ST JOHNSTONE may have relinquished their hold on the Scottish Cup but this result means they still have a vested interest in the outcome of this season’s final.
Chris Kane scored his first senior goal for the Perth club within seconds of coming on as substitute in 70 minutes to give them the win that confirms a fourth-place finish in the Premiership.
Now victory for Inverness Caledonian Thistle against Falkirk at Hampden Park on Saturday will guarantee St Johnstone a fourth successive year in European football.
It is an achievement built on a run of just one defeat in their last nine matches. Conversely, Dundee United’s hopes of a place in the Europa League qualifiers have imploded with a horrendous sequence of just three wins in their last 18 games. What’s more, they have managed it by scoring fewer goals in the league than any side other than bottom club St Mirren after Tommy Wright was denied funds to strengthen his squad despite last year’s historic Scottish Cup win and the sale of Stevie May to Sheffield Wednesday.
Instead, Brian Graham was brought in on loan from Dundee United and finished as their joint top scorer in the league but the striker has already agreed to join Ross County for next season.
Steven MacLean hasn’t scored since hitting the winner against Aberdeen at McDiarmid Park last August, while James McFadden has failed to recapture his mercurial form and Danny Swanson is returning to Coventry City.
Defensive organisation has been largely responsible for another successful St Johnstone season, and that was the case again as they withstood strong pressure from an Aberdeen side trying to give captain Russell Anderson a winning send-off.
This was his first match since sustaining the latest in a series of debilitating injuries against the same opposition last August, and Anderson was blameless in this first defeat at home to a side other than Celtic since Dundee United on the opening day.
Aberdeen goalkeeper Scott Brown hardly had a save to make but St Johnstone were fully aware of what was happening at Tannadice and while they defended as diligently as usual, they simply had to throw caution to the wind as the minutes ticked away.
Graham and McFadden were thrown on but it was someone who spent the first half of the season scoring five goals on loan at Dumbarton who grabbed the winner and the limelight.
Kane replaced McLean, whose main contribution had been a yellow card for simulation in the first half, and with his second touch settled the outcome of the match with just 19 minutes to go.
McFadden played him in down the right and with the Dons defence exposed, the 20-year-old showed skill and composure to guide the ball underneath Brown.
That sparked a party amongst a large travelling St Johnstone support that only intensified at the full-time whistle when the players joined in, all hoping to be heading to more exotic locations as a result.
It slightly dampened Anderson’s retirement do but the defender was given a standing ovation by the fans of both teams and a guard of honour from both sets of players before kick-off.
The only Dons skipper to win silverware in two decades did a lap of honour afterwards and now takes up a business development role at the club while leaving business on the park to others.
That looks promising enough after a second-place finish for the first time in 21 years and the fact this decent display was mounted without a plethora of what would be considered first choice picks. Willo Flood, Ryan Jack, Barry Robson, Kenny McLean, Shay Logan and the Premiership’s top scorer Adam Rooney were given the day off for a variety of reasons.
Wright: Fourth is as good as winning the Scottish Cup
TOMMY Wright insists finishing fourth in the Premiership this season is as satisfying as winning the Scottish Cup a year ago – even if Saints don’t end up in the Europa League.
An Inverness Caley Thistle win at Hampden on Saturday will see St Johnstone qualify for Europe for a fourth successive season after yesterday’s victory at Pittodrie.
Wright will happily cut short his holiday in Northern Ireland to start preparations if that is the case and he has warned the locals back home to forget any plans to watch the English FA Cup final instead.
“I will probably watch the cup final in the Ballyclare Social Club next weekend with my dad” he revealed. “They might want to put the FA Cup final on instead, but I’ll be asking them to turn it over.
“I might have to rearrange my flights depending on the result but as John Hughes will tell you, it’s no foregone conclusion because Falkirk are a good side.
“But I’ll be watching it hoping Inverness can win because we’d love to be in Europe again. To get into Europe for a fourth year in a row would be remarkable – but it’s a remarkable season anyway.
“People don’t believe me when I say it but I’m telling the truth when I say that this season has given me as much satisfaction as last year.”
The game marked the 414th and final appearance of Russell Anderson in an Aberdeen jersey and he admits it was an emotional day for all the right reasons, regardless of the result.
“I was expecting to play an hour and ended up playing 93 minutes so yes, today confirmed I’ve made the right decision to retire,” he said. “I got a lovely reception from supporters before and after but it was the start of the game which I’ll remember.
“I thought my last game would end up being a nondescript scrappy 1-0 loss to St Johnstone at McDiarmid Park, so I shouldn’t be surprised it was just that – but here at Pittodrie.”
Aberdeen: Brown, Taylor, Anderson, Reynolds (Wright 56), Shaughnessy, Low (Shankland 47), Smith (Ross 80), Hayes, Considine, Pawlett, McGinn. Subs not used: Langfield, Goodwillie, Daniels, Harvie. Booked: Anderson.
St Johnstone: Mannus, Anderson, Scobbie, Easton, Wotherspoon, Millar, Caddis (McFadden 56), Davidson, Swanson, O’Halloran (Graham 56), MacLean (Kane 70). Subs not used: Lappin, Wright, Banks, Brown. Booked: Wotherspoon, MacLean. Goal: Kane 70’.
Ref: W Collum