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Playing in the Wright manner

IT was a contest between a pair of clubs which became a late night duel between two men.

Tam Scobbie ignored the attempts of the Lucerne goalkeeper to put him off before converting his penalty. Picture: SNS
Tam Scobbie ignored the attempts of the Lucerne goalkeeper to put him off before converting his penalty. Picture: SNS

David Ziburg, a big unit of a Swiss goalkeeper for Lucerne, did his utmost to get into the head of Tam Scobbie, St Johnstone's fifth penalty-taker, deep into a shootout which would elbow one of them out of European football.

St Johnstone fell out of the Europa League a year ago, on penalties, taken at the very same end of McDiarmid Park. After two draws and extra time, here they were again. Had they learned anything?

Ziburg tried every trick in the book. He did his best to delay Scobbie's kick. He spoke to him, saying: "It's me and you, it's me and you." Scobbie is a 26-year-old from Falkirk with a bit of gallusness about him. "I was thinking 'me and you', that's fair enough, I wouldn't expect anyone else."

Scobbie felt like a duck on a pond, all calm on the surface while his legs kicked furiously beneath the water. It didn't show and he rammed his penalty into the net. A year after losing in similar circumstances to Minsk, St Johnstone had moved on.

If the 8200 home supporters enjoyed it - which isn't a certainty, given that their team often looked tense and was outplayed for periods by Lucerne - they have the chance to go return quickly for something similar. The Europa League is in the middle of a period in which it sprints through qualifying rounds to cut out the chaff. The third qualifying round first leg, will be at Perth on Thursday night when St Johnstone face Spartak Trnava of Slovakia.

A year ago St Johnstone won in Rosenborg, then eliminated the former Champions League regulars in the second leg. They delivered another rare European away win in Belarus, only to let themselves down by losing at home and going out on penalties to a Minsk team which was beneath them. The season delivered more memorable results and climaxed with glory in the Scottish Cup final.

On Thursday night, as he let the Lucerne victory soak in, manager Tommy Wright made a revealing little remark about people expecting St Johnstone to stand still this season. There was no chance of that happening under him, he said. He would not allow it.

The same applied to the players, said Scobbie. "Definitely. For the last two years or whatever that the manager has been in charge we have been overachieving for the budget that gets put in front of him. He seems to have that cut a few times. For the amount of fans we've had here and the success in the cups as well you'd think he would be able to add a few players to the squad. He's not been able to because of the finances up top.

"All we can do is stick together as a team, look to move forward as an 11 or a 15 and the backroom staff, just keep as tight as we can and just focus on what happens on the pitch. Hopefully, with this result and a full crowd he might get a bit of money to splash on getting a couple of players in to enhance us.

"We're a group of players who thrive on people doubting us. We have guys in the squad who have been at the club for a number of years and they've experienced that throughout their careers, it's nothing new to them. Guys who come into the squad that no matter what happens on the pitch, what happens inside is our business, we keep ourselves to ourselves, we stick as a team, what happens in the dressing room stays in the dressing room and we work hard for each other. That is especially what last season was based on, a St Johnstone team with 11 guys working their socks off for one another. The manager instilled that in us.

"He makes sure everything is done right. All the large things and the wee, fine details. Everything he speaks about is all about us being together as one. If a guy is having a poor game the other 10 get round him and help him. We never leave a guy behind, things like that. It all comes from his background as well; he's from a humble background. He's had to work hard to get to where he has been and he instils that in us.

"Although Motherwell are out it can only be good for the co-efficient that we have two sides going into the next round. Aberdeen have a really tough tie against Real Sociedad and we have one against this Slovakian team. But we are delighted to be in the competition."

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