Get your passports out – the Saintees are going on another European tour!
Danny Swanson’s 33rd minute penalty was enough to secure a 1-0 victory over Partick Thistle and confirm Saints’ place in the Europa League for the fifth time in six seasons – much to the delight of the jubilant home supporters!
Every fan will be eagerly anticipating the draw for the first qualifying round which will be held on 19th June and the Perth side will be seeded, meaning they could avoid some of the tougher ties in the early stages. There is no confirmation yet from UEFA as to whether the first round will be regionalised like last year and if it is, Saints could face an opponent from Scandinavia, the Baltics, Ireland, Northern Ireland or Wales.
The first leg of the first qualifying round is scheduled to take place on Thursday 29th June, with the return fixture set for a week later on 6th July. This means that the players will have a shorter break than usual in order to be back for pre-season and be ready to go by the end of next month. It’s a sacrifice that’s more than worth it according to Saints midfielder Chris Millar – who missed the game against Partick due to injury but is delighted that he will be back playing in Europe again next season.
“I’ve been lucky enough to play for the club on the European stage before and I have great memories from those games. We’re hopeful we can get through a couple of rounds this year as everyone at the club was disappointed about exiting in the first round last time.
I didn’t play in that match but the lads said the conditions were tough over in Armenia. That’s not an excuse though and I think everybody felt we didn’t do ourselves justice over the two legs. We’re determined to make a better go of it this time!
It’s a short turnaround because the qualifiers start so early on in the season, so we don’t get a lot of time off to spend with our families and friends. But it’s absolutely worth it and I can’t wait to see who we’re paired with!”
The early start does cut short the players’ holiday plans over the summer but will be welcomed by the fans as they won’t have to wait too long for a return to competitive action. In previous years, the European fixtures have always attracted big crowds and next season is sure to be no different. If Saints were to qualify through the first two rounds, there are some big potential fixtures in round three.
English giants Everton will enter at that stage, along with other European powerhouses such as Lyon, Braga and PSV Eindhoven – with more big clubs still to confirm their place through their final league standings domestically. The victory against experienced continental campaigners Rosenborg still remains fresh in the supporters’ memories, and they will be hoping for another scalp this time!
For the midfield veteran Millar, it’s another highlight to add to the fantastic career he’s had in Perth. The former Morton man joined back in May 2008, meaning the European adventure will mark the start of his testimonial year with the club.
“St. Johnstone has been great for me and I’m delighted to be going into my tenth season with the club. I’ve had many great highlights here – obviously winning the Scottish Cup and the First Division are the ones that standout – but playing in Europe is always really special and it’s great that I get to do that again next season. It’s the perfect way to start what will be a memorable campaign for me!
We are looking forward to seeing the fans fill the stadium for the European matches and hopefully we can get some positive results! There are some big teams once you get past the first couple of rounds, and it would be great to have one of Europe’s big boys stepping out onto McDiarmid Park against us!”
Although fans are already dreaming of next season, there are still two games remaining for Saints in the Scottish Premiership to wrap up their campaign. Both of the matches are at home; Hearts are the visitors on Wednesday evening, followed by Rangers on Sunday. With Saints too far behind Rangers to finish third and already assured that Hearts can’t catch them, there is little to play for but pride in the final games but it’s an opportunity for the fans to pay tribute to the players after another successful year.
It’s also a chance to say farewell to some players who will not be with the club next season – the most high-profile being Saturday’s goalscorer Danny Swanson. He’ll be hoping to sign off with more goals in his final two games for the club, before he departs for Edinburgh and joins Hibernian ahead of their return to the Premiership next season.
Tickets for both matches are still available and you can also pay at the turnstiles on the day. Wednesday’s kick-off against Hearts is at 7:45pm, with Sunday’s fixture with Rangers a 12:30 kick-off.