Eskisehirspor memories come flooding back for Liam Craig as St Johnstone gear up for Galatasaray

LIAM CRAIG has already travelled to Turkey with St Johnstone when the Perth outfit took on Eskisehirspor in the Europa League back in 2012. 

And now the veteran midfielder looks set to return with Saints gearing up for a European double header against Turkish heavyweights Galatasaray. 

Callum Davidson’s side are awaiting the loser of Galatasaray vs PSV Eindhoven in Champions League qualifying and with the Dutch side 5-1 ahead after the first leg the tie looks all but over. 

There was doubt over whether Saints would be able to play their Turkish opponents as scheduled due to current UK travel restrictions. 

However, the SFA joint response group and the Scottish Government have worked together to give the Perth club special dispensation, so both matches will take place as normal, with the first leg taking place in Istanbul, before the return fixture at McDiarmid Park. 

“It was my first European game when we played Eskisehirspor, I loved it and can’t wait to go back to Turkey,” explained Craig. “It starts to hit home now that we know it’s happening, assuming they don’t turn around the first leg obviously.  

“It was a bit surreal waiting for the outcome of a game between PSV Eindhoven and Galatasaray to find out who will play St Johnstone! It’s madness, really, because a year ago we started out in the Betfred Cup at Kelty Hearts and you look at what happened since that night.  

“We had the hope of winning one trophy but went on to win two and qualified for Europe through the league as well. So it has been an unbelievable time and we have a great Europa League tie to look forward to now as well.  

“It’s incredible, you start seeing the teams you can get and it was always going to be difficult. So if it is Galatasaray then we’ll be going up against a massive club, one of the top clubs in Europe who have some great names playing for them.” 

Craig is also delighted that St Johnstone supporters will be able to savour a special night at McDiarmid Park after they were cruelly starved of seeing their team win a historic cup double last term. 

He continued: “Everyone knows about the atmosphere in Turkey, you see it and you hear it so to have an away game there will be special. And it’s important for us to have a home game here in Perth as well.  

“Our supporters missed out on a lot last year, a lot of big days, so hopefully we will be able to get as many people as possible through the gates.  

“But we have a massive league game against Ross County to kick us off in the league before that so we’re looking forward to that.”  

Saints played their final bounce game of pre-season on Saturday as they fought out a 0-0 draw with Fleetwood Town. 

All eyes are now on Dingwall before Saints turn their attention onto European matters. 

Craig said: “I think we are in good shape, long gone are the days where people come back overweight and unfit. Now you have sports scientists and all that, it’s much better and boys are in great shape all the time.  

“It has been enjoyable and the good thing is we have been able to keep the majority of players from last season. We have added one or two and we have some young boys coming through as well, so I think it’s a strong squad again.  

“I’m sure the manager will be looking to bring in one or two as well to add to what we already have. We want to keep going, try to be consistent and if we keep the squad together then there’s no reason we can’t have another good season.”  

After Saturday’s match against Fleetwood the St Johnstone players and management paraded their two trophies to supporters, which was an emotional moment for all involved. 

Craig added: “It was great to get a chance to go around the pitch with the cups and let the fans see them. The boys from 2014 talk about how special the parade was for them and it’s a shame this group never got the chance to do it.  

“I’m sure we will do something with the fans when the time is right, but the season is starting now and we have to build on what we achieved last season.”

The Herald Scotland

The Herald Scotland

The Herald is a Scottish broadsheet newspaper founded in 1783. The Herald is the longest running national newspaper in the world and is the eighth oldest daily paper in the world. The title was simplified from The Glasgow Herald in 1992