ST JOHNSTONE defender Dave Mackay insists the Perth men have worked too hard to throw away their Europa League chances after one round.
Saints host Norwegian league leaders Rosenborg at McDiarmid tonight hoping to protect their 1-0 lead from the second qualifying round first leg.
Frazer Wright bagged that crucial away goal in Trondheim, but his namesake Tommy – the Saints boss – still insists the visitors will touch down in Scotland as favourites to progress to a meeting with either Valletta of Malta or Belarusians FC Minsk. But Mackay is taking a bullish approach to the meeting with Per Joar Hansen’s former Champions League quarter-finalists and claims the effort exerted in clinching a European slot with their third-place Scottish Premier League finish last term means St Johnstone will be desperate to finish the job.
He said: “I played a couple of rounds in Europe during my time at Dundee. We played an Albanian team and then Perugia from Italy, so I’ve experienced this before. It’s not something that comes along too often, though. We spoke in the changing room before the first game about the fact that we had worked so hard last year to earn the right to be here. We don’t want it to be over after two games. We want to win a few and make it worthwhile.”
In order to march on in the competition, Saints will have to protect an unbeaten European home record that stretches back six games over 42 years.
But Mackay says the more recent events of their win in Norway should give them belief too.
“We have got to take a lot of confidence from last week. We played very well,” he said. “For the first hour we were excellent – it’s probably the best we played since I have been here, possession wise and creating chances. We know we can create chances against them so, hopefully, we can take a couple of them tomorrow. It’s all about belief. Last week we didn’t know too much about them. We watched videos, but they can be misleading. So we didn’t know what they would be like. But after seeing them we now fancy our chances.
“The manager told us even before the first leg that we were good enough to go through. He had watched them a couple of times and said they are beatable. It’s proved to be that way.”
While Rosenborg are halfway through their domestic league season – leading the Tippeligaen table from Stromsgodset by two points after 16 games – St Johnstone are still a week away from kicking off the new Scottish Premiership with a home meeting against Hearts on 3 August. But Mackay is counting on a winning result against the Norwegians having a positive knock-on effect to their league form.
He said: “I hope we can win and then take that into the league. We have been notoriously slow starters since I have been here. Since we came into the SPL, I don’t think we have won a game in August. Hopefully, if we can go through this tie, it will give us a boost and allow us to get off to a flyer against Hearts.”
Manager Wright, who has told his team that keeping their discipline will be the key, said: “It was a great performance as well as a great result out there. I said to the players after the game that, even if Rosenborg had equalised, the performance was something to be proud of. That should give us a lot of confidence ahead of Thursday night. But we know Rosenborg are still favourites and we’ll have to be disciplined.
“We need to make sure we don’t go gung-ho and get picked off because, quite easily, they could score two goals in five or ten minutes. It’ll be very much a set-up similar to what we were in Norway.
“I think we created a little bit of history, being the first St Johnstone team to win away from home in Europe. Our players won’t settle with just that, we want to get through this tie and give the fans another trip. We want to extend this run and go as far as we can in Europe.”
Hansen resists mind games
ROSENBORG boss Per Joar Hansen will not be distracted by Tommy Wright’s attempt at mind games ahead their meeting with St Johnstone.
Despite leading their Europa League second qualifying round tie 1-0 from the first leg, Saints manager Wright claims the visitors to McDiarmid Park tonight remain the favourites. He tried to turn up the pressure on the Norwegians when he claimed it would be a “disaster” for the former Champions League quarter-finalists if they did not march on to the third qualifying round.
But Hansen said: “Our chances are 50-50. St Johnstone say we are favourites? Ok, nice. If you ask a Scotsman what they think of Norwegian and Scottish football, which is the best, they will say Scottish football is better. There are going to be mind games but we are 100 per cent focused on ourselves.”
Rosenborg’s flight to Edinburgh was delayed by almost two hours yesterday but Hansen insisted the hold-up would not disadvantage his squad. He said: “There is no problem with the delay. Our squad is 100 per cent fit, so we are doing well ahead of this match. The tie is 180 minutes – we have played just 90. We are one down but hopeful of beating St Johnstone.”