Dress rehearsals are often tantrum-filled, angst-ridden affairs, but, as far as St Johnstone are concerned, this could hardly have been more serene.
St Johnstone 2 - 0 Dundee United
SCORERS: St Johnstone; Anderson 32; May 76
At McDiarmid Park
They were the dominant force throughout this Tayside derby and, if they have any nagging doubts, they may only be that it surely cannot be quite as straightforward as this when these two sides contest the Scottish Cup final in a month’s time.
This result means the Perth men have now won three of the four meetings between these two sides this season which, if it doesn’t give them a psychological edge for the big one, certainly demonstrates that they are capable of prevailing on the day.
Goals either side of half-time by the two Stevens – Anderson and May – were no more than they deserved against a United side that rarely got out of first gear.
The nature of the game being what it is, the management teams from either side were never going to want to place too much store by what happened at McDiarmid Park yesterday, and even in victory Saints’ Tommy Wright was working hard at managing expectations.
“It won’t have any bearing on the day,” he calmly insisted. “It’s just three points, it gets us closer to Inverness and we still haven’t given up on trying to get fourth place. Come 17 May it’s irrelevant. Obviously we’ll take positives out of it, but as we proved last week against Aberdeen what’s gone before counts for nothing.”
There was nonetheless a very tangible feelgood factor coursing through the ranks of the Perth side yesterday, which Wright will be striving hard to sustain over the course of the next four weeks.
His group of players are too grounded to ever play with a swagger, but everything from the crispness of their passing to the energy with which they fought for each other spoke volumes of the lift they had experienced by taking the club to its first ever Scottish Cup final.
They could easily have put this game out of United’s reach by half-time as, apart from Anderson’s opening goal, the talismanic May could also have had a brace.
The visiting support misguidedly tempted fate by chorusing the same chant with which Aberdeen fans had taunted the pony-tailed striker at Ibrox before he silenced them by turning that semi-final on its head.
Yet again, May appeared to thrive on being goaded, pouncing on a mix-up between Andrew Robertson and Gavin Gunning before blazing over when he looked likely to score. Even closer was his stunning volley on the cusp of half-time which smashed against a post.
As it was, it was left to Anderson to secure the breakthrough that Saints merited at this stage. A David Wootherspoon free kick was floated to the far post, where the central defender was at hand to knock in his second goal in consecutive league games just after the half-hour mark.
United’s attempts to pose a threat of their own pretty much reflected their disjointed approach overall. Chances presented themselves for Nadir Ciftci and John Rankin, but they just didn’t manage to make proper connections.
It actually took the visitors the full part of an hour to start displaying any real conviction, with Ryan Dow signalling his arrival as a replacement for a below-par Ryan Gauld with a firm enough strike, but one that sailed skywards.
The better football and the best chances were still coming from the home side nevertheless, with the impressive Michael O’Halloran coming close on a couple of occasions.
The omnipresent May was never too far away from the thick of things either, and following a typical driving run down the right flank by Dave Mackay, the ball eventually made its way to the youngster who had the simple task of knocking it over the line from close range.
United assistant manager Simon Donnelly undertook press duties while Jackie McNamara continues to serve his touchline ban and didn’t want to dwell on the significance of this game for all sorts of reasons. “To be honest, we’ll be focusing on the next four games,” he said. “The incentive is for us to build on those games to get some confidence and momentum going into the final.”
Yet in the closing stages the confidence was being drawn by the home side and in particular goalkeeper Alan Mannus, as he pulled off a wonderful save from Dow’s downward header to keep a clean sheet. If he is in this kind of form on 17 May he, like Saints, will take some beating.
Saints’ Michael O’Halloran gets past Dundee United’s Keith Watson. Photograph: SNS
‘It’s just three
points. Come 17 May it’s irrelevant’