St Johnstone 2-1 Aberdeen: May has his day in sun

Stevie May celebrates after bringing St Johnstone level. Picture: SNS
Stevie May celebrates after bringing St Johnstone level. Picture: SNS
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STEVIE May killed off St Johnstone’s semi-final jinx as his double confirmed a 2-1 win over Aberdeen and booked the Perth men a place in next month’s William Hill Scottish Cup final.

SCORERS: St Johnstone - May 61, 84; Aberdeen - McGinn 15

The Saints are coming. St Johnstone have already made history, but they will not be content with this. In reaching the Scottish Cup final for the first time, the Perth club have written a new chapter in the annals, stretching back to 1884.

A book charting their official history is called Bristling with

Possibilities, and this season now bursts with potential after this thrilling win, in which Tommy Wright’s side recovered from going a goal down after only 15 minutes. Now a first major trophy lies tantalisingly in sight.

Central to this storyline was Stevie May, the 21-year-old local boy whose long hair marks him out as a target for opposition supporters.

The Aberdeen fans have taken greatest delight in mocking someone who, before yesterday, had never scored against the Pittodrie club. Focus on this failure perhaps unsettled some Aberdeen supporters, who feared what indeed came to pass. Not only did May break his duck, he emerged as the thrilling matchwinner with a sumptuous double, after Niall McGinn continued his return to scoring ways with the opener for Aberdeen.

But May stole the show after initially enduring the kind of frustration that has been his lot against Aberdeen this season. One chance fell to him in the opening half as St Johnstone fought to get back on level terms but he stabbed at it and Jamie Langfield was able to make a save with his legs.

“Who is Stevie May?” sang the Aberdeen fans again. They got their answer in the second half as May, benefiting from the change in tactics by which he was shifted out wide on the left, came into his own.

Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes needed no introduction to May – he helped develop him when he was Under-19 coach at St Johnstone, and then handed the striker his first-team debut after being promoted to manager. May’s performance yesterday showed McInnes nothing he did not already know about the player.

Both goals – his 24th and 25th of the season – were opportunist strikes. For the first, just after the hour mark, he turned one way and then the other on the edge of the box, before firing a left-footed shot into the far corner of Langfield’s net. Kenny Dalglish would have been proud of this strike.

May’s second goal was perhaps even better. After exchanging a one-two with Steven MacLean, the striker galloped on into the box, taking a touch to set himself up for the shot, which he seemed to almost toe-punt past Langfield, such was the power.

Now he must train his sights on Dundee United, against whom he has already scored a hat-trick this season.

Indeed, St Johnstone have already beaten their cup-final opponents twice during the current league campaign and meet them again this weekend in a top-six clash. On the only other occasions St Johnstone have reached finals, both times in the League Cup, they have faced either side of the Old Firm, making them clear underdogs. In next month’s case, although United will start as favourites, St Johnstone will know they have every chance to chalk up a first major trophy win.

For those interested in omens, yesterday did not start well for St Johnstone. McInnes named the same team for the third time in succession. Wright did not have the luxury of keeping his side intact, even had he wanted to. The significant piece of pre-match news was that Lee Croft, the former Manchester City midfielder, was unavailable due to a hamstring injury.

Michael O’Halloran, who went on to prove a lively deputy, stepped in. But it was undoubtedly a blow for the Perth side, whose hopes, it was felt, partly rested on Croft’s invention, together with May’s goal threat.

As well as overcoming this setback, St Johnstone’s main task was to ensure they were able to play themselves into the match, something they could not do at Tynecastle in January, when they met yesterday’s opponents in a League Cup semi-final.

Wright’s side conceded after only three minutes then and though they launched a spirited comeback, Aberdeen, roared on by large following, built on this perfect start to eventually win 4-0.

It was not quite so partisan at Ibrox yesterday on a cool, wintry day. Again, Aberdeen enjoyed the greater backing, but large areas of unsold seats meant the stadium did not have the bearpit qualities of Tynecastle.

Still, St Johnstone looked initially unsure, as if the extra pressure of their poor semi-final record might serve to inhibit them once more.

On more than one occasion last week, Wright had very deliberately referenced what he believed was media prejudice. He felt the majority of pundits wanted to see an Aberdeen v Dundee United final and urged his players to prove a point. St Johnstone, he complained, were being written off, disrespected.

In truth, the Perth side had helped create this prevailing mood with their own feeble cup semi-final record, which, before yesterday, stood at seven defeats in the last 15 years.

Few expected them to begin improving on this yesterday – not against an Aberdeen side motivated by the thought of securing a rare domestic cup double, and certainly not against an Aberdeen side who were a goal up inside 15 minutes.

Peter Pawlett was the architect, threading the ball through to McGinn, who opened up his body and steered the ball past Alan Mannus for his fourth goal in four games. Adam Rooney should have put Aberdeen two up eight minutes later after McGinn played him in. The striker took a poor first touch and then saw Mannus make the block.

A minute later, May missed at the other end. While disheartening to be still trailing at half-time, St Johnstone knew that they were still in the tie. Indeed, in the period before half-time the Perth side started to dominate possession.

Aberdeen backed off, strangely. If they could only find that extra bit of quality, it felt as if St Johnstone would be able to profit. An equaliser after only 15 minutes of the restart meant this belief increased. Shooting towards their own fans, St Johnstone seemed transformed, although Aberdeen will regret more missed chances.

McGinn, in particular, should have scored with a free header opportunity at the far post from a Barry

Robson cross, while Robson himself had a good chance with a header, after a neat Willo Flood cross.

But with six minutes left, May struck the decisive goal after a one-two with MacLean. The strike was a product of desire and skill.

May raced off to celebrate and tore off his shirt to expose the multiple tattoos that stretch down both his arms.

He has etched himself into club history – and he has the chance to do so again next month.