|02/08/2009||East Stirling||A||LC1||6-3||W||Mehmet(5) O’Donnell|
|26/08/2009||Ayr Utd||A||LC2||2-0||W||Higdon Mehmet|
|17/10/2009||Falkirk||A||SPL||3-1||W||Dargo Mehmet Brighton|
|27/10/2009||Motherwell||H||LCQF||3-0||W||Higdon Ross OG|
|05/12/2009||Dundee Utd||A||SPL||2-3||L||O’Donnell OG|
|17/04/2010||St Johnstone||A||SPL||2-2||D||Carey Dorman|
The 2009/10 season kicked off with a trip to Ochilview as Saints took on East Stirlingshire in the first round of the League Cup in early August. Billy Mehmet wasted little time in getting in amongst the goals for the season and had scored a hat trick by the twenty minute mark, only for the ‘Shire to retaliate with three of their own before Mehmet scored again on the stroke of half-time to give the Paisley side a quite remarkable 4-3 lead at the interval.
Saints would eventually win 6-3 with Mehmet scoring five times, the first Saints player to do so since Gus McLeod against Hamilton Accies in 1972, and this was the first step in a League Cup campaign that would become one of the most painful ever episodes watching Saints for supporters of any age.
Around a fortnight later MacPherson took his squad to the capital city as the league kicked off for a match against Hibernian, who had recently appointed Falkirk boss and former Hibees captain John Hughes as manager. Saints got off to the perfect start when Stephen McGinn fired them ahead in the first half, however a David Wotherspoon inspired comeback meant Saints returned west with no points and the abysmal opening day of the league season record for the club continued, with just eight wins from the previous thirty-four.
This was part of a slow start in the league with just one win in the opening six matches, a 2-1 victory at Rugby Park in late August with McGinn grabbing a double, and by the time Saints won their next league match at home to Hearts on the third of October, they had already progressed to the quarter final of the League Cup having won at both Somerset Park and Rugby Park again, to complete an Ayrshire cup double.
With Falkirk in disarray following the departure of Hughes, former youth coach Eddie May had endured an extremely difficult start to his short time as manager at the Bairns, and it got worse as Saints strolled to a 3-1 victory at their Grangemouth ground despite conceding first after around an hour. A double header against Motherwell followed, and despite being 3-1 up at St Mirren Park after seventy-two minutes thanks to Dorman and a rare Hugh Murray double, Saints had to be content with a 3-3 draw at full time in a disappointingly predictable end to a match where Saints defended far too deep.
Saints made no mistake three days later in the quarter final of the League Cup however, and comfortably progressed to the semi-final after winning 3-0 in Paisley against the Steelmen, and suddenly with Hearts to come in the next round in February 2010 there was a feeling this could be Saints season to finally lift the League Cup……………
The decade officially started with a match at home to Kilmarnock on the second of January 2010, and a very welcome three points were gained thanks to a late Chris Innes winner, Saints first win in eight league matches since the 3-1 victory at Falkirk in October.
The freezing weather had witnessed multiple postponed matches in December however and Saints now had games in hand against Aberdeen at home and Hamilton Accies away, and in the first of these ten days after the Killie match, Innes scored another late winner at home to the Dons which took Saints to the twenty point mark after eighteen matches and no real threat of relegation was evident this time. In fact, Saints were looking at a mid-forty points total by the end of the campaign and the possibility of sneaking into the top six.
Sandwiched in between these two league victories was another cup hat-trick for Billy Mehmet during the 3-1 win against Alloa in the Scottish Cup, and the big London born forward was an expert in the knock out tournaments, scoring nineteen of his thirty nine Saints goals in these competitions including three hat-tricks, the first Saints player since Doug Somner in 1980 to manage more than two trebles for Saints.
Mehmet’s cup expertise continued in the League Cup semi-final against Hearts in February, when he curled home a beautiful winner early in the second half to send Saints to their first League Cup final since 1955. It was a thoroughly deserved win which should have been far more comfortable given the pressure the Edinburgh side were up against for the majority of the match, however for the first time since 1987 the Paisley support had a major cup final to look forward to.
Following a barren twenty years or so for the club, things were most definitely looking up. Despite a few close scrapes, the team had not really been bottom of the league for any length of time since being promoted in 2006, and there seemed to be a confidence that when the team needed to win, they would do so, a fact proven the year before when Saints produced a stunning performance away to Falkirk to more or less secure safety. The frustration with events on the park was pure consistency, and even Gus MacPherson’s biggest critic would concede that Saints were unlikely to ever be relegated under the guidance of the long-term manager.
Off the park, things were also looking good. The debt which had been strangling the club for decades had been removed with the sale of Love Street in early 2009, and with a new stadium and training ground still barely out the wrapper, reaching a cup final was probably the next natural stage in the progression of the club as they looked to re-establish as a permanent fixture again in the top flight following the unprecedented circumstances of 1992 – 2006 when Saints played just one season in the SPL or Premier Division.
After this Chris Innes inspired double SPL win against Killie and Aberdeen, Saints league form simply deteriorated. Perhaps the sale of Stephen McGinn to Watford for £100,000 adversely impacted on the squad, but they went into that semi-final against Hearts off the back of four straight defeats, making the brilliant performance that cold Lanarkshire night seem strange, but in line with the feeling that when required the team always seemed to deliver.
Next up for Saints after the Hearts victory was a Scottish Cup tie at home to Rangers in early February, who they would also be facing in that League Cup final the following month. In a tense match, Saints were probably the better side but had to settle for a replay following a 0-0 draw at a soaking St Mirren Park. With home advantage gone, Saints were far more dogged in the replay eleven days later, and with the game in the balance late on MacPherson refused to gamble by bringing on more attacking options, despite the nervousness within the home crowd suggesting Saints had Rangers exactly where they wanted them.
With a few minutes remaining Kris Boyd poked home a winner for Rangers, and an extremely unsatisfying Scottish Cup exit followed. This would be nothing compared to the emotion after the League Cup final however, and it is fair to say Saints weren’t exactly in good form going into this match on the 21st March 2010, with the semi-final win over Hearts the only victory in the prior fourteen matches in all competitions which had seen the team dragged back into a relegation battle like so many of the previous campaigns under Gus MacPherson.
If the form was poor leading up to the final, then that was nothing in comparison to the events within the club however. In cup final week the media uncovered a disagreement between the players and the board regarding the bonuses due to the squad should they happen to win the match, and this was the focus instead of the usual coverage in the build-up of players pictured with the trophy or stories about how this was a dream moment for someone let go by the opposition. It was hardly ideal.
Speaking on behalf of the players was club captain John Potter along with vice-captain and PFA representative, Jack Ross. Their claim was that the club should recognise the efforts of the players in terms of financial reward, and they deserve a fair share of the money generated for the club by their superb form in the League Cup. In isolation, I don’t think anyone had a real issue with that, although the timing was infuriatingly distracting for one of the biggest matches played in over twenty years by the club.
The media don’t really need an excuse to pick on a “smaller” club in the lead up to a final against one of their favourite two Glasgow clubs, and it was labelled a “crisis” by the journalists who had everything but a cracked crest and a picture of an unshaven Stewart Gilmour arriving at his house at 5am after a night out in their rather gleeful coverage of the story.
The Chairman however did respond eventually and stated that the two players complaining publicly about the alleged “small” bonuses had in fact negotiated and accepted the terms before a ball was kicked that season and were now stating they did not “expect” the team to make it this far and now wanted more money. This of course changed everything, and there was now very little sympathy for the players from the supporters. In fact, it was now general anger felt by most fans as the build up to the final has been interrupted all week because of money issues.
Like most games against Rangers and Celtic, the size of Saints crowd was adversely affected due to the “protest” vote of refusing to sit in the same stadium as a set of supporters treated completely differently to everyone else, and basically have freedom to behave in any way they see fit as the Police are unlikely to do anything about it.
For this reason, Saints only sold 11,000 tickets for the match compared to the 35,000 we shifted in 1987 for our last cup final. Expectations were low in Paisley ahead of the match but having seen Rangers a few times that season against Saints I knew they wouldn’t roll us over as the media predicted, and there was a chance we could win. My feeling was boosted by the fact Rangers manager Walter Smith did not usually take control of cup matches, and his assistants Ally McCoist and former Saints man Kenny McDowall had overseen these games in preparation of them eventually taking over from Smith.
The match kicked off on a beautiful spring afternoon at Hampden Park, and Saints started with their favoured 5-3-2 formation; however, Gus MacPherson surprised almost everyone by leaving out main goal threat Andy Dorman as well as Craig Dargo who often gave an ageing David Weir a torrid time. The midfield had been rotated a lot in recent weeks, however Dorman had almost always been a regular, but for this match MacPherson went for the tenacity and experience of Stevie Thomson, Garry Brady and Hugh Murray, with the physical strike force of Billy Mehmet and Michael Higdon preferred to the nimbler and speedier Dargo partnering either.
Graham Carey, on loan from Celtic, continued at left wing back allowing David Barron to drop into central defence beside Lee Mair and Potter, with Jack Ross taking his usual place at right wing back as Paul Gallagher continued to keep Mark Howard out of the side in goals. It was an interesting team, and quickly Saints settled into a good pattern and appeared to be calmer than their opponents who gave the ball away continuously to what looked like a highly motivated Saints team.
Saints probed throughout a fraught first half and looked comfortably the better side. Michael Higdon had the measure of the creaking Weir in the Rangers defence, and despite not being known for his pace the big striker ran away from the Rangers captain multiple times. On one of these occasions Higdon’s cut back was met perfectly by Thomson who looked certain to open the scoring, but the watching Saints fans from the opposite end of the stadium could only look on exasperated as the foot of a diving Neil Alexander prevented the expected bulge of the net and a deserved Saints lead.
As half time approached, Barron decided to take matters into his own hands, and from fully thirty yards sent a dipping shot crashing off the crossbar as Saints turned up the heat on their opponents, but the underdogs just couldn’t convert their superiority into goals, and the sides went in even and goalless at the break.
Saved by the half time whistle, Rangers came out charged up for the second half and seemed far more aggressive, but the match continued in the same fashion as St Mirren dominated, easily outplaying the favourites with some clever football. In truth Rangers, couldn’t lay a glove on Saints.
In a passage of play that summed up the superiority of Saints seven minutes into the second half, Jack Ross and Hugh Murray dispossessed Rangers with some fine pressing deep in their own half, and then worked the ball nicely up the park to Steven Thomson who nipped by namesake Kevin on the right touchline directly in front of a section of the massed ranks of Saints support in the main stand.
Clearly frustrated at this humiliating experience being handed out by Saints, the Rangers midfielder scythed down the midfielder with a recklessly high tackle, and referee Craig Thompson had absolutely no hesitation in flashing the red card to the former Hibs man. In a match Saints had almost completely controlled, they were now against ten men. It was almost too good to be true.
Mayhem broke out after this red card, as Rangers protested the decision vehemently, and Walter Smith appeared next to his two assistants, berating the fourth official and effectively taking over managing his team to try and salvage the tactical lesson handed out by MacPherson and his players. Saints main force in midfield had been the long serving Hugh Murray who was having a fabulous match, winning every battle on the park and shrewdly using his team mates who were growing in confidence with each passing minute.
MacPherson, probably suspecting a carve up and the possibility of Murray being used by the referee to “even things up” considering he had been booked and perhaps most likely to be ordered off, replaced the legendary midfielder with Andy Dorman in the minutes after the sending off, much to Murray’s disappointment going by his body language as he walked off to the usual hero’s reception.
I found it strange at the time to be honest and have often wondered how big a decision this was by Gus MacPherson. Both Dorman and Murray are midfielders, but very different types; with the former a goal threat due to his superb timing of runs and outstanding finishing and Murray a disciplined tactical operator, who often sacrificed a lot for the benefit of others. In essence Murray was the archetypical team player, and the club haven’t had many like him over the last one hundred and forty odd years.
This change seemed to unsettle Saints slightly, and as Rangers dropped deeper it became more like a game of chess as for the first time the pressure was now on Saints, and Smith was happy to concede possession in the hope Saints were unable to unlock a stubborn defence.
On seventy three minutes however, the Paisley side finally did so when Craig Dargo (who had just been introduced in place of Mehmet) spun away from Danny Wilson to go one on one with the Rangers keeper and surely open the scoring, however before he could shoot the Rangers defender tugged him back and to the astonishment of everyone, although completely the correct decision, referee Thompson sent off another Rangers player to reduce the Ibrox side to nine men.
I remember standing at the back of the stand behind that goal at Hampden (The Dundee United end as I call it) with both arms behind my head as I couldn’t believe what was happening either. What an opportunity now presented Saints, surely, we would win this cup now?
Again though, carnage ensued on the touchline as Smith and his coaching staff complained bitterly about the stonewall 100% correct red card. It was almost as though Rangers players couldn’t be sent off in cup finals. After about five minutes of complaining, the match restarted and Carey blasted his free kick straight the wall from the resultant chance, and this was probably Saints last shot in the match.
With Rangers down to nine men, the Glaswegians sat even deeper defending, and Saints had no idea how to break them down in truth. With the game mentality flipped as St Mirren were now clear favourites for the match, the players didn’t seem to know what to do and struggled with the reality that this Cup Final was now theirs to completely lose. At first the Saints players worked the ball from side to side, patiently waiting on an opening, but both Ross and Carey in the wing back roles had left their crossing boots at home, and repeatedly failed to deliver any quality.
With the clock edging towards ninety minutes, Saints abandoned the patient game and started to become a bit more direct and central in their play, also taking unnecessary risks particularly in defence to try and open up Rangers. It wasn’t really needed as the nine men would inevitably have tired particularly in extra time and chances would soon come, but the players seemed to panic a little and a cool head such as Murray was needed on the park.
On one of these occasions where unnecessary risks were taken with around five minutes remaining, Lee Mair was dispossessed some sixty yards from goal and suddenly Rangers had a three on two break against Saints. From behind the goal at the opposite end we could see the play developing as our players desperately tried to get back, and I remember nudging my friend and saying, “they are going to score”.
Seconds later I was proven correct as a Kenny Miller’s header trickled in at the post as Gallagher rather sluggishly reacted to the only effort on goal, he faced all match, perhaps the big keeper had been sleeping so easy it had been for Saints all match to this point.
How that happened when we had two more men on the park is still a mystery to me, but it was explained by someone brave enough to watch it again as so; everything that could go wrong for Saints did in that passage of play, and everything that could go right for Rangers also did. He counted twelve key moments in the lead up to the goal, from Mair losing possession to Naismith crossing, Miller heading, and Gallagher failing to get down in time to save the ball, all going in favour of Rangers. Some say it was destiny, I prefer to think a fluke.
With six minutes left, Saints tried to get back into it but looked so stunned from the goal they were already beaten. Despite the long delays after both sending offs and the Rangers goal as well as six substitutes being used, only three minutes were added on at the end. It should have been closer to ten minutes, something that plagued my thoughts for months afterwards, but in all honesty, we were never going to score anyway, and maybe Craig Thompson was putting us out of our misery.
The final whistle was the first time I ever had a tear in my eye because of Saints. It was a mixture of anger and embarrassment, and to be honest I felt badly let down. I wasn’t the only one, and in the aftermath as Saints fans trooped out of the stadium back to their cars and buses immediately after the end, members of the board had arguments on the pitch with the management team. Frustrations which had been boiling up all week were now out in the open.
To make my day worse, our bus had broken down and we retreated to the International Bar on Aikenhead Rd where Rangers fans told us it was the luckiest victory in their history and we should have won, fair play but it meant nothing. I was empty inside, and it felt like a part of my soul had been ripped from me. Like when you find out something bad or disappointing about someone you love. I struggled to deal with the truth, were Saints bottle merchants like Hearts or Morton?
In the aftermath, McCoist and Smith both said they had no issues with the sending offs as they were clear cut, which made their prolonged protests and anger at the match officials seem pretty hollow. However, we can only ever blame ourselves for this harrowing defeat. I was a nine-year-old boy standing on the terraces of the Love Street end with my Dad when Hammarby scored twice in the last few minutes to knock us out of Europe in 1985, and although I was probably too young to appreciate the magnitude of that defeat, this one was harder to take. It was a major cup final against one of the old firm who were down to nine men and live of national TV. There was no hiding place. This was an embarrassment of unparalleled comparison, and it hurt.
In the days that followed as we all tried to make sense of what happened, I had decided to stay away from the next match, which was three days later against Celtic at Paisley. This was the only time in my life I can ever remember thinking I was bit scunnered and needed a break from watching the team. The day before the match however I received an email from Norrie Jamieson, the club’s media officer, asking me to cover the match for the website as nobody else wanted to do it. I guess I wasn’t the only one a bit miffed about what happened!
I accepted what I thought would be a challenge, but as a firm believer in Saints being predictably unpredictable, I actually thought we would win the match based on no more than it would be a “typical Saints” in the aftermath of arguably the poorest match in our long history, a theory many of us share I am sure.
Although I am not a reporter, I had covered games for the club before, and it is a good gig I have to admit. Free entry, programme, food and sometimes even a beer depending on the ground you are reporting from, makes it an attractive prospect despite the fact you are forced to share a room with people far beneath your own knowledge of the game, in other words, football journalists.
However, it is fascinating to watch how it is done and quite often people you hear on the radio, see on the TV or read articles by in newspapers are just normal punters making a living like me or you, although some are as predictably bland and annoying as you would expect. In a match I had covered at Ibrox the previous month in a 3-1 defeat, Rangers had a waited table service in the Willie Waddell suite for the media, with a buffet and beer hand delivered directly to you if so required. No wonder the media loves them! What they didn’t have however was Wifi, and the rumour was it had been cut off in 2010 as they hadn’t paid the bill.
For this match at St Mirren Park however, I was sandwiched between veteran Herald hack Hugh McDonald and someone from online Celtic fans website ‘Kerrydale Street’, who was more in line with the modern trend of social media, with a very narrow knowledge of football based entirely on one club, in this case Celtic. In fact, the Kerrydale kid did not know who Andy Dorman was when we were talking about team line ups before the match. He would know him by the end of the night though.
Gus MacPherson went for a changed line up as most expected, (to be honest he could have dropped the entire team apart from Hugh Murray and nobody would have complained) which included the return to the starting eleven of Dorman and Dargo which for me personally always made us a much better side and more enjoyable to watch, and this entailed a change to a 4-4-2 formation. Celtic manager Tony Mowbray included Irish international Robbie Keane in his starting XI, a player who had been transferred for almost £100 million in his career, played the vast majority of in the English top flight or Serie A, and had also seen him score at a World Cup. Keane had never seen anything like a wounded St Mirren in full flight though.
The match started in rather low key in terms of atmosphere, and a smaller than usual crowd was in attendance for such an important match considering Saints had been drawn into a relegation battle and Celtic still had a chance of winning the league. It was however understandable given the events of only three days prior to this.
Saints did start well though, like a team with something to prove which of course they did. Dargo quickly assessed the weak point in Celtic’s team, centre half Josh Thompson, and within a few minutes had skinned him on the touchline resulting in a booking for the young centre half after he took the forward down. This was the first indication that Saints had the measure of Celtic, and something remarkable was unfolding in front of our eyes.
On the left-hand side of Celtic’s defence was Edson Braatheid, a Dutch international who in a few months’ time would be playing in the World Cup Final, which was frankly incredible given what we all witnessed this night. What the left back I assume had in ability he more than lacked in desire and bravery, and Hugh Murray along with Jack Ross gave him a torrid time in that area of the park all night, and this is where the opening goal stemmed from as Saints pressed down the right-hand side. After Mehmet and Thomson just failed to fashion a chance for each other, the ball broke to Andy Dorman on the edge of the box who hammered it into the bottom corner of the net to give Saints the lead.
The annoyed tut of the ‘Kerrydale Street’ representative to my left told me he was not enjoying this at all, and there was an excited murmuring all over the press box as the possibility of Saints beating Celtic after such a dreadful result only days beforehand was becoming a possibility. Half time came and went, and although Celtic were not out of it all, in fact Paul Gallagher made a couple of crucial saves during the match, Saints still looked menacing and doubled their lead just before the hour mark with a wonderfully constructed goal.
Dargo was the architect, as he spun off Thompson for the umpteenth time; played a one two with Mehmet before releasing a perfectly weighted pass for Steven Thomson who didn’t have to break stride and slotted it past Zaluska for a brilliant team goal. As I watched on from the press box at the scenes in the West Bank as the Saints fans in attendance went simply crazy, the ‘Kerrydale Street’ chap launched his pen against the seat of the person in front of him and started complaining about how things were going. “I mean, have St Mirren ever beaten Celtic 2-0 before?” he queried out loud more in disrespect of Saints than anything knowing that he was sitting next to the person representing the club.
“April 1990. 3-0 to Saints at Parkhead.” I quickly responded, ending the complaining very quickly. Hugh MacDonald to my right, although a Celtic fan himself, couldn’t help but chuckle and backed up my recollection by wryly smiling and saying “Who could forget that!?”. Not me, anyway.
The match continued, and by this point Dargo was running riot. It was one of the finest performances I have ever seen from a Saints forward, and Celtic simply couldn’t cope with the little striker as he dribbled and probed his way through their defence repeatedly. It was a joy to watch, and surely only a matter of time before the home side scored again. They did of course and following a period sustained pressure, Celtic simply buckled in the last ten minutes.
With six minutes remaining Celtic were forced to go long on their own by-line by Saints incessant pressing, and the resulting hoof was won easily in the air by little Stevie Thomson whose header rolled through the disjointed defence of the Glasgow side and Dorman beat Billy Mehmet to the ball to fire it low and hard into the net. I looked to the linesman expecting a flag purely on the basis this was now too good to be true, but he was already running towards the half way line. 3-0 Saints.
Now, it is often said that Celtic are not represented in the media. I can categorically state they most definitely are going by the reaction in the press box. Celtic fans websites apart, this third goal seemed to upset a lot of football journalists that night, but it was about to get worse for these fans with typewriters.
A couple of minutes later, Potter floated the ball to Michael Higdon who laid it into the path of the on-running on Thomson and it was soon 4-0. A few shouts with swear words went up around me, and my now livid Kerrydale Street friend turned and said “Well……you’ve never beaten us 4-0”.
This of course is incorrect, and I informed him about the 1959 Scottish Cup semi-final victory of the same score, which once again was backed up by a now laughing Hugh McDonald who remembered it and included it in his report the next day. To their credit Saints didn’t stop playing and should have added to their already incredible lead in the final minutes as they fashioned multiple opportunities but, on these occasions, lacked the ruthlessness of the previous eight six minutes, not that anyone with a Saints background was complaining.
With practically no Celtic supporters left in the ground at full time, their players trudged off the park absolutely stunned. I can still remember Robbie Keane looking utterly bemused as he walked towards the tunnel with St Mirren cheers ringing in his ears along with the customary gestures to the defeated away players. He may have played at the San Siro and Anfield, but nothing could have prepared him for his boyhood club being ripped apart by a rampant and hurting Saints.
The media room afterwards was nothing short of the proverbial media circus and as more experienced journalists like McDonald continued to smile at the reaction of his younger peers, desks were being banged and people shouted as the Celtic supporting members of the media let rip. One of them triumphantly returned to the room with this mobile phone aloft informing everyone that he had spoken with Peter Lawwell, and Tony Mowbray would be sacked the following day, which of course he was.
This was the last match I ever covered for the club, but I like to think it was the best possible way to sign off. Perhaps suggesting to Mowbray in my interview he was lucky we stopped at 4-0 probably ensured this was my swansong; however, I wasn’t the only one wearing my heart on my sleeve that night in the press box!
Disappointingly, this wasn’t the catalyst the players needed to finish the season strongly, and Saints would pick up just two points in the next four matches, dragging them into a full relegation battle. One of these matches was a 2-1 defeat at Falkirk in the last match of the scheduled thirty-three, our second trip to Grangemouth that season. This meant the form going into split was one win in sixteen league matches, that 4-0 win against Celtic.
Bizarrely when the split fixtures were announced, Saints faced a third trip to Falkirk for the season, quite rightly angering the club as this now looked a three-way fight for relegation between the two sides and Kilmarnock. It is of course, inconceivable this would happen at the other end of the table and this rank hypocrisy remains one of the reasons so many fans all over the country stay away from football.
The first match after the split was at McDiarmid Park, and Saints looked to have finally got their act together when goals from Carey and Dorman had them 2-0 up after 50 minutes. The Paisley side had battered their Perth counterparts for most of the match and passed up multiple opportunities to seal the points and this would cost Saints dearly at full time, as did the referee Charlie Richmond who had a nightmare last quarter of the match.
Around twenty minutes after Saints second goal, Billy Mehmet beat St Johnstone keeper Graeme Smith to the ball in the penalty area before being wiped out by the Perth number one. The ball slowly rolled towards goal before agonisingly kissing the post on the way out for a goal kick, but the big forward would undoubtedly have reached it to knock the ball into an empty net had he not been clattered by Smith, however Richmond played on, perhaps thinking the match was over so dominate were the Paisley side.
This however seemed to spur on the home side, and Michael Duberry claimed a goal back with eleven minutes remaining following a corner kick, and the away side were now firmly up against it. Deep into injury time with Saints having withheld the pressure, Carey was flung to the ground by Kenny Deuchar at the half way line, and most of the stadium expected a free kick for the away side and the match to end with the ball in the corner. Incredibly however, Richmond played on and awarded St Johnstone a free kick a few seconds later when Stephen O’Donnell was judged to have fouled Danny Grainger.
Incensed by this decision Saints players surrounded the referee, however when the free kick was eventually floated in, Murray Davidson’s effort was saved by Steven O’Donnell on the line, and a very hesitant Richmond awarded a penalty to the Perth side but bizarrely failed to send the Saints midfielder off. Paul Sheerin then converted with the last kick of the match, and two points had been stolen from the away side that now drew level with Kilmarnock and moved a point clear of bottom placed Falkirk.
The following week Saints were at home to Killie and a left foot volley by Andy Dorman with sixteen minutes remaining secured a vital three points for the Buddies. This would be the Welshman’s last ever goal for the club, and the final time Gus MacPherson would taste victory as Saints manager.
The following week Saints made their third trip of the season to Falkirk, with the Bairns now managed by Steven Pressley and when Chris Innes was ordered off on the half time whistle for stupidly striking a player off the ball, relegation was very much back on particularly when Scott Arfield converted the resultant penalty.
Saints hung in however, and with four minutes remaining O’Donnell slammed home an equaliser to send the away support behind the goal wild. Despite taking one point from the last two matches, this was enough to confirm tenth place for Saints, and Falkirk were relegated to the Championship and are yet to return to the top flight, currently finding themselves in the third tier. They are slim margins in football sometimes.
At the end of the season however, big change was coming. Gus MacPherson was relieved of his duties immediately after the final match of the season, and with him went assistant Andy Millen. The manager had performed a quite splendid job on paper with the club by getting them promoted and stabilising Saints in the top flight, but things had gone stale and that Cup Final defeat was never going to be easily forgotten.
Andy Dorman then moved to Crystal Palace, and Billy Mehmet left the club along with Chris Innes, Mark Howard, Jim Hamilton, Jack Ross, Graham Carey and Stephen O’Donnell. A new era was starting, and the board decided Danny Lennon was the man to lead it.