May 5 2009 by Gordon Bannerman, Perthshire Advertiser Tuesday
St Johnstone 3 Morton 1
MCDIARMID Park has hosted some memorable matches down the years and this one, which restored SPL status to Perth, will endure in St Johnstone folklore beside triumphs over Dundee and Airdrie.
In the club’s 125th year and with the Fair City’s 800th anniversary celebrations rolling-out next year it’s fitting that this record-breaking Saints squad will be mingling with the elite again after seven years in the shadowlands of Division One.
“Sweet Caroline” has become the club’s unofficial anthem and surely “good times never seemed so good.”
Billy Stark, John Connolly and even fondly remembered Owen Coyle fell short but Derek McInnes, in his first full season as a manager, has led Saints out of the wilderness, joining Paul Sturrock as a title winning manager in the McDiarmid era.
The SPL, with all its problems, may not be the Promised Land but it’s as good as we’ve got in Scotland.
That’s for the future. Right now, it’s a time for basking in the glory of a mission accomplished, and ultimately with a performance worthy of the occasion, illuminated by delicious pass and move football topped by a late contender for goal of the season.
Saints saved the best for last, entirely justifying chairman Geoff Brown’s decision to ignore the clamour for an outside appointment and pluck manager of the year candidate McInnes from the dressing room when Coyle headed south.
Judging by the choruses from the stands, Perth supporters now appreciate the calibre of management duo McInnes and Tony Docherty.
The sun shone, the football flowed and jubilant fans danced on the pitch before the adrenalin rush subsided, order was restored and the
formal presentations panned out, with Perth heroes plucking so many offspring from the crowd the celebratory lap of honour took on the look of a mobile crèche.
The ghosts of Gretna and the haunting of Hamilton may never be fully exorcised but this definitely dulled the pain, with survivors like rock-solid skipper Kevin Rutkiewicz, back to his best Martin Hardie, in full cry a sight more frightening than Joanna Lumley, and the sublimely talented Paul Sheerin milking the moment more than most.
Ten years ago Saints were in Monte Carlo. Here, they were facing Carlo Monty. But with the champagne uncorked and the Irn Bru prize in the boardroom, Saints are back in the big-time.
The game plan suffered a blip in the 24th minute when Hardie was penalised for jostling at a free-kick and McGuffie converted the spot-kick.
But within minutes the midfielder atoned, leaping to volley home from five yards to get things back on track.
The Perth passing game was oil slick, with Collin Samuel denied by Cuthbert and then a combination of an upright and a rebound defied the will of the crowd and laws of physics to avoid the net.
The second half turned into a title procession, with Morton’s only threat posed by long throws and dead ball deliveries.
Two minutes after the interval star-in-the-making Moon shut-out by Cuthbert’s leg and Millar, just as influential as his Perth-born colleague, saw a thundering shot cannon off the post.
But they wouldn’t be denied and a bewildering passing sequence triggered near the half-way line by Liam Craig and Paul Sheerin culminated in a Hardie step-over for Stevie Milne to take aim and curl a 16-yard right foot shot high into the corner.
Still the chances came, with livewire Samuel thwarted by the keeper and occasionally his aim. Finlayson headed off the line and Milne missed a glorious chance to kick-start the celebrations. But after Millar and Samuel filleted the Greenock defence, the striker dived to head agonisingly wide.
Substitute Derek Holmes had a shot beaten out by Cuthbert after more Millar magic, before the 79th clincher. Full-back Craig hit the line to hang up a cross for Holmes. In textbook style he headed back across the six-yard box and this time Milne wasn’t going to miss with a beautifully executed volley. Fittingly, it was his 50th goal for the club.
His third in two games capped a wonderful afternoon and while Partick Thistle were crumbling at home, breaking news from Firhill was incidental as Perth prepared to party long into the night.
ST JOHNSTONE: Main, Irvine, Craig, Moon (Morris 81), Rutkiewicz, McCaffrey, Millar, Hardie (Swankie 87), Milne, Samuel (Holmes 70) and Sheerin. Subs not used: Anderson and McLean.
MORTON:Cuthbert, McManus, Walker, Paartalu (Smith 80), Greacen, Monty, Finlayson, McGuffie, Weatherson, Grady (Russell 66) and Wake.
Subs not used: Jenkins, Kerrigan and McWilliams.
Referee: Steven Nicholls.