Fatigue. Nausea. Inability to speak. Confusion. Unable to stand properly. If you have any of these symptoms then don’t Google them as you may be slightly alarmed. However there may be a simple explanation if you were at Pittodrie this evening, or indeed followed the match on the radio on what was a historic night for St Mirren Football Club. An explosive encounter under the floodlights on a crisp Grampian evening had nearly everything you can think of, therefore there would be something wrong if you weren’t feeling at least a couple of the effects listed above. I offer sincere apologies for the length of this report, but a short summary just wouldn’t do this momentous night justice.
Saints headed into this Communities League Cup Quarter final with little confidence from the previous three league defeats. Or even the statistic that St Mirren hadn’t beaten Aberdeen in cup competition since our 1959 Scottish Cup Final victory...or worse yet that the Paisley Saints were winless at Pittodrie in any cup competition since before the Great War in 1914. Statistics are there to be broken however, and Saints aimed to create history by exploding into a first half lead on 6 minutes.
Steven Thompson’s looping header met Dougie Imrie’s volleyed cross in the penalty area, whilst Dons keeper Jamie Langfield ushered the header over the crossbar. The ball had other ideas however, and ricocheted off the underside of the bar into the path of the grateful Sam Parkin who notched the visitors into an early lead.
The hosts from the Granite City always looked threatening on the attack. The Buddies defence were blocking everything thrown at them – special mention goes to Marc McAusland who blocked Isaac Osbourne’s goal-bound shot with his outstretched knee. It was sadly inevitable that they would indeed equalise. On 22 minutes a Mark Reynolds floated cross found its way to Scott Vernon, and the Englishman had no problem heading over a stranded Craig Samson perched well over his six-yard line.
The Buddies responded by not sitting in and defending, and instead taking the game to their hosts. Gary Teale was determined to prove he still has plenty to offer the side and was beating his man time after time down the right hand side. Kenny McLean went the closest before half time with a fizzing daisy-cutter that was deflected inches wide of Jamie Langfield’s left-hand post. Imrie also fired a couple of volleys well wide of goal when taking a first touch maybe would’ve helped his cause. There could’ve been a chance to forge ahead before the interval when Teale’s cross was blocked by the outstretched arm of a Dons defender inside the area. Referee Crawford Allan perhaps didn’t have the best view, however his assistant did - a view shared by the incensed travelling support.
Step forward young Kenneth McLean. The midfield maestro has shown he can produce chances out of absolutely nothing, and did so here with his side’s second goal after 69 minutes. Russell Anderson’s defensive clearance was charged down by the ever- energetic Parkin on the left edge of the penalty area. McLean could’ve ran through and slotted past Langfield but that would’ve been a bit dull. The Under-21 cap instead drilled a rasping shot past the keeper at his near post to put the visitors back in front, and send the travelling support into a dazed frenzy. The shot looked to be heading wide until suddenly it rippled the centre of the Aberdeen net; swerve of which Roberto Carlos would’ve been proud.
After defending incredibly for the second half, Aberdeen inflicted the curse of the injury time goal back on the Saints in stoppage time. Ryan Fraser drilled the ball into the box, and it only required the outstretched leg of Josh Magennis to cruelly return that all-too-familiar late sinking feeling to the Saints support. You could argue a draw was a fair outcome, however the timing was so harsh on a Saints team down on their luck who’d defended admirably throughout the second half.
After their last gasp equaliser, it looked as if only one team would go on and win the tie. The Dons burst onto the field with the intention of claiming that coveted semi final place. Within seconds they had rattled the crossbar from the edge of the area, and Niall McGinn swept his effort millimetres wide when scoring seemed easier. Most of the travelling Paisley contingent would’ve taken the penalty shootout there and then, and following a tense second half of extra time it’s exactly what they got; however not before one last moment of controversy.
With Aberdeen chasing a winner, Saints fired the ball forward on the break to Lewis Guy, who raced past Anderson with just Langfield to beat. The Cumbrian elected to round the keeper, and with Langfield committed and the goal at his mercy, he was brought down by the keeper’s outstretched left arm. Or so everyone thought. Everyone except Crawford Allan however who booked the forward for diving. Not only was the referee at least 40 yards behind play, you have to ask yourself what striker would dive with an open goal at his mercy. Tommy Craig certainly felt that way, displaying his outrage whilst being restrained by several of the Saints’ bench.
So after 120 minutes of excitement, the stalemate was to be decided by a penalty shootout. The excitement was palpable, yet many could not watch. Barring Renfrewshire Cup success, “kicks from the penalty mark” don’t come round too often for us Buddies. It was an event to be savoured, if not an unbearable one at the same time. Kenny McLean blasted home to give Saints the upper hand, before Russell Anderson smacked the bar with his effort. Gary Teale, Jim Goodwin and Mark McAusland’s successful conversions, matched by McGinn and Fraser for the Dons, left Scotland Under 17 cap Cammy Smith to save his side’s cup dreams. Craig Samson was the hero by tipping the youngster’s shot past the right hand post to spark chaotic jubilation amongst the Renfrewshire faithful.
Whilst mentioning Samson’s penalty heroics, I’m doing the rest of the squad a disservice here. They are all heroes. Each and every one. It seems harsh to give a solitary man of the match award, but my Star Saint was Marc McAusland. He was everywhere again tonight, the epitome of composure at the back and made several last-gasp challenges to foil the Dons’ forays towards goal. A special mention must too go to the 150-200 or so Buddies who made the trip under no pretences. An ailing side, a poor cup record against Aberdeen and a late night were many reasons not to travel. But they did and a healthy section literally did not stop singing throughout the entire 120 minutes and beyond. Everyone involved in tonight’s game were a credit to St Mirren Football Club, and the mutual appreciation from both fans and players highlights a united club even when times are tough. A semi final awaits in February but until then there is much hope for our league campaign.
History was made tonight. There’s something rather special about beating a 53 year old record that was set whilst winning one of three Scottish Cups. There’s also something exceptional about making our third national cup semi final in just four seasons. I believe it was a previous St Mirren manager who regaled that if our supporters wanted entertainment then they should go to the cinema instead. Tell you what though - Skyfall had nothing on this match tonight.