Hot Goal Time Machine: St Johnstone

May 7, 2014

For a description of exactly what this series is about and how the idea was formed then be sure to read the open letter at the top of our opening blog. For the rest we’ll summarise: we’ve asked a blogger from every team in the Scottish top flight to recall their favourite goal from every season since 1998. Now it is the turn of Gregg Aitchison, a St Johnstone fanatic who has watched his team fall from near the summit of the top flight down to the depths of Division One and right back up again.

1998/99 – George O’Boyle vs Motherwell

Season 1998/99 was an unforgettable year as a St Johnstone supporter. The club finished 3rd in the league, got to the semi-final of the Scottish Cup and were runners up in the League Cup. The clubs great performance in the league, resulted in qualifying for the UEFA Cup the following season as well.

Throughout that memorable season there were many special goals including Allan Preston’s strike against Hearts in the League Cup semi at Easter Road, Nick Dasovic’s strike in the Final against Rangers at Celtic Park, Gerry McMahon’s against Aberdeen and Paul Kane’s header against Dundee to clinch a European spot on the last game of the season, however my favourite was the wonderfully talented George O’Boyle’s strike against Motherwell in October of that season.

It was Billy Davies first match in charge of Motherwell. St Johnstone were leading 3-0 when George O’Boyle picked the ball up just over the half way line, looked up and hit a David Beckhamesque chip over Steve Woods into the net. Saints went on to win the game 5-0, however O’Boyles goal was highlight. O’Boyles career at Saints came to an abrupt end due to being found snorting cocaine in the toilet of a Perth drinking establishment, however despite this, O’Boyle still holds a fond place in many St Johnstone supporters hearts due to his unbelievable talent as a football player.

1999/2000 – Gary Bollan vs Dundee

This season saw St Johnstone enter European Competition for the first time in 28 years, whereby the club saw off VPS Vassa of Finland in our first tie, before being put out by a Monaco team featuring stars such as Fabien Barthez and David Trezeguet.

The best goal of that season came against arch rivals Dundee, when Dundonian born and bred, Gary Bollan picked the ball up on the halfway line for Saints and charged forward before releasing an unstoppable 30 yard strike past the stranded Rab Douglas in the Dundee goal. A Marc Millar injury time winner in that game seen Saints win 2-1 in an important three points which resulted in the club finishing 5th that season.

2000/01 – Momo Sylla vs Rangers

The previous two goals arrived amid a special time in the clubs history, but as the old saying goes – “all good things must come to an end”. And this season certainly bore testimony to that. Players such as John McQuillan, John O’Neil, Nathan Lowndes and Miguel Simao who had been so good for Saints in the seasons prior to this moved on to pastures new and after a 5th, 3rd and 5th place finish in the top flight the club couldn’t sustain the success and after a disappointing campaign ended the season 3rd bottom of the league.

The highlight of 2000/01 was without a doubt the 2-1 victory over the club formerly known as Rangers at McDiarmid. Rangers starting line up included International stars such as Ronald De Boer and Tugay, however despite boasting a much stronger team Saints started the brighter and Sergio Porrini brought down Kiegan Parker in the box, with Parker converting the resulting spot kick. Kenny Millar levelled for Rangers in the second half, however in the 67th minute the maverick known as Momo Sylla picked the ball up on the half way line and drove forward in that casual manner that Sylla often did. He was still in possession 25 yards from goal and McDiarmid erupted as his strike flew past Mark Brown in the Rangers goal. Majestic stuff.

2001/02 – Tommy Lovenkrands vs Hearts

What a disaster this season was. A horrible start saw Saints only accumulate three points in eight games, combined with the fact the club had only won two games from January to September in 2001 meant that the board had to remove Sandy Clark from his position as manager of the club, much to the delight of the Saints supporters.

After initially approaching Tommy Burns to be the clubs new manager, the club settled for Burns’ best mate Billy Stark after Burns knocked us back. Unfortunately the malaise had already set in at the club and despite have such stars as Wullie Falconer and Benito Kemble (!) in the squad, Saints were relegated to the First Division.

In a season of many low points, one of very few highlights was in March when a Saints team already stranded at the bottom of the league faced a Hearts side including the likes of Anti Niemi, Steven Pressley and Ricardo Fuller at Tynecastle. Despite Saints poor form that season and playing against much stronger opposition, the team turned in the performance of the season. Tommy Lovenkrands opened the scoring, but it was his second goal that made all the highlights. The current Everton assistant manager, Graeme Jones, played the ball out wide to John Paul “I Love Celtic” McBride, who’s cross was too long, however lurking on the left hand side of the box was Lovenkrands who fired in a rocket of a shot, which cracked the underside of the bar with the keeper not standing a chance. Despite Saints winning the game 3-1, our fate was sealed a few weeks later when we were relegated from the top flight.

2002/03 – Paul Hartley vs St Mirren

In our first season back in the First Division Saints travelled to Paisley for the “Battle of the Saints” at Love Street on the opening day. Kiegan Parker opened the scoring for the Perth Saints in the 18th minute, then a exquisite second goal was added by Paul Hartley in the second half to leave fans dreaming about an automatic return to the SPL.

The Hartley goal was special. St Mirren hit St Johnstone on the break, however the attack broke down and Paul Hartley picked up possession in his own half. Hartley was supported on the counter attack by Paddy Connolly, but rather than using his teammate he decided to go on his own before beating four St Mirren players and calmly slotting the ball past ex St Johnstone keeper Ludovic Roy.

Ultimately, the dream of returning to the top flight at first time of asking proved too much for Billy Stark’s squad who finished 3rd in the league.

2003/04 – Kiegan Parker vs ICT

After Billy Stark failed to lead Saints back to the top flight at the second time of asking, the board decided to replace him with club legend John Connolly in April 2014 with only a few games of the season remaining. Connolly was in charge as Saints travelled north to face an Inverness Caledonian Thistle team on the verge of gaining promotion to the SPL for the first time in their history.

ICT took the lead which sent their fans into ecstasy. Just as their thoughts were turning to winning the league, Kiegan Parker – who was playing his last game for Saints – picked the ball up wide left, beat his marker, then from 25 yards unleashed a strike that dipped under the crossbar for a spectacular equaliser.

Parker moved to Blackpool, whereby he enjoyed success by scoring the winning goal at Wembley that sealed the seasiders’ promotion to the English Championship. Unfortunately for Kiegan it was all downhill from there and he’ll currently back in Scotland with Airdrieonians.

2004/05 – Stephen Dobbie vs Partick Thistle

John Connolly was a famous member of Willie Ormonds St Johnstone team of the late 60s/early 70’s, and fans began his spell in charge of the club in an optimistic mood. Sadly the positive vibe did not last long as Connolly went on to preside over an absolute disastrous season which resulted in Saints finishing 3rd bottom of the First Division.

Although many of Connolly’s signings were a disaster and completely out of their depth (think Lee Hardy, Jordan Tait and Colin Marshall), he did sign a few gems, including Paul Sheerin and Steven Anderson. Another positive signing during the Conolly era was Stephen Dobbie, who initially signed on loan for Saints from Tony Mowbray’s Hibs.

Connolly was sacked in April 2005 and replaced by Owen Coyle, who decided to sit in the stand as caretaker manager Jim Weir led Saints through to Firhill to take on Partick Thistle, needing a point to guarantee survival. Saints started in a positive fashion as Peter “Peaso” MacDonald sent Saints up 1-0, however it was the second goal that displayed the talents that have seen Stephen Dobbie go on to play at the highest tier of English Football. Dobbie picked up a lose ball after an attacking free kick to Saints broke down on the edge of the Thistle box and hit a delightful chip shot into the top right hand corner of the net. Saints went on to win the game 4-0 and secure their place in the First Division for another season.

In the summer of 2005, Dobbie was signed on a permanent basis by Owen Coyle, however despite showing glimpses of his undoubted talent, Coyle had concerns about his fitness and attitude and farmed him out to Third Division Dumbarton whereby he impressed and Queen of the South signed him on a permanent basis from Saints in 2007. Dobbie went on to become a club legend for QOS and secured a move to Swansea City. He’s now at Blackpool getting slapped by Bob Malcolm.

2005/06 – Goran Stanic vs Hamilton Accies

During Owen Coyle’s first pre season in charge of St Johnstone he removed a lot of the deadwood accumulated and brought in a few players with real experience such as Kevin James and Goran Stanic. The latter went on to become a real fans favourite during his time with Saints and one of the many highlights was a 35 yard strike he slammed home against Hamilton Accies in a 5-1 win for Saints at McDiarmid.

The grainy YouTube video comes nowhere near close to doing it justice.

2006/07 – Savo Milne vs Rangers

With fortunes turning around there was great hope for this campaign. And for once it was justified as the club went on to have a magnificent season in reaching the semis in both the League and Scottish Cup, while also missing out on promotion to the SPL by the narrowest of margins!

After destroying Craig Levein’s Dundee United 3-0 in the 3rd round of the League Cup, Saints travelled to Ibrox to play a Rangers side managed by Frenchman Paul Le Guen. Despite the mess Rangers were in under Paul Le Guen, we still went into the game as massive underdogs, though we started the game well and increased in confidence as the game went on, backed by a 1000+ support from Perth. That confidence went through the roof when the man knows as the Wizard (Paul Sheerin) floated in a corner which was only half cleared towards Steven “Savo” Milne who with his back to goal went for a spectacular overhead kick which bulleted into the net. Saints went on to win to win 2-0, a first win for Saints at Ibrox since 1971 and also the first ever time a team from a lower league had dumped Rangers out of a cup competition at home.

2007/08 – Rocco Quinn vs St Mirren

After being pipped at the post by Gretna (remember them?!), Saints found themselves chasing a Hamilton Accies team featuring James McCarthy, James McArthur and Brian Easton early on in 200708, with Coyle soon departing for Burnley and the English Championship.

Derek McInnes was eventually handed the reigns, and though he was unable to catch Hamilton in the League, he did enjoy some success in the Scottish Cup. After beating Raith Rovers and Ross County, Saints were drawn at home against SPL side St Mirren. The 1-1 draw watched by Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini meant that Saints had to travel to Love Street for the replay. St Mirren were the favourites to progress to the semi-final but Saints had other ideas, and after 11 minutes Paul Sheerin played the ball out wide left to Liam Craig who then fired over a high deep cross. The cross drifted over and found Rocco Quinn who blasted an exquisite volley past the stranded St Mirren keeper.

Saints then narrowly lost out to Rangers on penalties.

2008/09 – Liam Craig vs Dunfermline

Buoyed by a five game unbeaten run Saints went into this game full of confidence. An online campaign by Saints fans to fill the away end was successful as Saints ran out to see the away end a sea of blue. The Saints players looked fired up and after five minutes they won a free kick on the edge of the box which Big Mad Mental Martin Hardie stepped up to curl around the wall and past Paul Gallacher in the Dunfermline goal. That goal itself was worthy of “Goal of the Season”, however it was the next strike in the game that gets my vote. Saints were still leading in the 67th minute when Liam Craig picked up the ball on the half way line and drove forward. 30 yards from goal he let fly and the minute it left his boot the 1,600 Saints fans behind the goal knew it was heading in. Madness ensued as Saints fans invaded the pitch and celebrated as their team climbed to the top of the league.

LINK – http://youtu.be/zKjWKdGwFB0?t=1m45s

2009/10 – Cillian Sheridan vs Rangers

Finally! We were back in the land of milk and honey (or the “SPL” if you wanna use the traditional title). Saints attacking football won plaudits from many in their first season back and going into March still found themselves in contention for a top six place. Top of the league Rangers rode into Perth on a cold Tuesday night in Perth unaware of what was about to hit them. An early long ball down the left hand side found the enigmatic Cillian Sheridan who bombed past the much heralded youngster Danny Wilson and then proceeded to hit a cracking shot over the advancing Alan McGregors head which hit the far away post and rolled over the line. Saints went on to win the match 4-0 in a night which will live long in the memory.

2010/11 – Liam Craig vs Hibs

All of the past goals that I have described have been contenders for Goal of the Season, however this next one would not win any awards. Instead it provided the Saints support with a much needed goal! We may have won praise for attacking football but Derek McInnes was concerned about our leaky backline. Desperate to find a balance he succeeded only in making us the league’s most defensive side, which resulted in Saints going six games without a goal. The spell which began in early March was finally ended at Easter Road in late April when Liam Craig converted Danny Grainger’s corner and provided the starved Saints support with a long awaited excuse to celebrate!

2011/12 – Fran Sandaza vs Hibs

Saints made a great start to their third season in the SPL with Cillian Sheridan and Fran Sandaza combining well up front to propel until into fifth place in October. This early success brought Derek McInnes to English Championship club Bristol City’s attention and he accepted their offer to become their new manager in October. Steve Lomas was appointed as his successor and he carried on the good start. We travelled through to Edinburgh to face Hibs at Easter Road in what turned out to be a stunning game. With the match evenly poised at 2-2, Saints broke forward in the 87th minute and a ball from the left found Sandaza on the edge of the box, who swivelled and hit a fierce shot which squeezed past Mark Brown.

LINK – http://youtu.be/FCouzfjIXWI?t=18s

2012/13 – Gregory Tade Vs Eskisehirspor

Back in European Football for the first time in 14 years and landed a tie against Turkish side Eskisehirspor. After losing the first leg of the tie 2-0 in Turkey, the second leg took place on a glorious summers night in Perth in July 2012. Over 6,000 Saints were in attendance and the atmosphere was the best it had been at McDiarmid Park in many a year. The atmosphere was ramped up a few levels in the 35th minute when Callum Davidson tore down the left hand side and sent an inviting cross over for debutant Gregory Tade to head home to send the Perth Public wild!

Although the game ended in a 1-1 draw and Saints crashed out 3-1 on aggregate, Tade’s goal was a moment to savour. After many years in the doldrums of the First Division a generation of Saints fans who had not experienced the magic that goes with their club being involved in European football were given the chance to do so.

Season 2013 – 2014 – Stevie May vs Aberdeen

After experiencing several semi finals heartaches over the years, the Saints fans headed to watch their team against Aberdeen at Ibrox with not much optimism. Niall McGinn shot Aberdeen into a first half lead and the mood amongst the Saints support at half time was that we were about to suffer yet again. However, in the second half Saints came out looking like a team possessed and the local hero, Stevie May, equalised with a majestic goal for Saints. The technique shown by May for the first goal was immense and Saints were well and truly in the ascendency. On the 84th minute May played a quick one-two with his strike partner Steven MacLean and May found himself with a sight at goal, which he duly took and prodded the ball underneath Jamie Langfield in the Aberdeen goal.

For me both the goals were as good as each other and the significance of the goals in sending St Johnstone through to their first Scottish Cup Final in 130 years means that I can’t split them.

Thanks goes to the excellent Temple of Saints website, which although no longer in operation is still a great resource for all things Saints related. For those of you reading that have never viewed the website, I cant recommend it highly enough.

(http://www.grange.demon.co.uk/saints/sjfc.htm)

 

Follow Gregg on twitter.

Should Gary Locke, Alan Archibald, Allan Johnston and Danny Lennon stay or go this summer? We discuss this and more on Monday’s podcast

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