St Johnstone goalkeeper Zander Clark has sensationally turned in the game of his life to eliminate Rangers from the Scottish Cup via a 4-2 penalty shootout win to secure a semi-final spot for the Perth side.
Clark made big saves to deny Alfredo Morelos and Scott Wright 10 minutes from time. James Tavernier’s 126th minute goal looked to have booked Rangers’ last four spot before goalkeeper Clark sensationally helped the ball on for Chris Kane to level for Saints and end the game at 1-1 after 120 minutes.
Then Clark became the penalty shootout hero, saving Tavernier’s penalty and then Kemar Roofe’s to unbelievably send St Johnstone into their second semi-final of the season.
Rangers had often had it their own way at Ibrox this season, only Motherwell’s Callum Lang, Dundee United’s Marc McNulty and Hibs’ Kevin Nisbet scoring on Gers soil this term. But Saints made a good fist of being the next to hit the Rangers net, Scott Tanser’s sensational volley testing Allan McGregor.
It had been a positive 45 minutes in which St Johnstone had enjoyed bright spells in the attacking third. But Rangers were looking dangerous too, Glen Kamara forcing Clark into a diving save while Joe Aribo and Morelos also had chances.
The pair had played out a 1-1 draw in the Scottish Premiership midweek and while Rangers made six changes to St Johnstone’s one for this Scottish Cup tie, the same tight affair played out. Morelos should have given Rangers the lead on the hour-mark though as his free header six yards out cannoned off the post and into Clark’s arms.
Saints were having to soak up some more Rangers attacks as their forward movement became more aggressive with the game ticking along towards extra-time. Saints had beaten Dunfermline on penalties on their way to League Cup success earlier this season so they knew how to go the distance.
Rangers weren’t prepared to let it get that far lightly though as Clark made an outstanding save from Morelos as the clock struck 80 minutes, blocking a header from all of two yards out. He was called upon again five minutes later as Wright this time was denied from eight yards out via a brilliant diving save.
Saints were trying to end things in 90 minutes too as O’Halloran broke up the park and tested McGregor with a low shot. But Clark’s heroics between the sticks proved enough to put both sides through an extra 30 minutes. He was called upon just six minutes into the added period, pushing away a looping cross that looked destined to lob him.
O’Halloran had another big chance to beat McGregor 11 minutes form time as he raced through one-on-one but the veteran Rangers goalkeeper stood tall to deny him. Heartbreak was to come for St Johnstone as Aribo’s cross found Tavernier, the Rangers captain’s header enough to finally beat Clark.
But a sensational turn occurred. In the final minutes of extra-time, Clark rose highest from a corner to guide the ball past McGregor as and sent the game into penalty kicks. Clark saved Tavernier’s first spot kick as St Johnstone moved ahead of Rangers. Here are three things we learned.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it
St Johnstone troubled Rangers midweek by pressing high and not allowing Steven Gerrard’s side to build out for the back. They did the same at Ibrox and it worked superbly, limiting Rangers to only a couple of clear opportunities. It was another excellent tactical showing from manager Callum Davidson.
St Johnstone keeper Clark was not prepared to beaten easily. He made four or five outstanding stops to keep Rangers chasing that first goal inside the 90 minutes. Despite the defensive unit playing well, Saints did give Rangers chances, but Clark made several vital saves to keep them in it before a sensational header to send the game to penalties. Oof.
After League Cup silverware, top six positioning in the league and now this excellent display, St Johnstone are a club very much on the up. Now they have clicked under Callum Davidson, expect them to really push for the upper reaches of the league next term.
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