Apr 19 2011 by Gordon Bannerman, Perthshire Advertiser Tuesday
GEOFF Brown endured the most traumatic day of his sporting life when he went through the mill watching Silver By Nature in the Grand National.
But this may have been the most disappointing.
But, unlike his football team, at least the chairman’s beloved horse didn’t come a cropper before the half-way stage.
This was the Perth chief’s sixth chance to see his team advance to the Scottish Cup final he has craved for himself and fans of a football club salvaged 25 years ago.
They might have been divided on the outcome but most pundits agreed it was going to be a close-run contest, with St Johnstone’s much-vaunted defensive prowess matching-up against the opposition’s patently superior mobility and firepower.
Instead, it turned into a landslide victory for the team from Lanarkshire and another McDiarmid dream died.
A morale-sapping fourth minute goal conceded from a corner kick proved catastrophic and car crash defending paved the way for Motherwell’s second in the 14th minute.
A third before half-time and it was game over.
With no St Johnstone player finding the net in nearly 1000 minutes of SPL action, there’s no doubt which aspect of the team requires urgent attention over the summer.
The first-half made for truly gruesome viewing from a Perth perspective.
A three-goal advantage was modest reward for the impressive Fir Park side’s rapier-like thrusts and while Saints dominated the second period the final was far removed from their despairing grasp.
With the influential Chris Millar failing a fitness test, manager Derek McInnes opted for Kevin Moon alongside restored skipper Jody Morris in a widely expected five-man midfield but reverted to 4-4-2 in a vain attempt to engineer a turnaround which would have bordered on the miraculous.
But his game plan was critically undermined by basic errors and too many players failing to reach the standards expected of them.
While detecting a goalscorer in the Saints ranks was always going to be problematic given an eye-watering strike track record which ranks among the poorest in the land, a porous defence certainly wasn’t anticipated.
Motherwell seized the initiative from an unlikely source as Stephen Craigan evaded Danny Invincibile at their first corner to claim his first goal in five years, with a simple three-yard header as keeper Peter Enckelman completely lost his bearings and flapped at fresh air.
The second was crafted and finished by impressive winger Jamie Murphy, who cut inside an uncharacteristically vulnerable Dave Mackay and laced a low raking shot into the corner from 18 yards as Michael Duberry and Steven Anderson clattered into each other.
The third and knock-out blow was dispatched by John Sutton with an instinctive and lavish dipping 30-yarder which an astonished Enckelman could only push into the net, after an erratic Anderson had failed to repel a 39th minute Route One clearance from the ‘Well keeper.
Had Murphy, Lasley and Sutton not missed the target by inches, the air of depression hanging over half of Hampden would have been even more acute.
But three goals from three on target efforts was adequate compensation for a side en-route to the final for the first time in 20 years.
Ironically, the Motherwell keeper was tested first in the second minute when Danny Grainger’s whipped-in free-kick was glanced by Invincible and another testing delivery clipped a defender and inched wide with Randolph static. But it was a half from Hell for bewildered Perth players.
With an anonymous Collin Samuel replaced by Jordan Robertson at the interval, Saints belatedly regained their composure and Randolph tipped a dipping Murray Davidson 25-yarder over the bar in the 56th minute.
The Scotland squad midfielder was one of very few to enhance their reputations, with out of contract Grainger, who handcuffed his winger Humphrey, also excused blame.
There were a couple of half-hearted spot-kicks pleas and a skied Robertson free-kick as unimaginative Saints failed to turn possession into opportunities.
Even a consolation strike was denied lingering Perth fans when Davidson rose to power a header goalwards from Grainger’s corner nine minutes from the end but watched it crash back off the crossbar.
MOTHERWELL: Randolph, Hutchison, Hammell, Lasley, Craigan, Hateley, Humphrey (Jones 79), Jennings (Ross 75), Murphy, Jeffers (McHugh 66) and Sutton. Subs not used: Hollis and Gunning.
SAINTS: Enckelman, Mackay, Grainger, Anderson, Duberry, Morris, Davidson, Craig, Moon (May 66), Invincibile and Samuel (Robertson 46). Subs not used: Smith, Maybury and Caddis.
REFEREE: Iain Brines.