Saturday, 17 May 2014

Substance Beats Hype Once Again

129th Scottish Cup Final, Celtic Park: St Johnstone 2, Dundee United 0

Going into this final, the pre-publicity was centred on Dundee United’s battery of exciting young players being pitted against St Johnstone’s young player of the year Stevie May.  Instead it was St Johnstone’s underrated players who prevailed, with May playing a key role without being the star performer.  Undoubtedly Dundee Utd were below par, but take nothing away St Johnstone got their tactics spot on.

St Johnstone were the better side of the first half hour of the game, though it took them 10 minutes to get a shot on goal.  May attempted to riffle in a shot from outside the box and then Dunne had a shot tipped over by Cierzniack.  Moments later Cierzniak kept out a snatched effort from Wright.  Ironic for what was to follow, Cierzniak looked more settled than St Johnstone’s Mannus who dropped a cross from Dow early on and also looked nervy at a kick out.

After half an hour Utd suddenly came into the match, Gunning had a header from a corner, but couldn’t put it on target.  They then put together their best move of the match to put Robertson in down the left, his cross was nearly flicked in by Gow only to see it come off the inside of the post and just miss the goalkeeper.  United were in the match and ratcheted the pressure to get the opening goal.  Instead St Johnstone opened the scoring just before half time (below).  A Wothespoon corner just before half time was headed in by the defender Steven Anderson, with the Utd goalkeeper Cierzniak missing the cross.  It was a bad error from the United goalkeeper.

Dundee Utd started the second half intent on looking for a leveller.  Their pressure brought a free kick outside the box.  Ciftci’s free kick looked like a goal…until it hit the underside of the bar and was taken by Mannus.  At that point it looked like this was going to be St Johnstone’s day, even more so when moments later May looked to have scored.  A cross into the box was bundled into the goal by May, only to be chopped off when the 5th official spotted that May had put the ball into the goal with his hand.

The game then opened up.  Wotherspoon had a run at Utd’s defence, but shot straight at Cierzniak. Sub Graham scuffed a shot at St Johnstone’s goal while Ciftci had a run & shot from just outside the box that was just wide.  With seven minutes left, St Johnstone got their second goal.  May ran at the Utd defence and attempted to bass the ball to MacLean, his pass deflected off a defender and fell into the box.  Both Cierzniak and MacLean went for the ball and MacLean got there first, hooking the ball into the net from a horizontal position at the second time of asking. Game over as ten minutes later St Johnstone were able to begin to celebrate winning their first major piece of silverware.

It has to pointed out that St Johnstone were excellent today, their tactics were spot on and, as Tom English pointed out on Sportsound, Tommy Wright seems to have worked out how to beat this Dundee United team.  Yes Stevie May wasn’t as prominent as we thought but we didn’t have a stinker.  Remember as well it was his pass that led to the second goal.  Certainly St Johnstone were much more solid at the back than Utd, a hallmark of Wright’s early time at Perth when they went on the run in Europe at the start of the season.

St Johnstone deserved the win.  What will take up a lot of time with the analysts will be Dundee United’s performance.  In short, they just didn’t play to their potential.  Rather like the highly praised Aberdeen side in the League Cup final this season, Dundee Utd did not perform on the big stage.  The big diference being that St Johnston played much better in their final than Inverness earlier in their final.  That’s not to say that Dundee Utd’s players froze, more that they played below par.  Passes went astray and chances were defended by St Johnstone.  They also hit the post twice. I’ve said this before but for all the praise heaped on to Dundee United, they are still very much a work in progress.

For St Johnstone, this final shows that while there are improvements still to be made it will be more important to keep hold of their players.  Advances towards May have already been rebuffed.  There may be more before the start of next season.  In the meantime, this final put’s to bed the lie that Scottish Football is boring and needs a ready made Glasgow based challenger to Celtic.  The truth is that Scottish Football finally looks in a slightly promising state thanks to emerging sides at Dundee United, Aberdeen and St Johnstone.  It could be that if these teams continue to develop, Scottish Football could be back at the stage where these teams were challenging Celtic for honours.  That would be much better state of affairs than the Old Firm driven transfer arms race.  In the mean time, this is St Johnstone’s day and they should enjoy it.  After all they have waited 130 years for a day like this.

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