Scorers: St Johnstone; Anderson 45; MacLean 84
They don’t need to be patronised. But, in this season when Scottish football has shown that, at its best, it can be about so much more than clubs in Glasgow, ancient enmities or off-field freakshows, there is something to make you go all warm and fuzzy about the little-man Perth club making it to the winners podium too often reserved for the bigger boys.
Later this year, 130 years will have passed since the meeting that made St Johnstone.
Yesterday, in a thoroughly warranted win over a Dundee United they simply seemed to have the measure of, a first Scottish Cup final brought a triumph that will be plastered across the walls of McDiarmid Park for all time.
For what they have given to the top end of the Scottish game in recent years – including rare away European wins, and virtuous, sustainable business practices – a major trophy has been overdue for St Johnstone, who are now the 27th Scottish club to claim such an honour, and the 24th team to see their name engraved on the trophy.
The realisation of what the day would mean to the Perth club and their city was etched in the 84th moment when Steven MacLean raced in on goal and chopped a shot towards the exposed Radoslaw Cierzniak that the keeper blocked but could not collect. That provided MacLean his second chance and he took it by digging the ball beyond the Pole to snare a decisive second. At the St Johnstone end. It erupted, MacLean ripped his shirt off, and so began the Perth partying.
It wasn’t an afternoon that Cierzniak will record for posterity because his part in the first that sent the decider St Johnstone’s way was also of the ignominious variety, missing a corner to let Steven Anderson head in, but then no United player could be said to have had a grip on the confrontation. It was St Johnstone, in all departments, who seized their opportunity for epoch-making.
Even for the neutral, there was a palpable sense of excitement in the build-up to this final. Scarcity is a great intrigue-enhancer. A final that wasn’t just the first in the competition’s 140-year history to be an all-Tayside affair, but only the second in that time that matched up two teams from north of the central belt.
History was made even before a ball was kicked. Not simply for the fact that St Johnstone were appearing in their first Scottish Cup final but because of the numbers attracted to back both sides.
The 15,000 and 28,000 ticket take-ups for the Perth side and their rivals repectively made for the greatest
congregations of these two supports in their existences.
The dazzling tangerine, with the greater numbers and the fact these folk seemed more in party mode than the Perth people, gave the impression that United were the more energised entity. Then the encounter kicked off, and the sedation that seemed apparent in the St Johnstone sections seemed shared not by their team, but by Jackie McNamara’s side.
We aren’t talking silky fluency here, but early on there was a measure of control and a considered aspect to the play of Tommy Wright’s men noticeably absent from the team facing them. Wright, using words as if they were some enormous ladle and spoon in his pre-match media briefings, had predicted talked-up talents Ryan Gauld and John Souttar wouldn’t face his side because of their struggles in the teams’ previous three meetings – all of which his team had won without conceding.
The Irishman also opined that he didn’t know what it was like to face the Tannadice side in full flow as they had merely been a counter-attacking team, even in their 4-0 win that was the outcome of the clubs’ first confrontation this season. And he wouldn’t have found out anything new in the first period of the final.
A Gauld and Souttar-free United, as he had predicted, didn’t function with sleekness, while the Perth side did a pretty good shackling job that did not prevent them edging forward. In one such early foray Radoslaw Cierzniak became the first keeper to be tested when he was forced to acrobatically tip over from James Dunne.
There was a deficit of derring do, at least until a sweeping move from United after half an hour. It ended with a first-time left-wing cross from Andrew Robertson that Ryan Dow clipped towards goal, only for it to thud off the base of the far post and rebound across the face of goal.
Screams from the United bench over Wotherspoon appearing to handle in the box soon afterwards quickly gave way to groans when St Johnstone ruthlessly exploited a regular weakness to break the deadlock in the seconds before the interval.
Cierzniak, who seemed too eager to go airborne in fruitless pursuits, embarked on one of these misadventures as Wotherspoon swung in a corner from the left. When the ball arced to the back post, Steven Anderson was on hand to plop a header into the unguarded goal.
United couldn’t be as anodyne in the second period as they had proved in the first, and the temperature, and tempers, rose as some gasp-inducing tackles were meted out. Then the hitherto quiet Nadir Ciftci had one of those moments that made you wonder about the fates not being on his team’s side, when he deftly curled a free-kick towards the net that caught the underside of the bar, with Alan Mannus beaten all ends up.
Within a couple of minutes the historic nature of this final was further enhanced when behind-the-goal-assistant Alan Muir actually demonstrated his ilk are useful – after St Johnstone once more exploited aerial weakness with a Fraser Wright header played into the middle. There lurked the subdued Stevie May, who forced the ball over the line with his arm. Initially, it seemed referee Craig Thomson was going to award a goal, but Muir did his job. That deprived the 27-goal May, the No.17, of the moment what many had believed was his destiny.
Yesterday, May 17, though, was not simply his date. It was the date that will be forever woven into the fabric of his hometown club.