St Johnstone short of support on Minsk trip

Liam Cregg (left) and Steven MacLean celebrate St Johnstone's win against Rosenborg. Picture: SNS
Liam Cregg (left) and Steven MacLean celebrate St Johnstone's win against Rosenborg. Picture: SNS
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Gary McDonald admits St Johnstone will have to go it alone as visa issues and travel costs mean Perth supporters have been forced to miss the club’s Europa League trip to Belarus.

Saints are preparing for a long-haul jaunt to the city of Grodno near to the Polish border, which will host their third qualifying round first-leg clash with FC Minsk.

The new venue – which is being used while Minsk’s Dinamo Stadium is renovated – is 140 miles closer to Scotland, but the five-day clearing period required to obtain travel documents and sky-high airline fares have put off many Saints supporters from joining their team in eastern Europe.

Around 500 of them were in Trondheim as Tommy Wright’s men stunned Rosenborg in the first leg of the second qualifying round with a 1-0 win and almost 8,000 witnessed the return leg, where a 1-1 draw was enough to seal their progress.

Midfielder McDonald admits the team have had to accept they will have limited support on Thursday night – but says the same can be said for their rivals. He said: “They have moved the stadium where the game is being played so we’re not expecting a big crowd over there and that will play into our hands. It did in the first leg of the Rosenborg game. It wasn’t that big a crowd over there so it wasn’t that intimidating. On the other hand, our fans were great – they were more vocal than theirs. In many ways that felt like a home game but I don’t know with the visa situation if our fans will be able to get over this time. It’s a shame because we want to give them the reward of a little trip as well.

“Our fans outsang the Norwegian fans by a mile in the first leg and in Perth they were brilliant. It was a great atmosphere and made such a difference. It gave us all an extra five per cent in our performances. But times are hard right now and the Rosenborg trip was quite expensive by all accounts, so we can’t expect the fans to fork out again to get to Belarus.”

The one-week turnaround from the Rosenborg victory and the visa delays have prevented Wright from flying out to scout Minsk in person. But he has sourced footage of their opponents from Mark Miller, the boss of Maltese outfit Valletta, who were Minsk’s second qualifying round victims. The preparation is not perfect but McDonald insisted it is better than nothing.

“I don’t know what to expect from them to be honest,” he said. “The manager has got some videos for us to watch and we’ll get a wee look at them. That is important in these European ties. When you face teams in Scotland, you’ve played them each three and four times a season, so you know them inside-out. But we have never seen these guys from Minsk before so we’ll be going into the unknown a little.”