After waiting for 130 years, it was perhaps fitting that St Johnstone were careful and measured in the way that they won the Scottish Cup. This was a triumph built on a gritty determination and even if moments of brilliant accomplishment were lacking, the sentimentality of the occasion was still stirring.
St Johnstone – the club that was founded in 1884 – had never previously won a major trophy, and the amount of defeats in semi-finals had come to define them as a club that wasn’t capable of achieving glory. That notion will now seem quaint to the 15,000 fans who travelled 60 miles down from Perth and revelled to see history being made.
Joy could be unconfined, because there was no sense of relief. The performance merited the victory, not least because the industry and organisation stifled the best of United’s players. In that sense, no St Johnstone fan would have quibbled when their favourite, Stevie May, was not among the goalscorers, but instead the grizzled centre- back Steven Anderson broke the deadlock with a header, then Steven MacLean sealed the result with only five minutes left.
The latter’s goal, after he won the ball from the United goalkeeper Radoslaw Cierzniak with a sliding challenge, prompted the St Johnstone manager Tommy Wright to start running down the touchline in glee, before he suddenly remembered which set of supporters he was running towards.
“It was just a spur of the moment,” said Wright. “I started running and then I realised: ‘God, the Dundee United fans are down there’. Cup finals are exciting and the managers get caught up in that.
“It means everything, it’s the pinnacle of my career. More importantly, it means a lot more to a lot more people, the supporters, the players, the staff. I know it’s so special for so many people.”
The goalscorers are both players who have performed at peripheral clubs in their careers, although MacLean started out at Rangers as a youth. It is patronising to describe players as journeymen, but St Johnstone’s budget precludes star signings.
Dundee United were expected to boast the individual match-winners, since a number of their exciting young attackers have caught the attention this season. But even when Nadir Ciftci curled a deft free-kick on target, the ball struck the underside of the bar and the St Johnstone goalkeeper Alan Mannus then saved it.
United were frustrated throughout, as much by their own inhibitions. United’s Ryan Dow saw a flick bounce off the post in the first-half, but on the cusp of half-time it was St Johnstone who scored, when Anderson rose to head into the net from a corner kick. Moments of aggression flared in the second half, as both sets of players became fraught, then May was rash as he pushed the ball over the goal-line with his hand. The young striker was denied by the referee, but MacLean eventually settled the tie with five minutes remaining.
“It just wasn’t our day,” said the United manager Jackie McNamara. “We tried to break them down in the second half but it just wouldn’t go in for us.”
St Johnstone (4-4-2): Mannus; Mackay, Anderson, Wright, Easton; Wotherspoon (McDonald, 85), Millar, Dunne, O’Halloran (Croft, 72); MacLean, May.
Dundee Utd (4-2-3-1): Cierzniak; Watson, Dillon, Gunning, Robertson; Paton (Graham, 77), Rankin; Dow, Armstrong, Mackay-Steven (Gauld, 63); Ciftci.
Referee: Craig Thomson (Edinburgh).