It doesn’t feel like it’s been away for long, but the return of the football season is just a few weeks away and the Saints players returned to pre-season training last Sunday ready to go for the long year ahead. I’m sure that like me, you’re all thrilled that we have European football to look forward to – meaning an earlier than usual start back in competitive action!
Local football fans will have been marking their calendars with every passing day and they just have two more days to wait for the Europa League draw, when they can start to look out their passports and frantically scroll through Skyscanner looking for the cheapest flights to whoever Saints are drawn against.
They’re seeded for the draw – which means that they will avoid tricky ties against the likes of Lech Poznan, but at this level there is no such thing as an easy game and there are plenty of sides in the draw that could pose a difficult challenge for Tommy Wright’s men. With no indication that the round will be regionalised, it could mean a long-haul trip for the players to the corners of Eastern and Southern Europe which wouldn’t be welcomed by the staff and fans alike.
So, who exactly could we be drawn against on Monday? After a long look at the possibilities, I’ve managed to highlight a few potential ties for the first round of the European campaign.
One of the first standout potentials is Lincoln Red Imps. The plucky little Gibraltarians famously beat Celtic in 1-0 in the first leg of their Champions League qualifier in what was Brendan Rodgers first match in charge in July last year. Gibraltar international Lee Casciaro scored the only goal and he was also the scorer for his national side against Scotland at Hampden in a 6-1 defeat for the minnows. He would relish the opportunity for another goal against Scottish opposition and they are one of the potential opponents for Saints.
A little closer to home, there are a number of clubs from the UK and Ireland who could be drawn to face the Perth side. From Wales, Bangor City, Connah’s Quay Nomads and Bala Town could be making the trip to McDiarmid Park, while Tommy Wright could return to his homeland if Saints are pulled out of the hat alongside Coleraine or Ballymena United. Wright used to manage the latter between 2005 and 2008, and would surely fancy his chances if that was to happen on Monday.
From the Republic of Ireland, there’s three potential opponents – Cork City, Shamrock Rovers and Derry City – all of whom would surely be considered winnable ties for the 2014 Scottish Cup winners. Saints striker Graham Cummins has already said he would to draw Cork, the city where he grew up and also the club he played for and set scoring records with. He may be the man to provide an insight into how to beat the League of Ireland 2016 runners-up.
While matches against clubs in the UK and Ireland would be beneficial for supporters looking to travel to the away match, there remains the possibility that Monday’s draw in Switzerland could see the club pitted against sides on the outskirts of Europe. The worst-case scenario would surely be an 8,500-mile round trip to Kazakhstan, if disaster strikes and the club has to face FC Irtysh Pavlodar. There is also the potential for fans to return to Armenia, where Saints lost out in the first qualifying round to Alashkert. This time around, the Armenian sides that they could be drawn against are Gandzasar Kapan and Pyunik. Rounding of the worst possible countries to be travelling to would be Georgia, another long trip for the players and diehard fans to endure.
The second qualifying round is also drawn on Monday, and if Saints are to make it through round one they will be seeded again for the next round, giving them a better chance of a progressing once again. The first round will be drawn at around midday UK time, with the second round following at around 1:30pm. It will take place in Nyon, Switzerland, at UEFA headquarters and 100 clubs will be entered at the first qualifying stage.
We will give you all the information on Saints’ opponents after Monday’s draw takes place and we are eagerly anticipating the news from Switzerland so we can all start planning our summer holidays to fit around Saints’ European adventure!
For more information visit the St. Johnstone FC website
Photographs courtesy of Perth photographer Stuart Cowper. Browse more of his pictures on his website.
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