It all added up to a big night for St Johnstone, one of the biggest in the club’s history.
They didn’t disappoint. But sadly, they didn’t progress to the Europa League play-off round either. Two goals, one right at the death from Michael O’Halloran, was reward for their efforts while a Europa Conference League play-off round clash against LASK is ample compensation.
Galatasaray’s four goals proved their class. Their quality, masked somewhat in Istanbul, told here eventually. Still, what a night for St Johnstone. They remained very much in contention until midway through the second half.
Fatih Terim scoffed at the idea his side would be spooked by a capacity crowd waving little blue and white flags. Maybe so. They were certainly given another fright.
St Johnstone were moved to release a statement imploring fans to resist bringing flares into the ground. This was no normal night in the club’s 137-year history, but then it’s been a far from normal year.
The Turks edged ahead for the first time in the tie just short of the half hour mark when Mbaye Diagne drilled an angled shot through Zander Clark’s legs. A rainbow then appeared above the Ormond Stand to suggest there was still hope for St Johnstone.
Right on cue, amid much confusion, the hosts drew level when rookie ‘keeper Ismail Cipe turned Jason Kerr’s backpost header into his net following Chris Kane's faint touch.
Although a defender tried to scramble the ball clear it was adjudged, rightly, to have crossed the line. The stadium, packed with home fans, erupted and remained in ferment in the nine minutes or so that remained until half-time, particularly when Andris Treimanis pondered giving Marcao a red card after he scythed down Kane. The referee elected for yellow amid great suspense.
These seemed perfect conditions in which to entertain a visiting team from Turkey. Dark clouds and intermittent downpours. The floodlights blinked on before 7pm. Welcome to Scotland in August rather than welcome to hell.
Surprisingly, there was no place in the hosts’ starting line-up for cup hero Shaun Rooney. His place at right wing back was taken by James Brown in a seeming blow for St Johnstone’s spirit of adventure but an intended boost for their defensive soundness. David Wotherspoon was also absent, a Covid casualty. While disheartening, even this news failed to douse the enthusiasm.
Rooney was given a huge ovation the first time he warmed up. He came on along with fellow talisman Stevie May shortly after Galatasaray had re-taken the lead after 64 minutes.
It did seem strange to see the club’s big game player restricted to such a role but then Callum Davidson has been the mastermind behind two trophies in the last six months. The sight of May and Rooney bounding onto the pitch moments after the superb Karem Akturkoglu made it 2-1 to the visitors was undoubtedly a fillip for the fans. Rooney showed good footwork in the box to set up O’Halloran for a tap-in goal in the dying moments. Maybe Davidson isn't always right.
As for the old man of Turkish football in the opposite dugout, Terim looked as though he had the weight of the world on his shoulders at times.
The 67-year-old wore a natty raincoat as he stood on the edge of his technical area and urged his players forward. He had already expressed some dissatisfaction with the climate in Perth, but he had reason to begin feeling a little hot under the collar as St Johnstone matched his team for long spells.
It was amusing to think of households in Turkey tuning into watch one of the country’s most popular clubs toiling at times against St Johnstone. It was certainly bonus exposure for the Cairngorm hotel in Aviemore, written large on one pitchside advertising board.
The pace of Diagne sent the St Johnstone defence for a holiday in the Highlands after Akturkoglu’s well-paced through ball after 29 minutes. The tall striker steadied himself before slipping the ball between Clark’s legs.
It was the first time the visitors had really cut through. They had been restricted to a couple of shots that were sent straight at Clark. Saints, for their part, could not test Cipe, making only his third appearance for Galatasaray, as they might have liked.
One promising attack saw Kane scamper towards goal and all he needed to do was slip the ball through to Ali McCann, who had burst through with him. The only obstacle in the way was giant defender Christian Luyindama, who got a toe to Kane’s attempted pass and averted what seemed sure to be the opening goal.
They joke about McCann and what he’s worth. Well, whatever his value before kick-off, it’s increased further after this display. McCann was superb all evening.
He had a role in St Johnstone’s equaliser. Of course, he did. It was his corner that Kerr headed back into the six-yard box. Galatasaray simply did not deal with the danger. Cipe will still be contending that he was obstructed by Kane when he lands back in Istanbul. Whether this was the case or not, the goal stood.
Galatasaray might have had real problems when Kane was brought down by Marcao shortly afterwards. The striker was through on goal but perhaps too far away for the preventing-a- scoring-opportunity rule to apply.
Who knows what might have happened had Galatasaray been reduced to ten men for the second time in the tie? With the full complement of players, they pulled away after half-time. Akturkoglu finished brilliantly after a one-two and then Sofiane Feghouli scored with a right-footed shot before substitute Emre Kilinc hooked in a fourth in stoppage time. O’Halloran brought the deficit back to two, a fairer reflection on the tie.