was given quite a ribbing by a group of visiting supporters who had not forgotten his Dundee history, but the veteran seemed to be game for the laugh.
He has had more to handle down the years than abuse from a smattering of Perth punters who were so buffeted by the wind that they could barely ignite their smoke bomb. No, the problem for Douglas was on the pitch.
St Johnstone were slow in adapting to the artificial surface. Initially, their distribution from the back was sloppy, and Martyn Fotheringham, a former Saints player, briefly threatened with a shot from a narrow angle that smacked off the outside of the post. That, though, was St Johnstone’s only scare during a first half in which they soon found their rhythm. Paddy Cregg, omitted from the semi-final team, started this one, and it was a familiar face who scored the opening goal.
Croft’s corner appeared harmless enough until Gary McDonald headed it to the edge of the six-yard area. There, Stevie May had his back to goal, but with the instincts that had enabled him to score 20 already this season, he turned and hooked it into the corner of the net.
Their second goal was strikingly similar to the first. This time, Croft’s corner was swung in from the left, and McDonald’s header was more powerful. When Douglas could only push it away, Frazer Wright stepped in to nod it over the line.
The crosses were troubling Forfar. When Dave Mackay delivered the best yet just before half time, McDonald rose once again to glance a perfect header into the bottom corner. If anyone deserved a goal it was McDonald, who had twice set up his team-mates, but he was adjudged to have fouled his marker.
As expected, there was a Forfar response. Early in the second half, with the wind at their backs, they put their opponents under pressure and were unfortunate not to pull one back when Odmar Faero’s 30-yard shot cracked off the junction of bar and post. The same player then drilled one wide after Dale Hilson had laid it off.
St Johnstone settled the issue with a third goal in which a Croft pass again did the damage. He took the ball from David Wotherspoon and whipped it across the box so that Douglas could only push it out. O’Halloran converted the loose ball.
Banks had to tip over a header by Ross Campbell, but really, the question was how many St Johnstone would score. The fourth arrived with 11 minutes left. Croft – surprise, surprise – was the supplier, and when the ball broke to Dunne, the substitute’s crisp left-foot shot crashed in off a defender on the line.