Feb 7 2012 by Gordon Bannerman, Perthshire Advertiser Tuesday
FRAN Sandaza yesterday admitted SAS partner Cillian Sheridan got him off the hook at Tynecastle.
With time running out, the team depleted by a red card and the 15-goal Spanish striker misfiring, competition sponsors William Hill were quoting long odds on St Johnstone extending their romance with the Scottish Cup by securing a provisional replay on St Valentine’s Day.
But Sandaza’s threaded pass was finished in style by Sheridan and deadlocked Saints and Hearts both featured in the draw for the quarter-final.
The 27-year-old striker had featured at the centre of the transfer window’s most drawn-out story, with crisis-hit Rangers on the trail.
And while his agent might be talking-up options in Russia and the USA, the Perth number 21 made it clear his focus will be on St Johnstone for the next few months.
He said: “It’s better for me that the transfer window is closed now. I don’t have to talk about any move or speculation. I can focus on St Johnstone and I hope to help the team as much as I can.
“I am enjoying playing football. It is my job and I like to be involved with the team, playing every week and scoring goals. I have won the cup with Dundee United but it would be very nice to win it with St Johnstone.
“I have 15 goals at the moment and I have a target in my mind. But maybe I will pass it.”
On being told the best-ever St Johnstone SPL strike rate was Paul Wright’s 18 in season 1991/92, he said: “The highest is 18? Really? But that is not on my mind. For now I just want to score my 12th league goal. That is my first target. Because it is the next goal.”
Sandaza, who faces former side Dundee United in Perth this weekend, admitted he should have added to his impressive tally at Tynecastle.
He reflected: “That was one my toughest ever 90 minutes. We played with only one striker so I was running all the time. Everyone was running so much. Maybe you don’t see it from the stands. But it was very tiring. It was a very tough game.
“The change at half-time was better for me. Cillian came on and we helped each other. We understand each other and it was brilliant playing with him. Marcus Haber and I have done well but with Cillian we played games together earlier in the season and for some reason we understand each other very well.
“I felt I was really unlucky with the header which hit the bar. We deserved to win the game in the second half.
“I was happy with my pass for the goal and it was a great finish by Cillian. I was so happy because it would have been very disappointing to lose that game. I had chances to score.
“After being down 1-0 and losing a player, for me this draw was a win. That is how it felt. We will play them at home now.”
Manager Steve Lomas was still irked yesterday by the red card shown to vice-captain Dave Mackay for a high boot, following an earlier caution for dissent.
He said: “I still don’t think that any fair minded person would think that was a booking. Now Dave’s suspended for the replay and because it was two yellow cards there’s no process of appeal. We’ll be missing an important player, and it’s farcical really. It was quite clearly a mistake.”
While Mackay can face United on Saturday, midfielder Murray Davidson is a serious doubt after exacerbating his ankle injury.
“We nursed it through the week and Murray gave his usual total commitment against Hearts. He actually had a local anaesthetic before the game. He’s a manager’s dream.
“I did that a lot myself – playing when you’re not quite 100 percent. He did very well to last as long as he did.
“There was a recurrence of the problem and we brought him off and we’ll have to nurse him over the next few days.
“Murray will definitely be struggling for Saturday, but knowing him he could come to see me on Friday and say ‘I’m good to go gaffer’. I can see a lot of myself in him.
“But I know it’s my job to get the balance right and make sure we don’t put him at any risk. It will be up to me to make that call and first and foremost will always be the player’s fitness.”
Lomas was delighted to see Sheridan re-united with Sandaza for 45 minutes.
“Cilli was blowing at the end because of the tempo of the game, but he definitely gave us a lift in the second half. There will be serious consideration about starting him soon.
“His goal wasn’t an easy one to take. He had a lot of time to think about and took it brilliantly.
“People might have thought it strange I fought so hard to keep someone who had hardly played for me but I looked a lot at the DVDs of matches before I took over and I saw exactly what Cilli’s capable of.
“Fran made a big contribution to the goal as well. People don’t realise that he’s got that eye of a needle pass in him. The two of them obviously have a good understanding on the pitch and hopefully we’ll see more of that.”
THE winner of Friday’s PA Sport/SSE mascot competition is Thomas Penker (9) from Comrie. He will be kitted out with a Saints strip to lead the team our against Dundee United this weekend. The correct answer was Sandaza.