Scottish Daily Mail
THE SAINTS GO MARCHING IN
Perth heroes are looking to emulate Dons’ cup Double triumph of 1990
MARGARET Thatcher was still Prime Minister, Germany was in the process of reunification and Rangers had more players named in England’s World Cup squad than any other club.
The year was 1990. And Aberdeen were celebrating at Hampden. Defeating Celtic on penalties in the Scottish Cup final added the nation’s oldest trophy to the League Cup won against Rangers earlier in the season.
No non-Old Firm club has achieved that Double in the 31 years since.
Now, though, St Johnstone have history within their sights. Win tomorrow’s Scottish Cup semifinal against St Mirren and they will stand just 90 minutes away from a quite extraordinary feat.
Taking two cups to Perth in the one season would be on a different level to even Aberdeen’s achievement. And not just because Saints have seen four players ruled out of tomorrow’s match due to Covid issues.
Back in the days of Jim Bett, Alex McLeish and Charlie Nicholas, the Pittodrie club were top-flight title challengers. Alex Smith’s side finished as runners-up to Rangers in 1989-90 and went even closer the following term. Silverware was almost expected.
St Johnstone’s first major trophy didn’t arrive until the 2014 Scottish Cup. When Callum Davidson guided his team to League Cup success over Livingston earlier this year, it brought glory to a campaign in which a creditable place in the Premiership top six was only secured in the final minutes before the split. This is also Davidson’s first season as a manager in his own right.
Prudence has been a hallmark of the sustained over-achievement at McDiarmid Park but there is also now a vast financial prize on offer.
With UEFA introducing the new Conference League next season, the Scottish Cup winners would be guaranteed European football until Christmas and a minimum £3million windfall.
‘It would be incredible for the club, especially from a financial point of view,’ said Perth defender Jamie McCart.
‘It would be massive. First and foremost, you think: “Let’s win the Scottish Cup” but then you realise you have that incentive of European football for a while and it is even better.
‘We just have to get through this game. It will be really tough. If we get through that, we can maybe start dreaming.
‘The way the season has gone outwith football, it would be incredible for the club and the support to hopefully have a top-five finish and a cup Double.
‘My knowledge of Scottish football history is not the best but I can’t remember too many other teams outside the Old Firm doing it.’
Reaching this stage was done the hard way. And showed the confidence instilled by Davidson.
Losing a goal to James Tavernier late in extra-time in the quarterfinal would have floored most teams but Saints claimed a lastgasp leveller — with goalkeeper Zander Clark providing the assist for Chris Kane — before winning the penalty shoot-out.
It made them just the second Scottish side to defeat Rangers this season. The other just happens to be tomorrow’s opponent.
‘We know how good a team they are and how well organised they are under Jim Goodwin,’ said McCart of the Paisley Saints.
‘It will be no easy feat. It was a brilliant feeling for us to go and beat Rangers — the best team in the league - away from home.
‘But it doesn’t really matter who you beat along the way in cup competitions. It is about going on to win it.
‘Rangers scored with five minutes to go and it was deflating, to be honest. But we just kept going until the last minute and nobody could have foreseen the big 6ft 5in goalie coming up and heading towards goal.
‘I think that just shows we never give up and, when you show that resilience and character, you get those wee bits of luck.’
While the Covid blow came out of the blue — with two positive tests and two further players identified as close contacts — McCart believes Davidson’s squad rotation can pay dividends.
‘That will be valuable for us now,’ argued the 23-year-old centre-back.
‘We have a small squad but it is a squad with a lot of quality in it. That is shown by how well we have done this season.
‘Anyone who plays this weekend will give it their all.’
Recruited when Tommy Wright was in charge, McCart has continued his development under rookie manager Davidson and feels a real sense of stability.
‘Everyone knows where they stand and, from a coaching point of view, he is first class,’ said the former Celtic youngster.
‘You are never in the dark about what he wants you to do or how we are going to set up.
‘For a football player, clarity is one of the most important things.
‘You can see everyone knows what they are doing and that really comes down to the gaffer, Steven MacLean and Alex Cleland.
‘The defence has done well as the season has progressed but a lot of credit has to go to the people around us as well.
‘The players in front work so hard to stop balls coming in, while we have a great goalkeeper behind us.
‘I’m playing with more confidence given I have another year’s experience under my belt. I think the style we play suits me as well. All in all, it has been a good learning curve and a good year for me.’