Two goals in two incredible minutes kept alive St Johnstone’s hopes of a stunning double as they saw off St Mirren for a place in the Scottish Cup final.
Chris Kane opened the scoring at Hampden before substitute Glenn Middleton’s superb free-kick doubled the League Cup winners’ lead.
Conor McCarthy headed in a late set-piece to make it a nervy finish, but St Johnstone did enough to earn the right to face Hibernian on 22 May in Callum Davidson’s first season as boss.
Hibernian earned their place in the final with a 2-0 victory over Dundee United on Saturday.
St Mirren are without a Scottish Cup semi-final victory since they last won the competition in 1987.
Jim Goodwin stated before the match that he wanted his St Mirren team to draw on the disappointment they felt after losing to Livingston in the Scottish League Cup semi-final earlier this campaign, and they started the game with clear intent.
Despite that, St Johnstone quickly found their feet and began to stamp their authority on the game.
The Perth side’s midfield trio of Ali McCann, Craig Bryson and particularly David Wotherspoon moved the ball with pace and purpose, forcing Goodwin’s side to retreat deeper into their own half and opt for more of a back-foot approach.
That is not to say they did not threaten, and they were denied an early penalty when Kristian Dennis’ strike came off the hand of defender Jamie McCart. Referee Willie Collum was unmoved despite the strong appeals.
That triggered an assault on Jak Alnwick’s goal, with the St Mirren keeper saving well from Shaun Rooney’s curling strike, before Callum Booth and Kane both missed the target from enticing positions.
The blue waves of attack did not dishearten St Mirren, though, who should have taken the lead on the half-hour mark. Dennis’ wonderful, cushioned volley put the ball on a plate for Lee Erwin, but somehow Zander Clark was able to keep it out from point-blank range.
The sides continued to trade blows after the break, with Ilkay Durmus forcing a save out of Clark before Wotherspoon curled an effort just wide of the far post.
The influential Durmus was at the heart of St Mirren’s attacking play and he provided his side with another gilt-edged chance just after the hour mark. Substitute Collin Quaner found himself goal-side of McCart, but he somehow completely missed the target when it looked easier to score from fewer than five yards out.
Those misses from Quaner and Erwin proved costly, as Rangers loanee Middleton brought the semi-final to life off the bench moments later. He surged down the left-hand side after being fed by Booth and his inch-perfect cross into Kane was read by the forward, who exquisitely toe-poked the ball into the far corner.
St Mirren were shell-shocked, but Middleton was just getting started. He drew a foul in a dangerous area two minutes later and stepped up to take the free-kick himself. The effort flew over the wall and left Alnwick rooted to the spot as it rippled the back of the net.
Kane had a glorious chance to make it three and seal the win shortly after, but his diving header was remarkably kept out by Alnwick.
McCarthy gave the Paisley side a glimmer of hope as time ebbed away, heading in from McGrath’s set-piece.
But it was too little, too late as St Johnstone’s incredible season in the cups marches on.
Man of the match – Glenn Middleton
What we learned
It’s going to be a tough one for Goodwin and St Mirren to take. While St Johnstone were impressive in patches, on another day the Paisley side could have been two goals ahead before Kane struck.
Erwin’s chance and Quaner’s effort probably end up in the back of the net nine times out of 10, and, if they go in, the narrative is totally different.
It will go down as a ‘what could have been’ season for them, but two semi-finals and narrowly missing out on a top-six finish in the Premiership represents progress.
For St Johnstone, this season is gearing up for a potential fairy-tale ending . They rode their luck in those moments, but in terms of their general play, Davidson’s side were excellent. It is worth remembering that they were missing four first-team players due to covid-19.
Those on the pitch were assured and purposeful in possession, and most importantly, clinical when it mattered. They were totally unfazed by the occasion, and why would they be fazed? Playing at Hampden is starting to look like a home tie for them.
What did they say?
St Mirren manager Jim Goodwin: “There’s real disappointment. We didn’t take our chances and at 0-0 we had the best chance. The first goal was always going to be hugely important and that was the case.”
St Johnstone manager Callum Davidson: “It’s been a really tough week for us, but the effort and character has been tremendous. I’m just glad we’re in the final. The season will carry on, so I’m delighted.”
What is next?
St Mirren have to dust themselves down as they travel to Kilmarnock on Wednesday 12 May (19:45 BST). St Johnstone are in action away at Celtic on the same evening (18:30 BST).
- 4ShaughnessyBooked at 74mins
- 2TaitSubstituted forConnollyat 68′minutes
- 7Doyle-HayesBooked at 80mins
- 25ErhahonSubstituted forBrophyat 77′minutes
- 20DennisSubstituted forQuanerat 57′minutes
- 10WotherspoonBooked at 54mins
- 9KaneSubstituted forO’Halloranat 86′minutes
- 17MelamedSubstituted forMiddletonat 65′minutes
Match ends, St. Mirren 1, St. Johnstone 2.
Second Half ends, St. Mirren 1, St. Johnstone 2.
Corner, St. Johnstone. Conceded by Conor McCarthy.
Attempt missed. Jamie McGrath (St. Mirren) right footed shot from outside the box is too high.
Attempt missed. Collin Quaner (St. Mirren) left footed shot from the centre of the box misses to the left.
Foul by Dylan Connolly (St. Mirren).
Callum Booth (St. Johnstone) wins a free kick on the right wing.
Attempt missed. Eamonn Brophy (St. Mirren) right footed shot from outside the box is close, but misses to the left.
Substitution, St. Johnstone. Michael O’Halloran replaces Christopher Kane.
Goal! St. Mirren 1, St. Johnstone 2. Conor McCarthy (St. Mirren) header from the centre of the box to the top left corner. Assisted by Jamie McGrath.
Eamonn Brophy (St. Mirren) wins a free kick on the left wing.
Foul by Jason Kerr (St. Johnstone).
Jake Doyle-Hayes (St. Mirren) wins a free kick on the left wing.
Foul by David Wotherspoon (St. Johnstone).
Attempt missed. Collin Quaner (St. Mirren) header from very close range is just a bit too high.
Foul by Jake Doyle-Hayes (St. Mirren).
David Wotherspoon (St. Johnstone) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Jake Doyle-Hayes (St. Mirren) is shown the yellow card.
Corner, St. Johnstone. Conceded by Jak Alnwick.
Attempt saved. Shaun Rooney (St. Johnstone) header from the left side of the box is saved in the top left corner.