ST JOHNSTONE won the first major trophy of their 130-year history with a deserved victory over Dundee United in their maiden Scottish Cup final appearance.
Steven Anderson headed home on the stroke of half-time after United keeper Radoslaw Cierzniak misjudged the flight of David Wotherspoon’s corner.
Stevie May had a goal disallowed for handball and Wotherspoon was denied by Cierzniak for Saints while United’s Ryan Dow and Nadir Ciftci hit the woodwork.
But Steven MacLean bundled home a second six minutes from time as the Saints beat their Tayside rivals at Celtic Park.
The Perthshire side will now enter the second qualifying round of next season’s Europa League, which starts in mid-July.
Boss Jackie McNamara, three times a Scottish Cup winner during 10 years as a Celtic defender, will be disappointed his side failed to perform at their best and rue several key moments where luck deserted them.
But the Saints couldn’t be begrudged of the win which adds to the success of earning a Europa League qualifying win over Rosenborg, reaching the Scottish League Cup semi-finals and finishing sixth in the Scottish Premiership in a memorable first campaign under Tommy Wright.
The 50-year-old, who was promoted from assistant to manager when Steve Lomas left for Millwall at the end of last season, banged the drum ahead of kick-off by insisting his St Johnstone side are the more experienced team and said he could “predict” how United would line up.
? DID YOU KNOW ?
St Johnstone have become only the second of the last eight sides to reach their first Scottish Cup final to avoid defeat (Dunfermline in 1960/61 were the only other exception).
The Saints have become the 24th different team to win the world’s oldest national trophy – the Scottish Cup.
The team who have scored first have gone on to win the last ten Scottish Cup finals.
Saints defender Tim Clancy picked up a serious Achilles injury in training on Thursday and requires an operation, forcing Frazer Wright to play at right-back.
Wright, who named the starting line-up on Friday and substitutes bench on Saturday morning, was without long-term injury victims Tam Scobbie and Murray Davidson.
Opposite number McNamara was without on-loan Newcastle defender Curtis Good, who has been out since hurting his hip on international duty with Australia in March.
John Rankin, 30, made his first appearance in a major cup final and Gary Mackay-Steven overcame illness to start but John Souttar was left on the bench, along with fellow youngster Ryan Gauld.
United, whose record of 65 league goals this term was only bettered by champions Celtic, were regarded as marginal pre-match favourites having finished five points and two places above the Saints in the Premiership.
But the Saints had won four of the last five league meetings between the sides without conceding a single goal.
Both sides won just one of their last five league games since booking their place in the end-of-season showpiece as Saints ended a run of nine straight semi-final defeats by coming from behind to beat League Cup winners Aberdeen while United overcame League One champions Rangers at Ibrox.
The Tayside rivals, with Perth and Dundee separated by 22 miles, took centre stage in the East End of Glasgow as the early-afternoon rain cleared and the sun arrived in time for kick-off.
An electric atmosphere was generated around Celtic Park – hosting its seventh Scottish Cup final and first since 1998 as Hampden Park continues preparations for the summer Commonwealth Games.
A frenetic tempo developed with United seeking to get on the front foot while the Saints were tidy in possession and making in-roads down the left with former Dundee left-back Brian Easton and poster boy Stevie May, who was roundly booed by United supporters in the opening minutes.
No significant pattern emerged but there were no signs of nerves with both sides settling quickly as an ambitious effort from 27-goal May travelled wide of the post from 35 yards.
The Saints came close to the opener on 13 minutes when David Wotherspoon touched the ball down to James Dunne.
The on-loan Stevenage midfielder, whose only Saints goal came in a 4-0 win over Forfar earlier in the competition, saw a fizzing drive from the edge of the box tipped over by Cierzniak after good work down the left by Easton.
At the other end, Mackay-Steven, who had scored in each of the previous four rounds and has eight goals in 12 Scottish Cup ties, dragged a shot wide after collecting a knockdown from Ciftci.
A lively contest brewed with the Saints, backed by approximately a third of the Perth population with 15,000 fans in attendance, posing a greater attacking threat for much of the first half.
May’s free-kick ricocheted off the wall into the path of Wotherspoon, who checked inside and saw a low shot divert off the outstretched boot of Gavin Gunning but Cierzniak was well-positioned to block.
United were momentarily rattled but expressed their ability to break quickly with pace and purpose as Stuart Armstrong pulled a 22-yard shot harmlessly wide.
It was St Johnstone’s turn to panic in defence as Dunne made a hash of clearing Andrew Robertson’s dangerous cutback as his wild hack struck the arm of Wright.
United stepped up a gear as Gunning headed Dow’s corner wide inside the six-yard box on the half-hour mark.
The Terrors were desperately unfortunate when Dow applied a clever flick to an inviting first-time delivery by Robertson, which came back off the inside of the post and across the face of goal before Anderson poked the danger clear.
Keith Watson then attacked another Dow corner at full tilt but his header flew over from 10 yards as the Saints were given another let-off.
United were in the ascendancy but Wright’s men worked their way back into proceedings and drew first blood in the final seconds of the first half.
Wotherspoon’s inswinging corner was missed by Cierzniak as the Pole rushed off his line to punch, allowing Anderson a free header to guide into the net from six yards with no-one guarding the right-hand post.
The veteran centre-back, who started his career at Dundee United, netted for the fourth time this term, sparking pandemonium in the Saints end of Parkhead and a fist-pump from the delighted boss.
Saints, who looked the more assured side in the first 45 minutes, struck the decisive first blow but United made a fast start to the second half and were unfortunate not to be level on 50 minutes.
Dunne upended May 20 yards out and a curling free-kick from Ciftci, who was named in the PFA Team of the Year, came off the underside of the crossbar before Irish goalkeeper Alan Mannus pounced on the loose ball.
Saints thought their lead had been doubled in a remarkable incident when May, a scorer of five goals in the previous three meetings with United, bundled the ball home from a yard out with his hand after Wright’s initial header was kept out at point-blank range by Cierzniak.
But additional assistant Alan Muir, behind the goal, stepped in to advise referee Craig Thomson to give United a free-kick.
As the gripping action swung from end to end, Wotherspoon fired straight at Cierzniak after charging forward and wriggling away from two defenders to make room for a shot before Robertson drove through the middle and saw a curling effort parried by Mannus.
Ryan Gauld entered the fray for his 50th United appearance in place of the injured Mackay-Steven on 63 minutes as the Terrors pursued an equaliser.
Mayhem ensued when Paton headed forward for Dow who was beaten to the ball by Mannus before Watson fired the loose ball over.
Passions spilled over with referee Thomson, in charge of his third Scottish Cup final, having to calm United boss McNamara down in the technical area.
A frustrated United struggled to carve clear-cut opportunities as Saints managed the occasion superbly, retaining possession and biding their time.
Most-used substitute Brian Graham replaced midfielder Paton to add extra firepower to the toothless United attack as desperate times warranted desperate measures.
Gunning lined up an audacious 40-yard shot which turned into a fine pass to find Graham in a pocket of space in the box but he could not add to his seven goals this term, curling wide on his left foot.
Ciftci then escaped the attentions of Dave Mackay and rifled a low 20-yard shot agonisingly wide, but St Johnstone wrapped up the victory they craved with six minutes to go.
May’s forward pass pinged off the knee of Rankin as MacLean chased the loose ball from an onside position and slid in with Cierzniak, stabbing home at the second attempt as the ball broke off the keeper to reach double figures for goals this season.
? DID YOU KNOW ?
Dundee United have been Scottish Cup runners-up in 1974, 1981, 1985, 1987, 1988, 1991, 2005 and 2014.
United have not kept a clean sheet in 12 games and just one in their last 24 in all competitions.
This is the 129th year of the Scottish Cup and the fourth season it has been sponsored by betting outlet William Hill.
The forward, who was on the Rangers bench in the 2003 Scottish Cup final, was booked in the aftermath for removing his shirt but that was the least of his worries.
United threw men forward in a bid to launch an unlikely late revival but their luck was out as some of their 28,000 following – their biggest at any game in their 105-year history – decided to head for the exits.
Wright made a crucial block to foil the anonymous Armstrong in stoppage time while Ciftci and Gunning collected needless yellow cards as United lost their discipline and concentration.
Graham directed a Dow corner off target at the front post which summed up Dundee United’s day as St Johnstone ran out worthy winners to engrave a new name on the world’s oldest national trophy.
The final whistle sparked joyous celebrations with players huddling and cherishing the memories as United collected their runners-up medals with tears in their eyes before trudging off dejectedly.
Saints captain Mackay, 34, then lifted the trophy skyward amid an explosion of blue and white tickertape as the players bounced up and down on the podium.
Possession: Dundee United 45%, St Johnstone 55%
Shots: Dundee United 15, St Johnstone 14
Shots on target: Dundee United 2, St Johnstone 6
Shots off target: Dundee United 13, St Johnstone 8
Corners: Dundee United 10, St Johnstone 4
Fouls: Dundee United 15, St Johnstone 7
Offside: Dundee United 0, St Johnstone 2
Assists: Dundee United 0, St Johnstone 1 (Wotherspoon)
Referee: Craig Thomson (Scotland)
Assistant referees: Graham Chambers and Michael Banks
Fourth official: Stephen Finnie
Additional assistants: Kevin Clancy and Alan Muir
“There was always a belief that this could be our year. We had to play well, Lady Luck had to be on our side but with those things and the belief we had, there was a recipe for success. I think the cup in England has lost its magic because the game there has changed so much. I don’t think that is the case here. Some people wanted an Aberdeen-Dundee United final but I always thought the real story was us and it has proved so.”
Saturday 17th May 2014
William Hill Scottish Cup Final
Celtic Park (West Glasgow, Scotland)
KO 3pm Live on Sky Sports 1/HD1 & BBC Scotland/HD (HT 0-1)
Dundee United 0-2 St Johnstone
(St Johnstone win the 2014 Scottish Cup)