Czech goalkeeper Hladky saved three penalties in the shoot-out after Saints and Dundee United drew 1-1 after extra time in a tense second leg in Paisley.
Hladky is still grieving the loss of his former team-mate and close friend Sural who last month was killed in a minibus crash in Turkey where he was playing for Alanyaspor.
The Saints keeper, who was best man at Sural’s wedding, choked back tears as he reflected on the motivation for his heroic contribution to his team’s 2-0 shoot-out victory.
“He [Sural] is in my mind every single day, all the time,” said Hladky. “This is for him, of course it is. He gives me inspiration to do better. But I can’t really speak about him, it’s too hard.”
Saints boss Oran Kearney felt Hladky was fated to play the key role in ensuring the Paisley club’s top-flight survival.
“You get that gut feeling when it goes to penalties,” said Kearney. “It’s been well documented that Vaclav has had a tough time in the last couple of months.
“Sometimes you just feel things are written in the stars. I was very confident when it went to penalties. I felt he had the big saves in him. I’m delighted for him on a personal level. That performance probably puts him down in history.”
While Saints celebrated, there was despair for United fans who now face a fourth successive season in the Championship. But manager Robbie Neilson insists better times are on the horizon for the club. “It’s the cruellest way to lose a game of football,” said Neilson. “We’ll use it as motivation for next season.
“The club is getting run properly, things are getting done right and the fans don’t have to worry about that anymore.”