St. Johnstone took on Preston North End today at 19:00 in the first match with fans in attendance at McDiarmid Park for over 16 months in preparation for the upcoming season. Only 1000 lucky saintees were in attendance for the game but they made themselves heard throughout a tight contest.
[McDiarmid Park was all but empty]
Saints started the match on the front foot and the opening 25 minutes or so it felt as though Preston were hanging by a thread as they struggled with our high press.
In the 7th minute we saw our first 'spoony chop' with fans back in McDiarmid Park, with Wotherspoon sending Van Den Berg to the cleaners on the left hand side. Although nothing came of it in the end it did get the crowd going.
Preston looked shell shocked during the opening minutes as St. Johnstone players threw themselves into some tough tackles and battled like every kick was their last.
[Rooney and Rafferty contest for the ball]
The first real chance of the game came in the 17th minute when Wotherspoon set McCann through on goal. With only the keeper to beat the Northern Ireland international attampted to set himself up and place his shot but ultimately it lacked power and was well saved by the keeper. Stevie May and Rooney both had follow-up shots blocked by the PNE defence.
St. Johnstone nearly scored again 2 minutes later when McCann fired a cross into the box for Rooney to attack but his sliding effort was once again blocked. This felt like the turning point of the opening 45 as Preston settled down and began to knock the ball about with a bit more Impetus.
On 27 minutes Josh Harrop had a strike on goal saved by Zander Clark but only as far as Jamie McCart who had to hook the ball away and stop any further danger.
For the entirety of the 32nd minute fans clapped for Shaun Rooney - with his name chanted throughout the match - as they thanked the man who scored winners in both cup finals in his first game witnessed by spectators during his time at the club.
[Rooney applauding during today's game]
34 minutes gone and Preston North End opened the scoring. I do have doubts over whether the goal would have stood in a competitive match with a clear foul on Stevie May being ignored by the referee in the build-up.
[Preston open the scoring]
Within a matter of seconds Ben Whiteman found himself in space and had a pop at goal from over 20 yards, his shot clipping the underside of the bar and finding the back of the net past a helpless Zander Clark.
Whiteman nearly added his second of the night minutes later with a central free-kick around 25 yards from goal. Fortunately for St. Johnstone Clark produced a top save to stop Preston's from doubling their lead.
A very open first half and Saints could certainly feel aggrieved to be behind at the break. A competitive fixture which is exactly what you want in pre-season.
FIRST HALF: 0-1
St. Johnstone kicked the second half off with a bang! O'Halloran charged keeper Matt Hudson down and blocked his attempted clearance which allowed Wotherspoon to pick the ball up and curl it in from the edge of the box to equalise the game at 1-1.
[Saints celebrate the leveller]
St. Johnstone then should have taken the lead when O'Halloran was then brought down in the 18 yard box and the referee pointed at the spot.
Wotherspoon stepped up looking to make it 2-1 but his effort from 12 yards was ballooned over the bar and ended up in the Ormond Stand. Chance not taken and the scores remained the same.
[Wotherspoon prepares to take]
Following the hour mark there was a flurry of substitutions as both managers attempted to hand out minutes to various different members of their respective squads. James Brown, Jordan Northcott, Cammy Ballantyne, Hayden Muller, Liam Craig and Reece Devine getting substantial minutes with Max Kucheriavyi making a late cameo.
[St. Johnstone make their first substitutions of the evening]
All of the youngsters looked good and added some much needed energy into the game late on but overall there were no more big chances for either side as a heated contest with the occasional half chance came to an end.
Whilst this was a friendly match, you wouldn't have known it from watching the game. Both teams were fighting tooth and nail with a couple of heated confrontations breaking out during the game as well as a few meaty tackles.
FINAL SCORE: 1-1
Man of the Match
Our Man of the Match for today's game was Michael O'Halloran. The 30 year old rolled back the years and was a thorn in Preston's side for the entirety of his time on the pitch. He was tenacious, lightning quick and adventurous on the right flank - setting up the goal and winning the penalty.
[O'Halloran closes the keeper down]
It was a good game and having fans back at McDiarmid Park was amazing to see despite the lack of them. The only complaint from me is that there was no food so I missed out on my usual pie!
Both sides were up for it and that for an entertaining and absorbing match which seemed to fly by in the blink of an eye. If the game against Fleetwood is anything like this it will be a worthy watch.
We also got to see Saints' new kit in action today and it looked great personally, can't wait to see more of it and more of the club we all love!