Tommy Wright yesterday claimed he was always confident St Johnstone could make history after leading them into a first-ever Scottish Cup final. Prior to their 2-1 win over Aberdeen, the manager had reminded his players that they couldn’t change history, but they could create it.
Now he has charged his team with securing a first major trophy for the Perth club. “There is a belief about our squad that it could be our year,” he said, as he looked forward to facing Dundee United at Celtic Park on 17 May in the first all-Tayside final.
St Johnstone have finally made the great leap that has eluded them since 1934 when they lost their first Scottish Cup semi-final. Seven more have been lost since then, most recently in 2011 against Motherwell, when they were 3-0 down before half-time. Yesterday was ninth time lucky and they were required to make a second-half comeback from being a goal down against Aberdeen, after Niall McGinn’s 15th minute opener. Stevie May was their tattooed talisman once again, scoring twice in the second half to break a personal drought against Aberdeen.
Wright saluted his players, whose most recent experience of semi-final disappointment was in January, when yesterday’s opponents beat them 4-0 in the League Cup. On a day of firsts, this was St Johnstone’s first cup victory over Aberdeen in 28 attempts, including two Anglo-Scottish Cup ties.
“They have had a lot of disappointments in the past, losing semi-finals along the way,” said Wright. “I spoke about it at the team meeting and to be honest didn’t focus on the game too much. I knew we’d worked on a few things so I just said to them that we can’t change history but we can create it.
“There is a belief about this squad that it could be our year,” he added. “We can beat anyone on our day and we showed it here. I’m so proud of the players for how they went about it. Most people thought that for us to win this game we’d have to go in front but we did it the other way. To go behind and come back and win the match like we did showed great character.”
Now Wright’s team are focused on triumphing in the final against United, whom they have already beaten twice this season. There is an early cup final dress rehearsal on Saturday when the teams meet at McDiarmid Park.
“The game last time was very close when we won 1-0 and this one will be a very tight game as well,” said Wright. “I believe we can win the cup and Jackie [McNamara] will believe his team can win it as well.”
A local boy who has been at the club since his early teens, it was a fairytale afternoon for May. The identity of the opponents gave the 21-year-old an extra thrill, since the Aberdeen fans have taken to targeting him for abuse this season. Yesterday’s strikes were his first against Aberdeen. He admitted the jeers made his personal achievement even more satisfying.
“That made it that little bit sweeter for me, as did coming from behind to do it,” he said, before pondering why he has been singled out by Aberdeen fans. “I think they just don’t like my hair. If I had to guess I would go for that. It’s just banter, really, so, while I did enjoy getting back at them, just reaching the final is enough for me.
“I’m buzzing on a personal level but, as far as the team is concerned, I don’t think you could describe what it means to everyone. We wanted it that bit more this time and we wanted it for the fans as well.
“I’m a local boy and I think that just adds to it. Nothing gives you as much satisfaction as scoring the goal which takes your team into a final. This is the first time St Johnstone have ever reached a Scottish Cup final so it means a bit more.”
May has scored four times against United this season, including a hat-trick in the 3-0 win in December. “In a final anything can happen and we fancy our chances against anyone,” he said.
Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes stressed that he attached no blame to his players. He congratulated St Johnstone and said they showed “tenacity and determination”.
“We were fighting on three fronts,” said McInnes. “We had one cup and we wanted this one as well, and we’re still trying to get the club back into Europe. Now it’s just down to two. The players are void of criticism [here], they’ve been absolutely fantastic. We just need to make sure that the disappointment makes us better going forward.”