Collin Samuel’s third goal of the season paved the way to another cup semi-final and netted a welcome six-figure sum for the Perth club’s bank account, reports Gordon Bannerman.
In a season when the winter weather has kicked the McDiarmid housekeeping budget deep into the red, the Trinidad and Tobago international’s smartly dispatched winner minutes before half-time eased Saints into an April 16 Hampden lunchtime date with either Dundee United or Motherwell, keeping alive the dream of a first ever Scottish Cup final.
Having banked an unexpected £82,500 from Sky’s coverage of the replay, chairman Geoff Brown can now look forward to a share of the semi-final loot and healthier accounts at the end of the financial year.
Derek McInnes has figured in four semi-finals in less than five years as a player and manager.
Now the aim is to negotiate the club’s eighth Scottish Cup semi-final and grace the final showpiece at long last.
The evening could and should have been more comfortable, with Saints relying on Samuel’s 37th minute angled finish to see them through against Brechin part-timers inspired and well-drilled by management duo Jim Weir and Kevin McGowne.
The Second Division side had two first-half chances before Saints finally found the target and couldn’t muster another opportunity to take the tie into extra-time.
Once again, their failure to convert chances was a potential Achilles heel for St Johnstone and kept the outcome in doubt much longer than home supporters wanted.
Peter MacDonald was restored to the frontline and a booking wrecked his hopes of playing at Hampden next month. But, like many of his colleagues, he was guilty of frittering away openings which would have smoothed their passage into the last four.
None was clearer cut than a close range shot skied from eight yards five minutes from the end, after the best passing sequence of the match.
Danny Invincibile picked out Chris Millar, who shuttled it on to Liam Craig advancing into the heart of the City penalty area. A neat flick from the midfielder and MacDonald was in the clear, only to glare at the notorious surface after opting to take it first time with time on his side.
Long before the break Saints should have ruined Sky hopes of an upset whetted by the 2-2 Glebe Park rollercoaster.
City found the open spaces of McDiarmid more challenging than their compact home pitch and Saints were under instructions to use the flanks.
Craig really should have buried a stretching ninth minute connection created by Murray Davidson’s probing cross. Instead it went flying over the target.
Keeper Nelson smartly turned an Invincibile right footer round the post in the 17th minute, he had a shot inadvertently blocked on the line by Samuel, volleyed a Millar cross wide and later blazed another chance past the target.
But in the 20th minute City were gifted their first chance by the sort of error Steven Anderson thought he had eradicated from his game.
Caught in two minds, he was horrified as McKenna snatched possession and released Aberdeen target McAllister. With 23 goals to his name this term he knows where the goal is but this time his shot veered wide, much to Anderson’s relief.
And in the 32nd minute Peter Enckelman earned his corn. It was his only save of consequence but it was top drawer material, reminiscent of a stunning Forster stop for Celtic at Perth earlier in the season. The Finnish goalie dropped to his right to push a netbound drilled effort from Fusco out of the harm’s way and Brechin were denied an opener to test the bottle of the home team.
Eight minutes from half-time Davidson’s lob tempted Samuel into a shot blocked by retreating defender McLauchlan. The striker was first to react and blasted a perfect finish across the keeper from eight yards to find the far corner. He won’t have scored a more valuable goal in his career.
City failed to stretch a backline superbly marshalled by Dave Mackay in central defence, with danger man McAllister given little scope to repeat his Glebe Park heroics.
But Saints were unable to accelerate out of sight, with McInnes reluctant to turn to his bench.
In the 72nd minute, during an extended lull, the roving Millar struck a defender after Samuel missed out, a Danny Grainger free-kick wormed its way wide with no takers, Miller fired wide from 25 yards and then MacDonald wasted that clear-cut opening which would have silenced City’s vociferous travelling fans.
SAINTS: Enckelman, Maybury, Grainger, Anderson, Mackay, Davidson, Millar, Craig, Samuel, MacDonald (Moon 90) and Invincibile. Subs not used: Smith, Jackson, May and Caddis.
BRECHIN CITY: Nelson, McLean (White 12), Cook, McLauchlan, Moyes, Janczyk, Fusco (Archdeacon 85), Molly, McAllister, McKenna and Byers (McKay 66). Subs not used: Scott and King.
REFEREE: Steve Conroy.