LIKE a down-on-his-luck Vegas gambler putting dime after dime in the slots, St Johnstone keep coming back for more.
They booked their place in this afternoon's draw for the semi-finals of the William Hill Scottish Cup with this ultimately comfortable victory over Raith Rovers and will now keep their fingers crossed that their fortunes finally take a turn for the better.
They are overdue. Since reaching the 1998 League Cup final - when they lost 2-1 to Rangers - the team from Perth have reached seven semi-finals and lost the lot. They will try again to break that wretched sequence at Ibrox next month having shifted a step closer to finally hitting the jackpot. St Johnstone have never won a major trophy in their history, but opportunity knocks for them once more.
Raith were obdurate opponents but St Johnstone, and a relentless, blustery wind, eventually blew them away. A goal after four minutes in each half - either side of a spectacular equaliser from Raith's Joe Cardle - gave St Johnstone a platform and a third goal 11 minutes from time eventually made their passage secure. Having lost 4-0 to Aberdeen in the League Cup semi-final in January, an immediate chance to make amends will be gratefully seized upon. "If we can go there, play badly and win, that would be perfect," said Tommy Wright, the St Johnstone manager. "We deserve another crack at a semi-final to lay the ghost of that result against Aberdeen. Hopefully we can get a crack at a final as well."
St Johnstone started well and then dominated the second half, but also had to endure something of a sticky spell towards the end of the first period when Raith, with the wind at the their backs, drew level and threatened to claim a half-time lead.
They missed two gilt-edged chances to do so, Dougie Hill and then Ross Callachan both heading wide from right in front of goal. It looked at the time like a game-changing passage of play and that turned out to be the case.
"We had a spell when we were probably on top for a wee bit, but that's what happens when you play against quality teams," sighed Raith manager Grant Murray. "If you don't take your chances when they come along they will punish you. And they did that in the second half."
It will be slim consolation for Raith, but the goal they scored was undoubtedly the pick of the bunch, Cardle meandering across the pitch before thumping in a shot from around 30 yards that flew past Alan Mannus via a post.That aside, it was St Johnstone's day. Their first goal after four minutes was simplicity itself, Gary Miller hoisting up a deep free-kick that Steven Anderson helped on to Gary McDonald whose shot beat Lee Robinson.
St Johnstone needed to re-establish themselves early in the second half and Nigel Hasselbaink ensured they did, the winger weaving his way past several half-hearted challenges before poking his shot past Robinson to put the visitors back in front.
The tie was still in the balance at that point and a Liam Fox free-kick, spilled by Mannus but gathered at the second attempt, gave the home side belated hope. That was extinguished, however, when St Johnstone managed their third. A corner from Lee Croft found Anderson lurking at the front post and he was somehow able to divert his shot past Robinson.
It was a day for keeping the high balls low, the strong wind influencing events as much as the players. In the end it was St Johnstone who dealt with it better, their reward another crack at ending their semi-final jinx.
"The conditions played a big part in the game," added Wright. "We didn't expect it to be easy, but nobody can argue that we didn't deserve the win."