St Johnstone 1-1 Eskisehirspor (Agg 1-3): Saints’ Euro hopes extinguished
ALTHOUGH St Johnstone preserved their unbeaten home record in Europe last night the task of overcoming a two-goal first leg deficit proved beyond the Perth side, whose hopes of securing a third qualifying round clash with Marseille were dashed by an equaliser at the start of the second half.
St Johnstone 1
Eskisehirspor won 3-1 on aggregate
Veysel Sari’s goal, after a cross from former Celtic striker Diomansy Kamara, proved a bitter blow for the home team. They had done everything manager Steve Lomas had hoped by seizing a half-time lead, courtesy of Gregory Tade’s first goal for the club. Just as vitally goalkeeper Alan Mannus had kept a clean-sheet, meaning St Johnstone were left with a very achievable task of scoring another two goals in the second half. Indeed, only one more was required to take the tie into extra time.
However, all this hinged on them being able to withstand further Turkish pressure. The plan unravelled just six minutes after half-time when Sari took advantage of St Johnstone’s failure to clear Kamara’s low cross from the left. The poke-in from close-range was a dagger in the heart for the St Johnstone fans, who were aware of the bleak calculations. Their team had somehow to find another three goals, all unanswered. It was now mission impossible.
St Johnstone might have wished for lashing rain. What they got instead was an unseasonal (for Scotland, anyway) summer’s night. With half ‘n’ half scarves on sale outside and a pipe band providing rousing pre-match entertainment, it was a long way from the hostile greeting often reserved for foreign teams in Turkey, though the visitors from Perth had returned with more positive reports after last week’s 2-0 first leg defeat. St Johnstone were treated with generosity, before and after the game at least. They sought to return the hospitality last night. Again, though, they wished to restrict this to off-the-field events.
On it, the plan was to make life as uncomfortable as possible for their guests. And for a while they did cause the visitors to sweat, before an Eskisehirspor goal in the 51st minute put a huge dampener on the evening as far as the home fans were
concerned. They did, though, wish the Turks well at the end.
St Johnstone issued a “thank you Eskishir” statement in the programme. It also included the hope that the friendship between the clubs will last for many years. McDiarmid Park has never been a seething cauldron of hate, and it certainly wasn’t here. The only ill-feelings were those directed across Tayside. ‘Are you listening Dundee scum?’ sneered the St Johnstone fans, with reference to the fact that the game could only be
accessed via radio in Scotland.
As a result, a healthy crowd congregated inside the ground, and though St Johnstone required time to find their feet, they eventually responded to the encouragement from the stands.
At first, the Turks looked to be well in control. Kamara, who started off as a lone striker, was being given good support from his team-mates, who swarmed towards the St Johnstone goal in search of the strike that would kill the tie off.
They almost got it in the 14th minute. Mannus was the man who kept St Johnstone in contention with a fine save low at his feet after Sari had stolen in at the back post and connected well with a cross slung in by left-back Diego Angelo.
St Johnstone could ill-afford such slack defending but they did not allow themselves to
become deflated. Slowly they felt their way back into the game. After 25 minutes they carved out their first chance. Nigel Hasselbaink robbed a defender and cut the ball back to Chris Millar, who sliced wide.
St Johnstone took heart. A minute later Tade dinked the ball wide when he might have squared to Hasselbaink.
Finally, it felt like a goal might be coming for the home team. Lomas’ game-plan had been to aim to secure a 1-0 lead at least at half-time. He knew that keeping a clean sheet in the first 45
minutes had to be the first
objective. Anything else could be viewed as a bonus. His side delighted their manager by doing just what he had asked.
Callum Davidson was the
architect, crossing from the left for Tade to score with a header at the edge of the six yard box after 35 minutes.
It was the foothold St Johnstone required. Crucially, they avoided relinquishing the lead in the time left until half-time.
In the eyes of the St Johnstone supporters, the tie hinged on what happened after 48 minutes.
Liam Craig dashed down the left with the ball and crossed for Hasselbaink, whose effort at goal, which kicked up off the ground, was superbly blocked by Ruud Jorge Boffin.
The goalkeeper, who had looked uneasy in the first half, completed repairing his reputation with a fine save from Craig just before the hour mark. By then, however, Sari had struck, and the home fans were already hoping against hope.
St Johnstone: Mannus, Miller (MacKay 60), Wright, McCracken, Callum Davidson, Millar, Murray Davidson, Cregg, Craig, Tade (Higgins 67), Hasselbaink (May 84). Subs Not Used: Tuffey, Anderson, Adams, Scobbie.
Eskisehirspor: Boffin, Angelo, Dede, Cetin, Potuk, Tello, Sari, Gucer (Guven 81), Zengin (Malecki 61), Eser (Nuhiu 72), Kamara. Subs Not Used: Erdogan, Bahtiyaroglu, Demirhan, Kara.
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Sunday 19 May 2013
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