ST JOHNSTONE produced an inspired performance in front of over 9,000 supporters last night – but it was not enough to maintain their Europa League status.
Goals from Mbaye Diagne, Kerem Akturkoglu, Sofiane Feghouli and Emre Kilinc ensured Galatasaray left Perth with a spot in the play-off rounds of Europe’s secondary competition, but they did not have it all their own way with the home side netting through an own goal and a late Michael O’Halloran strike.
Saints now head into the play-off rounds of the Uefa Conference League where they will face off against Austrian outfit LASK and manager Callum Davidson insists his team will take confidence from their performances against the Turkish giants over both legs.
He said: “If you’d told me we would go two hours of football with Galatasaray and be level with them, then I couldn’t have been happier. The lads performed unbelievably well, we reacted well to going a goal down and never gave up.
“For a team like St Johnstone to take someone like Galatasaray – who were trying to get to the Champions League a few weeks ago – close like that then it’s great. I am really happy for the players.
“You saw the quality they have, the one touch passing and passing around corners. They are a class team so for us to take them that far then it’s great.”
Midfielder Ali McCann was outstanding over the course of both matches against Galatasaray but Davidson was reluctant to single the Northern Irishman out.
He continued: “I’m not going to single anyone out. Ali knows what I think of him. I thought his performance was really high along with others. It’s unfair to ingle him out but he was excellent.”
Both teams took a while to settle into the second leg contest and it was the Turks who fashioned out the first real chance of the match.
First leg scorer Sacha Boey was again causing problems with his pace, and he hit the byline before cutting back for Arda Turan on 17 minutes. The former Barcelona man’s tame effort failed to trouble the in-form Zander Clark though.
Galatasaray then opened the scoring on the half hour mark and the goal came via a defence spitting pass from midfielder Akturkoglu.
The 22-year-old fed midfielder Diagne, who used his pace to get beyond the chase of Jamie McCart and Liam Gordon to slot home between the legs of Clark.
The visitors didn’t have the lead for long however as Saints were back on level terms following a well worked corner. Ali McCann sent a deep cross into the back post for Jason Kerr who nodded back across goal, and the ball was then bundled into the back of his own net by goalkeeper Ismail Cipe.
Chris Kane provided plenty of pressure on the second-choice stopper, and as the ball crossed the line, despite the efforts of defender Patrick van Aanholt, McDiarmid Park erupted.
The equaliser and noise of the crowd appeared to spark Galatasaray into life, and they emerged for the second half like a reborn team.
The Turks ultimately provided too much for Saints and they restored their lead when the impressive Akturkoglu played a neat one-two with Turan before poking the ball home into the roof of the net.
A third then arrived when Feghouli stepped inside Jason Kerr before unleashing a powerful strike into the bottom right corner.
Kilinc volleyed in a fourth for the visitors as he took advantage of an uncharacteristic moment of panic in the St Johnstone defence late on in stoppage time.
There was still time for O’Halloran to grab a late consolation for Davidson’s team and the home crowd certainly enjoyed the moment.
After the full-time whistle, Davidson added: “I think it will give the confidence that they can actually compete in Europe. I think we will have a couple of more players back as well.
“They know what’s going on, they know the movement and how quickly they need to move the ball and how quick they have to defend against very good intricate play around the box. For the majority of the tie, we did that.
“We need to make sure the league form is up to scratch, and we perform well in the cup for nights like this to happen.”