Alashkert 1 St Johnstone 0: Saints suffer defeat in Armenia

03/07/2015 12:33

Alashkert 1 St Johnstone 0: Saints suffer defeat in Armenia


St Johnstone were a long way from home and a long way from their best as they slumped to a shock Europa League defeat to lowly Armenian minnows Alashkert FC. The courier reports.

In baking hot conditions on the Asian border, the Perth side were a pale shadow of the team that finished last season so strongly to qualify for Europe.

It was to be expected that there wouldn’t be their trademark all-action approach, but what couldn’t have been predicted was the woeful passing and defending that has given them a bigger than anticipated job in the return leg to progress to the second round.

Depending on who you spoke to Alashkert ranged from a side no better than an amateur outfit back home at worst, to a capable team that shouldn’t have been a great threat to Saints at best.

Whether it was a case of the McDiarmid Park men making them look better than they are, or they had been undersold, what wasn’t in doubt was that they deserved to win this match.

The goal came just before the hour and was a clinical finish from substitute Mihran Manasyan, who had only been on the pitch for seconds.

There was a late chance for Chris Kane, but that was about it from the lacklustre visitors.

Manager Tommy Wright put out an attacking team, with Steven MacLean, John Sutton and Michael O’Halloran all starting. David Wotherspoon was given the honour of captaining the side.

There was a worrying moment for Murray Davidson in the second minute.

Alashkert had won a corner and Alan Mannus came off his line to punch the dangerous inswinger away. As well as connecting with the ball he also wiped out Davidson, but after having a cut head seen to in the dressing room, he re-emerged with a bandage seven
minutes later.

The home team started the game better than Saints and, with confidence growing, central midfielder Artak Grigoryan was bold enough to try his luck from more than 30 yards out.

Cristiano Ronaldo played here with Portugal a few weeks ago, and it would have taken one of his best strikes to beat Mannus from that sort of range. Grigoryan didn’t produce one of those, and the Northern Irishman saved comfortably.

That was in the fifth minute, and two minutes later there was nothing comfortable about a diving save Mannus was forced to make to deny Gevorg Poghosyan’s back-post volley.

The chance came while Saints were down to 10 men, but even when Davidson returned they still looked rusty. This was typified by a mix-up between Mannus and centre-back Tam Scobbie on 17 minutes.

Scobbie let what should have been a harmless cross from the right bounce, and it looped over Mannus, and thankfully also the bar.

Saints’ backline was looking none too convincing and lone striker Norayr Gyozalyan was played in down the Alashkert left.

He got his shot away quickly and struck it well, but it flew over the bar from a tight angle.

It wasn’t until near the half-hour mark that the Perth men eventually carved out a chance, and it was a fine piece of football. Wotherspoon worked a one-two with John Sutton, and the skipper’s low 18-yarder was tipped round the post.

After Saints’ near thing, one for Alashkert swiftly followed.

Brian Easton failed to clear a cross and when the ball dropped to Siarhei Usenia, he scuffed his shot.

The hosts’ tactics were clearly to shoot whenever half a chance presented itself. That’s what Grigoryan did from 25 yards, sending a dipping volley over Mannus’s bar.

Simon Lappin played in a holding midfield role and when he was caught in possession he was forced to concede a foul. It didn’t stop Saints being exposed, though, as the free-kick was quickly taken and Gyozalyan’s shot was saved at the post by Mannus.

It wasn’t a day to remember for Davidson. He suffered a suspected cruciate ligament injury and was replaced by Scott Brown just before the break.

Wright would have left his players in no doubt that they needed to raise their game, but there wasn’t any sign of it at the start of the second period.

Alashkert continued to impress, and left-back Ararat Arakelyan joined in an attack before shooting over the bar.

They made a substitution on 58 minutes and it paid dividends straight away.

Just seconds after coming on, Manasyan gave Mannus no chance with a clinical finish from a Karen Muradyan cut-back.

Wright responded by making a change of his own, replacing Sutton with Chris Kane.

There was no sign of an equaliser midway through the second half.

In fact, it was Alashkert who came close to a second when a Muradyan shot scraped the bar.

MacLean had struggled to make any impact but on 71 minutes he laid the ball into the path of Wotherspoon but a heavy touch cost him the opportunity to get a shot away.

In the dying minutes Kane nearly became Saints’ supersub, but he was wasteful with a shot from close range.


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