St Johnstone can use the experience gained in a battling defeat by Galatasaray to try to secure European group stage football for the first time ever, manager Callum Davidson says.
Chris Kane forced an equaliser after Mbaye Diagne’s opener as the Scots kept pace with their illustrious opponents after last week’s 1-1 draw in Istanbul.
But goals from Kerem Akturkoglu, Sofiane Feghouli, and Emre Kilinc consigned the Perth side to the Europa Conference League despite Michael O’Halloran’s last-minute consolation.
Davidson’s side will now face LASK, after the Austrian side’s 7-1 aggregate win over Vojvodina of Serbia, for a place in the group stage of Uefa’s new third-tier competition.
“It’s great experience for the players – that’s why you win the Scottish Cup, to play in games like tonight,” Davidson told BBC Scotland.
“They’re one of the top teams in Europe, trying to qualify for the Champions League last week.
“Hopefully we can go a little bit further in the next round. We need to make sure we stay in the tie, work extremely hard and we’ll see where it takes us.”
St Johnstone will undoubtedly face LASK with confidence after matching Galatasaray for much of the two legs, only to be undone in the second-half in Perth.
Backed by a rare full house who roared at every tackle, they set about trying to produce one of the club’s greatest-ever results and showed remarkable composure in the first half despite falling behind when Diagne raced away from Liam Gordon and Jason Kerr to finish through the legs of goalkeeper Zander Clark.
Instead, they put their foot on the ball and eventually won a corner, from which Kerr rose high to nod the ball to the back post, where Kane was lurking to first put off goalkeeper Ismail Cipe before getting the merest of touches to the ball to force it home.
They might have had more too – and arguably should have been a man to the good as the relentless Kane was tripped by Marcao when he had a clear run on goal.
However, Galatasaray showed flashes of their brilliance with some slick passing and carved St Johnstone open for a second time when the dangerous Akturkoglu surged into the box to prod home after Arda Turan’s delightful backheel left Jamie McCart scrambling.
St Johnstone fought to the end, but the tie was effectively finished on 70 minutes when Akturkoglu again brought his influence to bear as his fizzed pass found Feghouli, who cleverly stepped inside Kerr before firing low past Clark.
Kilinc volleyed in a fourth for Galatasaray as he capitalised on an uncharacteristic moment of panic in the St Johnstone defence, but O’Halloran tapped home in the dying moments to ensure the final result more fairly reflected his side’s brave display.
Man of the match – Kerem Akturkoglu
What did we learn?
St Johnstone put in another good display to match the first leg in Istanbul, but the difference this time was Galatasaray were more incisive than they were at home.
Akturkoglu was the best player on the pitch and cut St Johnstone open twice with excellent passes – and added one himself to clinch the tie.
Not far behind him in terms of performance was Saints’ midfielder Ali McCann, a fantastic young talent who drove forward with the ball, worked his socks off and played a key role in winning back possession as Davidson’s side snuffed out their visitors’ threat for large spells.
Overall, they can be extremely proud of their performance and will back themselves to cause LASK some problems in the Conference League play-off.
What they said
St Johnstone manager Callum Davidson: “The players never gave up and I can’t ask for any more than that. Our heads could have gone down, but they never did.
“The only disappointment was how we lost the third goal. At 2-1, we were still in the game, but it’s poor from us as we leave ourselves too exposed.”
St Johnstone are away to Arbroath in the League Cup last 16 on Sunday (14:00 BST) before their Conference League play-off first leg next Thursday.
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