St JOHNSTONE suffered their first away defeat in Europe in three years as FC Alashkert claimed a 1-0 win in their opening Europa League qualifier.
Tommy Wright’s team have travelled safely to Rosenborg, Minsk, Lucerne and Spartak Trnava over the past two seasons. But they were undone in Yerevan as Mihran Manasyan’s second-half winner gave the Armenians a narrow lead ahead of next Thursday’s Perth return leg.
Saints substitute Chris Kane did have a chance to level at the death but fired straight at home keeper Gevorg Kasparov to leave the Scots frustrated.
The game kicked off in sweltering 40 degree heat and Saints were made to sweat despite facing a fairly ordinary Alashkert side. With new signings Joe Shaughnessy, Brad McKay and John Sutton in their line-up, they played into the hands of their hosts with a string of sloppy passes.
Midfielder Murray Davidson was forced off for treatment to a head knock inside the opening 90 seconds after colliding with keeper Alan Mannus. Davidson returned after six minutes on the sidelines but St Johnstone were happy to see Alashkert do little with the time and space they were being given.
Saints, content sitting in as they looked to maintain a clean sheet, finally put Kasparov to the test half an hour in but the Alashkert keeper was down well to tip David Wotherspoon’s strike away for a corner.
The Armenians were hardly free-flowing but Norayr Gyozalyan did force Mannus into a save from 20 yards out. The hosts made their first change 13 minutes into the second half as Manasyan replaced Siarhei Usenia. And it proved to be a decisive switch as just two minutes later he found the net when he slammed Karen Muradyan’s cut-back over Mannus’ shoulder.
Saints were relieved that Mannus was not troubled further as Alashkert fired in a series of long-range shots. But Kane wasted his chance to send the Scots home with a precious away goal when he failed to beat Kasparov with a scrambled effort from an 89th-minute corner.
Alashkert: Kasparov, Fofana, Arakelyan, Poghosyan, Usenya (Manasyan 58), Minasyan, Muradyan, Veranyan, Bareghamyan, Artak Grigoryan (Arman Hovhannisyan 90), Narek Gyozalyan (Dos Santos 80). Subs not used: Khachatryan, Voskanyan, Ghazaryan, Karapetyan.
St Johnstone: Mannus, Scobbie, Shaughnessy, McKay, Brian Easton, Lappin, Davidson (Brown 45), Wotherspoon, MacLean, Sutton (Kane 61), O’Halloran. Subs not used: Clark, Wright, Anderson, Caddis, Thomson.