It was the moment Saints fans had been waiting for since qualification was confirmed – and Monday saw the Perth side paired with Lithuanian outfit FK Trakai in the first round of qualifying in the Europa League.
The first leg will take place at McDiarmid Park before the supporters will get the chance to sample football on the continent again with the return match being played in Vilnius on July 6th. Fans have been frantically checking Skyscanner for the cheapest and quickest routes to the Baltic country in what could be a difficult tie against the Lithuanian league runners-up.
Manager Tommy Wright has already confirmed that striker Steven Maclean won’t feature in the away leg, as Saints’ opponents play on an artificial pitch which the striker is unable to play on. One player who is likely to feature though is new signing Stefan Scougall, after the former Livingston and Sheffield United player joined the club over the weekend.
Saints fans are expected to travel in reasonable numbers and many have already booked their flights to Vilnius. Life-long supporter Cameron Kidd has organised a group of nine’s travel arrangements to the Lithuanian capital.
“We’re getting a mini bus down south to Doncaster where we’ll catch a direct flight over on the Wednesday. We’ll be there for the game and come home on the Friday.
“There’s talk of around 700 fans making the trip which is a decent number, although not as many as we took to Switzerland. I’ve already started looking at the flights for the second round if we get through! I’m hopeful we can take a two or three goal advantage over there with us from the first leg because playing on the plastic pitch could be difficult.
“I’ve already started looking at the flights for the second round if we get through!”
Cameron has been looking at flights to two potential locations after the draw for the second qualifying round was also made on Monday. Saints will be playing against either the Swedish side Norrkoping or FC Prishtina from Kosovo should they get past Trakai.
Ahead of the match next week, we’ve done our homework on Saints’ relatively unknown opponents. FK Trakai was only founded in 2005 – 121 years after St. Johnstone. The club was promoted to the top tier of Lithuanian football in 2014 where they have been ever since, with this season being their third Europa League campaign.
Last year, they lost out at this stage to Estonian club Nõmme Kalju 5-3 on aggregate. They managed to win their home leg 2-1 but lost 4-1 in Tallinn in the return leg. Their previous best was the year before when they managed to reach the second qualifying round after a 7-1 aggregate victory over Torshavn from the Faroe Islands. They eventually lost 4-0 to Apollon Limassol of Cyprus in the next round.
There are not many familiar faces in the Trakai set up but some fans may recognise the club captain Deividas Česnauskis. The winger played in Hearts’ midfield between 2005 and 2009 and has also featured in international matches against Scotland. Now thirty-five, he’ll be hoping to use his experience from Scottish football to his advantage when he comes up against Saints next week.
The club play their games in the 5,400-capacity LFF Stadium in Vilnius and they were the league and cup runners-up last campaign. The Lithuanian league season is well underway already and Trakai are currently in third place, ten points behind league leaders Žalgiris.
Photographs courtesy of Perth photographer Stuart Cowper. Browse more of his pictures on his website.
If you wish to find out more information on ticket arrangements, visit the St. Johnstone website.
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