Nine-man St Johnstone’s European journey ends with controversial LASK defeat

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Nine-man St Johnstone’s European journey ended in some controversy with a 2-0 home defeat to LASK at McDiarmid Park.

Following an encouraging 1-1 draw in the first leg of the Europa Conference League play-off in Austria last week, Saints were on level pegging with the visitors at the goalless interval.

However, in the 71st minute, substitute Husein Balic fired the ball in from 14 yards and the Perth men’s demise quickly escalated.

Four minutes later, Saints substitute David Wotherspoon was sent off soon after coming off the bench for an elbow on Florian Flecker.

Defender Shaun Rooney was also dismissed for conceding a 84th penalty which was despatched by substitute Marko Raguz for a 3-1 aggregate win which left the home support raging in frustration.

Callum Davidson had to reshuffle when defender Liam Gordon missed out again due to injury, with wing-back Rooney moving into the back three.

Defender James Brown and attacker Michael O’Halloran came back in for Saints who found themselves immediately in a fiery contest.

LASK, who had to start with Keito Nakamura after striker Alexander Schmidt was injured in the warm-up, moved forward with menace.

Only four minutes had elapsed before home goalkeeper Zander Clark – called up to Steve Clarke’s Scotland squad for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers – had to parry Hyon-Seck Hong’s close-range drive away for a corner which came to nothing.

The Perth side came close in the 20th minute when Glenn Middleton’s corner from the right was headed wide by captain Jason Kerr.

LASK perhaps edged possession but when called upon, the St Johnstone defence protected Clark with diligence – although the McDiarmid Park keeper had a fine save to make from Peter Michorl’s volley from 16 yards just two minutes into the second half.

Clark then made another block from Hong’s powerful drive after 55 minutes as the visitors threatened again.

Any opportunities that did arise fell to LASK and Balic, on for Nakamura, sent a dipping shot just over the crossbar.

The home fans were in good voice and cheered every positive move from the Saints players but the Perth men were struggling to carve anything clear cut, although in the 68th minute, Middleton’s goal-bound shot from 16 yards was beaten away by LASK stopper Alexander Schlager.

However, St Johnstone succumbed at the other end when Flecker cut the ball back from the byline and Balic powered his shot high past Clarke.

Things got worse for the hosts when Wotherspoon, just on for Brown in the 74th minute, was sent packing by referee Daniel Siebert for his touchline challenge on Flecker.

Then Rooney, booked earlier, was shown a straight red for a tug on Balic inside the penalty box, with Raguz slotting the spot-kick away to seal the tie with six minutes remaining.

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