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Lighter build enough to carry weight of history . . .

THE weight of history may be bearing down on a streamlined Tommy Wright but the Northern Irishman can still make light of it. St Johnstone approach Sunday's William Hill Scottish Cup semi-final with a last-four record in the competition that reads played eight, won nil.

Tommy Wright - minus his gall bladder - urges his side to 'make history' and reach the final of the Scottish Cup on Saturday. Picture: SNS
Tommy Wright - minus his gall bladder - urges his side to 'make history' and reach the final of the Scottish Cup on Saturday. Picture: SNS

It is the sort of semi-final record that makes that perennial last-hurdle loser Tim Henman seem like a cross between Roger Federer and Fred Perry.

There is, consequently, the 130 years of hurt that constitutes the Saints never winning the Scottish Cup but Wright, lean and keen after having his gall bladder removed, is brisk when dismissing the past.

What had he learned in the last year, his first as manager of St Johnstone? "Not to argue with Jackie McNamara," he says with a grin that demands to be described as rueful.

The cup semi-final is at Ibrox but the St Johnstone manager has a date at Hampden today to answer a misconduct charge after his robust exchange of views with the Dundee United manager in their SPFL Premiership match last month. "I'm going there with no previous. This is my first offence and hope they will look kindly on that. I'm planning to be in the dugout on Sunday but there is nothing I can do," he said.

If he looks towards Hampden with hope, he surveys the match at Ibrox with expectation.

"The chairman told me he wanted a cup from me in my first season as manager, so if we win it I'd only be meeting his target," he says with the grin changing to mischievous.

"I'd be delighted if we can get to the final and win it. But it's not about me, it's about the players here and the people associated with the club," he says. "The fans have had a lot of disappointments, the chairman has seen the team lose semi-finals and the players have been involved in them as well.

"It's the players who can get us to the final and the players who can win us the cup. I think what it means to managers is often over-hyped."

The attitude of the 50-year-old perhaps chimes with a personal history that is full of honest endeavour but not yet marked by substantial silverware. Wright, a former goalkeeper, has managed Limavady United, Ballymena United and Lisburn Distillery before first coaching, then taking over in Perth last summer when Steve Lomas made his ill-fated move to Millwall.

Wright has won an Irish League Cup with Distillery but now is just 90 minutes away from leading St Johnstone into historic new ground. His tenure at McDiarmid Park has been quietly impressive, securing a top-six place, defeating Rosenborg in Europe and reaching the last four of both domestic cups.

However, the League Cup semi-final proved an immense disappointment for the manager and his players as Aberdeen won 4-0 at Tynecastle. This drubbing and the low profile of a well-run club has combined to create an impression that not only is the match against Aberdeen on Sunday the lesser of the semi-finals, but also a foregone conclusion.

Saints, too, have not beaten Aberdeen in three attempts this season and, with Derek McInnes' side basking in the success of ending a trophy drought, Wright leads the underdogs, though he retains both bark and bite. His words, however lighthearted on occasion, cannot disguise the growl of desire that underpins every statement.

"We are not talking about it like that," said the manager when asked if his team's status as outsiders provided a drive for his staff. "The only motivation is to win a game of football. The main thing is to win and create a little bit of history by winning the thing."

His side have improved since the defeat in the League Cup semi-final in February. Steve MacLean, the 29-year-old former Rangers striker, gives Wright options up front and could ensure that Stevie May is not the isolated figure who tried and failed to take on the Aberdeen defence at Tynecastle. James Dunne, too, has been brought in on loan from Stevenage in Sky Bet League 1.

St Johnstone, too, had much of the first half in the League Cup semi-final, only to miss an excellent chance through Lee Croft after they had lost an early goal. Aberdeen, with Peter Paewlett, Jonny Hayes and Adam Rooney outstanding, then punished St Johnstone mercilessly on the break.

"We have had some unbelievable performances this season, 4-0 against Inverness and Ross County and 3-0 against Motherwell," said Wright. "There have been some great displays and, if we can tap into one of those, we can win the game.

"The first goal is going to be important and I'd rather we get it."

Of the dismal semi-final record, he said: "We were only involved in the League Cup one and you can't turn the clock back.

"Some of the players - Dave Mackay, Chris Millar and Steven Anderson - have been in other [semi-final defeats] and I'm sure they don't want to experience it again."

St Johnstone will travel to Glasgow and train at Lennoxtown, Celtic's facility, on Saturday. "Everything will be as low key as possible because the players know the importance of the game," said Wright. "They know they can create history by even getting to the final. I don't think I need to be putting any other layers on that."

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