ST JOHNSTONE crashed out of Europe as LASK booked their place in the group stages of the Uefa Europa Conference League.
The Austrian outfit twice found the back of the net in a crazy second period that saw Saints reduced to nine men during a feisty encounter at McDiarmid Park.
Husein Balic opened the scoring in Perth with a lashed effort inside the penalty area before Saints pushed for a route back into the game.
David Wotherspoon was introduced from the bench after missing the first leg through Covid, but he only lasted 60 seconds as he was flashed a straight red card for a flying elbow on LASK wingback Florian Flecker.
Shaun Rooney was then dismissed just seven minutes later as he brought down the rampaging Balic as last man inside the penalty box.
St Johnstone boss Callum Davidson admitted that the first sending off ruined his team’s chances of a spot in the group stages, but he was quick to express great pride in his team.
He said: “I thought for 70 minutes of the game the players were phenomenal. They were performing against a team who have performed at a high level for the past couple of seasons.
“For this game and the Galatasaray game my players gave me everything they’ve got. Ultimately it was a sending off that cost us.
“It is frustrating every time you get a player sent off and it is difficult to deal with. LASK have some top players and they were able to change things in the second half.
“I would rather talk about my players and their performance than the sending off. I am very proud of them. You look at the resources that LASK have compared to us, but we saw our team spirit.
“The outstanding achievements of last season have given us these games to enjoy but for me you want to progress. We have competed against two top teams in Europe and we nearly got through.”
Chances were few and far between in the opening half with neither team able to get their foot on the ball in the middle of the park.
LASK midfielder Hyon-Seok Hong looked the brightest spark in the midfield battle, and he fashioned out the first real opportunity of proceedings with only three minutes clocked.
The South Korean, 22, battled his way into the Saints penalty box before firing off a shot at Zander Clark.
Clark was named in Steve Clarke’s squad for the first team this week and McDiarmid Park fans saluted a fine save with a rendition of “we’ve got Scotland’s number one”.
St Johnstone fashioned a chance of their own with 20 minutes gone. Murray Davidson, who produced a trademark display in midfield, burst into the LASK defensive quarter before winning a corner off his tracking man.
Glenn Middleton sent the delivery into the box and captain Jason Kerr bulleted a header towards goal at the back post. His effort went just wide of the target though.
Before the half was out Peter Michorl sent a defence splitting pass into Keito Nakamura, but Shaun Rooney was equal to the threat as he challenged just as the attacker was shaping to shoot.
LASK started the second half on the front foot and Clark had to look sharp again as he pulled of a smart save to deny Michorl. The midfielder’s volleyed attempt was palmed right by the flying goalkeeper.
Saints had a couple of chances of their own before they ultimately went behind to a fine Balic strike.
Middleton and McCann both had efforts saved by Alexander Schlager but Davidson’s team ultimately couldn’t find the back of the net.
Tempers were running high both on the pitch and the touchline and asked about a spat with his opposite number Dominik Thalhammer, Davidson continued: “Their coach made a comment last week about us being ‘disgusting’ and I let it go because maybe it got lost in translation.
“But having been there tonight, I now know that wasn’t right. It’s disappointing to come across another manager who acts the way he did, because I want to respect every manager. I’ll always conduct myself that way.”
Davidson was also disappointed with Uefa’s choice of a German referee for the Perth clash. He added: “I was surprised UEFA gave us a German referee for a game against an Austrian team – that’s like us getting an Irish or a Welsh one. I told my staff beforehand to be careful with the officials, because they and the Austrians would understand each other.”