St Mirren 2-0 St Johnstone: Goncalves secures win
Two goals from Esmael Goncalves, who has scored four times in three appearances since being signed on loan from Portuguese side Rio Ave, took Scottish Communities League Cup finalists St Mirren into the quarter-finals of the other major national cup competition.
St Mirren - Goncalves 49, 56
He struck twice inside seven minutes at the start of the second half, leaving the Perth Saints bemoaning the sloppy finishing which prevented them from progressing to the last eight.
The bad news for SPL defenders is that his manager, Danny Lennon, believes he has yet to see the best of the 21-year-old.
“He’s still a little overweight, to be honest,” he said. “He’s had a baptism of fire, with three games in seven days, but we now have a bit of breathing space and that will give us time to work on him. He’ll get fitter and stronger.
“Of course, he’s already had a major impact on the club. He enhances what we have and he’s only going to improve. He’s going to have a hell of a career.”
The player himself has become a fans’ favourite in record time and he did not attempt to hide his delight at the way he has been able to hit the ground running in Scottish football. “It has been an amazing start and I am so happy to be here,” said Goncalves.
“I didn’t expect to start so well because I hadn’t played a game for two months. I feel I can only get better and faster and it will take three weeks. The fans are crazy and I like them. I love playing in that kind of atmosphere.”
St Johnstone have never reached a Scottish Cup final and, unless they can increase their potency up front, that statistic will remain unaltered for the foreseeable future.
The home side had dominated territorially for the opening half hour but had nothing to show for their possession and it was the visitors who engineered the best two openings of the first half as it drew to its conclusion.
First, David Mackay picked out Steven McLean with a delivery from the right touchline. The midfielder met the ball firmly with his forehead but Craig Samson reacted magnificently, sticking out his left hand to palm the ball away.
Then Gregory Tade played in strike partner McLean with a defence-splitting pass. Samson left his line more in hope than anticipation but McLean, to his horror, shanked his attempt from 12 yards well over the bar.
More wastefulness followed in the 47th minute when Liam Craig found the unmarked Tade with a cutback only for the Frenchman to completely mishit his shot.
The visitors’ failure to convert their chances came back to bite them when Goncalves put the Buddies in front with a header from Gary Teale’s inviting delivery.
Incredibly, Tade squandered an opportunity to restore parity straight from the kick-off.
He was under no pressure, yet he headed Tam Scobbie’s cross weakly and wide.
They paid for that miss, too, when Goncalves swivelled on to Steven Thompson’s knockdown to beat Alan Mannus with a crisp, low drive. “As strikers, we have to take responsibility,” said McLean. “We let the other lads, the management and the supporters down.
“Their goalkeeper has made a good save from me but the second one was a bad miss.”
With St Johnstone chasing the game, Goncalves twice found himself in a position to complete his hat-trick but missed the target on both occasions.
Ultimately, though, it didn’t matter: the damage had already been done.
“The lads deserved that, for the effort and application they put in,” said Lennon, who was entitled to look contented.
It was the first time in his three seasons in charge of the Paisley club that they had won three matches in succession and to achieve that in all three domestic competitions made it an even more satisfying achievement.
Losing manager Steve Lomas bemoaned the inability of his side to find the net from the most promising of positions.
“We thought we had cured our Achilles heel,” he said. “Craig Samson’s pulled off one great save, which is what he’s paid for, but if we’d scored five times today then nobody could have complained, although St Mirren could have scored four.
“We should have been 2-0 up at half-time and that would have changed the whole complexion of the game.
“That’s the reason we’re not in the cup and also the reason why we’re not second in the league. Also, the goals we lost were shambolic.
“For their first they get a free header and the second one was just shocking.”
St Mirren: Samson; van Zanten, McAusland, Goodwin, Carey; Teale, Newton, McGinn; McGowan (Dummett 66); Thompson (Guy 81), Goncalves. Subs not used: Adam, Mair, Imrie.
St Johnstone: Mannus; Mackay, McCracken, Wright, Scobbie; Doughty (Abeid 60), Cregg (Edwards 73), Vine, Craig; Tade (Hasselbaink 58), McLean. Subs not used: Tuffey, Davidson.
Referee: C Thomson. Attendance: 3,507.
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