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Raith Rovers 1 St Johnstone 3: Seven times beaten, but visitors keep trying

THE law of averages has never applied to St Johnstone.

Nigel Hasselbaink celebrates scoring with Lee Croft  to put St Johnstone 2-1 up, a lead  that was enough to see them progress to another semi-final. Picture: SNS
Nigel Hasselbaink celebrates scoring with Lee Croft to put St Johnstone 2-1 up, a lead that was enough to see them progress to another semi-final. Picture: SNS

If it seems almost impossible that such a club could be on the go for 130 years and never once had their hands on a major trophy then somehow the side from Perth have managed it.

There have been first and second division championships celebrated, a Challenge Cup win that got a cheer, and a few ventures into European competition against Monaco, Hamburg and the like. Twice they have reached the League Cup final and both times their ribbons ended up in the bin rather than on the trophy.

They have not even made it that far in the Scottish Cup, having never progressed past the last four. Without being cruel, the list of St Johnstone's major achievements could be written on the back of a stamp with a marker pen. They are nothing if not persistent, however.

Since their 1998 League Cup final defeat by Rangers, the Perth club have made it the semi-final stage of the two main cup competitions on seven occasions and contrived to lose the lot. And yet still they go on.

Saturday's 3-1 defeat of Raith Rovers means Tommy Wright has taken St Johnstone to the semi-finals of both cup competitions, an impressive achievement in his first season as a manager in Scottish football.

Now it is all about taking that next step. A 4-0 defeat by Aberdeen in the League Cup semi-final in January was something of a setback but now they have another chance to make a final. Only those with the cruellest of hearts would say they do not deserve it. "Statistics don't influence games," was the response of the goalkeeper Alan Mannus to a question on St Johnstone's unenviable semi-final record.

"I think the four remaining teams will all believe they've got a good chance of winning the cup. I know the bookies will have their favourites and it won't be us but we don't care because on our day we can match anyone. If we get through to the final, keep doing well in the league and get into the top six then it would be a good season for us after finishing third and getting into Europe last season, which was special.

"It would be nice for the fans, particularly those who travelled in numbers to Stark's Park, if we got to our first ever Scottish Cup final. We don't have the biggest crowds at McDiarmid Park but we have a core group of fans who go to every game and those who travel to the away games so it would be nice to give something back for their dedication."

Mannus has a successful football background, even if his current club does not. The Canadian-born Northern Irishman was a regular trophy winner with Linfield and then Shamrock Rovers but felt it would almost carry greater significance to win something with St Johnstone.

"It's a different scenario for me playing for a club who have never been to the final of the main cup competition because at Linfield and Shamrock Rovers we were expected to win every year and, if you didn't, then you were criticised," he said.

"I won everything with Linfield and at Shamrock Rovers. We won the Setanta Cup, the league twice and lost on penalties in the final of the League of Ireland Cup. It would be nice to do it with St Johnstone but it will be tough."

For Raith Rovers, this was their first cup defeat inside 90 minutes this season. A terrific goal from Joe Cardle cancelled out Gary McDonald's early strike for St Johnstone but the SPFL Premiership side stepped it up again after the break and won it with further goals from Nigel Hasselbaink and Steven Anderson.

If defeat left a bitter taste, Raith at least still have the Ramsdens Cup final, as well as a battle to consolidate their place in the Championship, to look forward to.

"I thought we might have had a chance," said defender Dougie Hill. "We didn't start great, losing an early goal, but I thought after that we were the better team the whole half.

"We score, and then I've got a great chance to make it 2-1, and then Ross Callachan's had another great chance. But that's the difference at that level - they take their chances and we need to put the ball in the back of the net when we're on top.

"The league's stalled for us since Christmas. So we need to get back to basics and maybe grind out a horrible 1-0 win and hopefully kick on from there."

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