A FIRST-half goal from late call-up Stevie May sealed St Johnstone’s passage to the third qualifying round of the Uefa Europa League on Thursday night, and a European victory to mirror the club’s famous 1971 win over Hamburg.
Scorers: St Johnstone - May (21); Rosenborg - Soderlund (4)
Bookings: St Johnstone - Fallon (78); Rosenborg - Reginiussen, Berntsen, Nielsen
A unique excitement engulfed McDiarmid Park last night as thousands streamed into the ground , one that is only known by the lesser lights of Scottish football when they step into the European cauldron.
This was not like a Rangers or Celtic campaign, where the weight of expectation is such that supporters have tended to view a European qualifying round as a mere speed-bump, but an occasion with a fervour born simply from being part of the Europa League and a belief that this might not be the first and last experience of it in Perth this season.
Rosenborg may be halfway through their league, with 16 games played, and sit atop their domestic league, but they headed south from Trondheim a goal behind in their European adventure thanks to Frazer Wright’s strike in the first leg.
But within just five minutes, Rosenborg striker Alexander Soderlund levelled the tie with an opening goal out of nothing. It was the visitors’ first real attack and home manager Tommy Wright will have been furious with the ease he was allowed to dance into the area and prod a shot into the bottom left-hand corner of Alan Mannus’s goal.
The goal immediately lifted the intensity of the Saints’ work, bringing a succession of corner kicks, but the towering Rosenborg defence, led well by the assured Tore Reginiussen and Per Ronning, dominated in the air.
St Johnstone had lost the services of midfielder Chris Millar before kick-off, to a hamstring strain, Stevie May coming in for him and it was the replacement striker who brought McDiarmid park back to life.
Ronning had been injured and was receiving treatment on the touchline when a build-up of Saints attacks ended with May sticking out a leg to the bouncing ball and touching it over the onrushing Orlund with 25 minutes played.
Rosenborg always looked dangerous on the break, but they were guilty of overhit passes and, with Steven Anderson leading a committed defensive effort, the hosts continued to push the tempo of the game.
Nigel Hasselbaink came within a foot of scoring a second for St Johnstone with 12 minutes of the first half remaining, but his toe-poke on another chase-through slipped just past the left-hand post.
MacLean dropped deeper to further restrict Rosenborg’s options, particularly those of the skilful Jonas Svensson, and the work-rate of the home team, but Wright and Tam Scobbie, in particular, were impressive.
David Wotherspoon, who had offered little on the ball in the first period, went close minutes into the second half with a cross that deceived everyone and just shaded the far post,
Now was the time for Saints to seal this game, Rosenborg having emerged from the break just as flat and uncomfortable as they had entered it. St Johnstone continued to dominate possession and territory, but they lacked a finish.
For all the confidence Rosenborg showed on the ball, they lacked the precision to threaten. Tobias Mikkelson exemplified that with a long-range free-kick that soared high into the stands, an act for which he swiftly paid with a substitution.
A wicked cross from his replacement Borek Dockal caused a moment of panic for Saints fans before Anderson scooped it over his own bar. Mannus made an unorthodox clearance in a challenge with Soderlund and Nicki Nielsen managed to angle the ball past the far post from five yards when it looked easier to score.
As the game moved into the final 20 minutes, the Norwegians began to expose tiring legs in the home side and grip the play.
But still the score was level and, when Nielsen disputed a free-kick, earning a yellow card, quickly followed by Daniel Bernstein for dissent, Rosenborg’s frustration was becoming clear.
It was all hands to the pump now. With nine minutes to go, Mannus’ fingertips turned a low 20-yard fizzer from Dockal inches past the post, but Saints were also denied when Czech referee Miroslav Zelinka, who had a good game, failed to allow advantage when Gwion Edwards was in on goal with five to go.
Saints enjoyed their best period on the ball, but Wotherspoon wasted it with a speculative shot, and then Mannus produced a superb point-blank save from from Jon Inge Hoiland with three minutes left.
A jangling nervousness was coruscating down the stands now, and huge boos greeted the announcement that there would be four minutes injury-time, while substitute Rory Fallon flattened Cristian Gamboa and earned himself a yellow card.
White Rosenborg jerseys swarmed the home half, trying to force the ball into the Saints net, as St Johnstone players strained every muscle to keep them out. Wright was booked in the final seconds, but it mattered not as the next goal-kick from Mannus was met by a shrieking final whistle that brought an eruption of noise that Perth has not heard for a long, long time.
This was a towering performance from St Johnstone against the odds, earning a qualifying tie with FC Minsk in Belarus and writing a fresh piece of Scottish football history. Rosenborg started life in 1917 named ‘Odd’, but were forced to change to gain league entry. There will be nothing strange about the way St Johnstone supporters recall their name for decades to come.