St Johnstone 1 Hibernian 0
To describe the achievement of Callum Davidson and his St Johnstone players as a fairytale is an insult to the judgement of the Brothers Grimm, who would never have stretched their readers’ credulity with this level of implausibility.
It took St Johnstone 136 years to acquire the two domestic knockout trophies, when they supplemented their 2014 Scottish Cup win with the acquisition of the Scottish League Cup in February, after a 1-0 win over Livingston at Hampden Park.
Now, within the span of three calendar months, they have lodged both pieces of silverware in the McDiarmid Park trophy cabinet in Callum Davidson’s first season as a manager. Moreover, in each case, the single goal that settled the issue was scored by Shaun Rooney with a header.
Those two interventions comprise a third of the midfielder’s scoring tally for the season, a campaign which – but, of course – saw St Johnstone at the foot of the Scottish Premiership table in October, when mutterings could be heard in respect of Davidson’s future as a manager.
That future is now the object of speculation of an altogether different fashion, namely, how long can his ambition be satisfied within the confines of Perth?
To add to the lustre of Davidson’s feat, St Johnstone even contrived to miss a penalty kick late in the proceedings, when Glenn Middleton’s spot kick was blocked by Matt Macey, who then got in the way of Chris Kane’s drive on the rebound.
Saints came into the contest on the back of Covid-19 disruption, which had affected several players, either as victims or contacts, and they showed six changes from the side which faced Livingston on the final day of the Scottish Premiership season. Zander Clark, hero of the Scottish Cup quarter-final victory over Rangers at Ibrox, was back in goal, while Liam Gordon replaced James Brown on the left of a three-man back line.
The big calls in midfield saw Ali McCann and Craig Bryson preferred to Murray Davidson and Liam Craig, while Chris Kane got the nod up front ahead of Guy Melamed. A welcome sight for Saints fans was the return of Glenn Middleton, on loan from Rangers, to give his side potency at set-pieces.
Jack Ross, meanwhile, retained only three players from Hibs’ 0-0 draw against Celtic at Easter Road the previous weekend and found space for proven goal scorers in the shape of Martin Boyle, Kevin Nisbet and Christian Doidge, the team’s top marksman in this season’s Scottish Cup.
Their presence seemed to have galvanised Hibs in the early stages, when they were distinctly the more fluent and energetic side, but – as was the case when the teams met in the semi-final of the Scottish League Cup in January – the Easter Road men could not consolidate their promise with goals. Indeed, in the League Cup encounter, Jamie Murphy and Jackson Irvine had efforts rebound from the goal frame, which was more than they contrived to create on this occasion.
Their best effort came from Irvine, with a close-range shot which Clark repelled in a fashion that suggested it would take something much more potent to confound him. Six minutes later Rooney showed how it should be done at the other end of the field when Hibs failed to disrupt a sudden spell of St Johnstone pressure, despite a clutch of opportunities to do so. David Wotherspoon stepped into space on the Hibs right to deliver a cross towards the back post and Rooney sprang high to place his header forcefully beyond Macey.
In that instant, Hibs looked demoralised and their manager knew it. “We probably didn’t do enough to win the game,” Ross said. “It was a case of fine margins. In the first half, we probably have the clearest opportunity and don’t take it. It just didn’t quite come off for us today. I think our play in the final third, where we’re normally quite creative didn’t quite come off today.”
That said, St Johnstone displayed evidence of a tiredness which was the likely product of two weeks of preparation disrupted by Covid concerns and, even when offered a golden opportunity to close the deal from the penalty spot, when Paul McGinn fouled Kane and was booked for his trouble.
Macy dived smartly to repel Middleton’s attempt and was in position to block Kane’s on-target shot from the rebound but, despite their reprieve and clear signs of St Johnstone’s fading energy, Hibs could not contrive an equaliser, even with the additional opportunity of five minutes of added time.
“You saw our character and resilience,” Davidson said, after he got his breath back from a sprint across the Hampden pitch with the Scottish Cup. “We stuck to our game plan. It probably could’ve gone either way. I’m fortunate it went our way. I don’t think I’ve got words to describe the work that went in today.”
And, in a final delightful touch, Murray Davidson – the Saints midfielder who missed the previous two cup triumphs because of injury – was granted 25 minutes as a substitute to secure a winner’s medal at the third attempt. Magical, indeed.
St Johnstone (3-4-2-1): Clark; Kerr, McCart, Gordon; Rooney (Brown 78), McCann, Bryson, Booth; Middleton, Wotherspoon; Kane.
Subs (unused): Parish (g), Tanser, Craig, Davidson, Conway, Melamed, May, O’Halloran.
Hibernian (4-4-2): Macey; McGinn, Porteous, Hanlon, Doig (Stevenson 75); Boyle, Newell, Gogic (Murphy 55), Irvine; Doidge, Nisbet.
Subs (unused): Marciano (g), Gray, Magennis, Wright, Hallberg, McGregor. Booked: Irvine, McGinn, Porteous, Boyle.
Referee: Nick Walsh.