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Unlikely hero Anderson shows great head for heights

THE career of Steven James Stuart Anderson has been chronicled in the smaller print, the kind reserved for comments about resolute defending and doughty performances.

St Johnstone team-mates mob Steven Anderson after his breakthrough cup final goal Photograph: Stewart Attwood
St Johnstone team-mates mob Steven Anderson after his breakthrough cup final goal Photograph: Stewart Attwood

The 28-year-old will awake this morning, presumably bleary-eyed, to find his header for St Johnstone in the William Hill Scottish Cup final at Celtic Park has been celebrated in the kind of head lines reserved for Moon landings. This is only reasonable. After all, until yesterday more men had walked on the Moon, than had lifted the trophy for the Perth club.

It was Anderson who gave the nod to the breaking of 130 years of history. St Johnstone, finally and gloriously, have won the Scottish Cup. His routine header at the back post just before half-time against Dundee United, helped in no small way by the wanderings of Tannadice goalkeeper Radoslaw Cierzniak, broke the curse, ended the hurt, sparked the celebrations.

Steven MacLean's scrambled second goal in the second half eased the nerves of the St Johnstone support but Anderson's was always going to be enough. There were three truths about yesterday's final: St Johnstone have the upper hand over United; Jackie McNamara's side find it difficult to score against the McDiarmid Park club; and United are fallible at set-pieces. These slivers of fact slipped together to form a splendid mosaic for the Perth side.

Anderson, the central character in this historic drama, was, of course, a Dundee United player before embarking on a decade of service for St Johnstone. He has played 234 times for the Saints, scoring seven goals.

His connection with a David Wotherspoon corner was a special eighth and helped earn him the man of the match award. The roars that greeted his goal were loud and long and his post-match celebrations were backed by a soundtrack of glee from the host of St Johnstone fans in the Jock Stein end.

These uproars almost - but not quite - silenced the whisper suggesting persuasively that this was a cup final for the journeyman, for the player who has toiled with effort and dignity through an extended career without detailing their agent to deny a report linking them with Manchester United.

The United team was sprinkled with promise and talent but it did not shine on a dull Saturday. Nadir Ciftci was strong and occasionally dangerous and smacked the bar with a fine free-kick. Andrew Robertson was buccaneering, with Ryan Dow smacking the post after the full-back's best intervention. But Stuart Armstrong, Gary Mackay-Steven and Ryan Gauld, on as a substitute, were unremarkable.

In contrast, Wotherspoon, once of Hibernian, Dave Mackay, for the whom the title "veteran defender" is an option if he considers changing his name by deed poll, and Frazer Wright, another of Scottish football's well-kent faces, all supplied St Johnstone with a spine that forced them to walk straight and true towards a cup presentation.

They did not even need Stevie May to score, though the 21-year-old placed the ball in the net with his mitt in the second half.

The young striker was overshadowed on the day by the contributions of his team-mates, though it must be said that whatever May lacked in threat he made up with in sheer hard work. He played through the centre before lining up on the left wing and performing occasionally as an auxiliary full-back.

The victory, then, was a triumph of will and effort. But the organisation cannot be forgotten. United did not perform as a cohesive, fluid unit.

Much of this can be laid at the feet of such as Anderson, Wright and others in defence as well as the industrious Chris Millar in midfield.

Manager Tommy Wright assembled a corps that fought bravely and well. There was sweat in the St Johnstone performance but there was a strategy too.

United were regularly denied by St Johnstone closing down space but there were also the moments when a body in a blue shirt hurled itself to block an increasingly desperate effort. The narrative of history was to be broken and now rewritten with the tales of derring-do on an extraordinary day for the Perth side.

United were condemned to be the victims but they never stopped trying, never stopped forcing themselves on the St Johnstone goal. They were denied by a mix of high competence, woodwork and, perhaps, even fate.

The names of Anderson and his team-mates will now be marked in the minds of St Johnstone supporters as the club's name is finally etched on the old trophy. After 130 years, this was St Johnstone's day.

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