United tired but happy after taking the long way home

Johnny MacRae
Johnny MacRae
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ST ANDREWS United have enjoyed an up and down season in which they finished ninth, reached the quarter-finals of the Scottish Cup and won the East Of Scotland Cup.

If anyone had suggested this would happen back in August, the team behind United would have probably questioned their sanity. However, it all came true on that Saturday at Keirs Park, Hill Of Beath, with captain Ricky Patrick lifting the cup.

During the summer, manager Jim Hardie had brought in a mixture of raw talent and experience. St Andrew- born Kevin McMullan joined from Arbroath while Graeme Gibb moved over from Forfar West End, adding experience to the defence. The Glenrothes duo of Johnny MacRae and Sam Buchan arrived at Recreation Park, the new signings replacing the departing Sean Muhsin, Steven Hegarty, Mark McGuigan and David Evans.

With pre-season out of the way, Saints embarked on the usual League Cup campaign, this season with a change to the groups, Jeanfield and Bankfoot replacing Glenrothes and Newburgh alongside Thornton and Kirkcaldy YM for the next two years.

The group started with a trip to Denfield Park to take on YM and, after a blistering hat trick from Gary Sutherland, they were despatched 3-1. The following Saturday saw one of the seasons low points, a 2-1 defeat to Bankfoot at Recreation Park, which was a result that sent shockwaves across to Malta and to the manager’s sunbed.

Next up saw a trip to Jeanfield Swifts, eventual Central League champions, and - in a carry over from the Bankfoot game - United allowed the home side to take a two-goal lead but Saints recovered and managed to take a point through a Kevin Fotheringham free kick and a great goal from Johnny MacRae.

Results elsewhere in the group meant that if United could beat Thornton by seven goals and YM failed to defeat Bankfoot then Saints would progress.

An 8-0 win for St Andrews, with hat-tricks from Sutherland and Fotheringham as well as strikes from Dignan and MacRae, showed United hadn’t given up the fight but, alas, a 3-2 victory for Kirkcaldy saw them progress at United’s expense.

With August almost over, Saints embarked on their first Super League game and the success of last season was rewarded with a tricky trip to Musselburgh. A bright start for United saw them take the lead through a Paul Farquharson header, however a lack of discipline towards the end of the game - which saw Graeme Gibb red-carded - cost United dear, as the home side pounced on defensive frailties to eventually run out 4-1 winners.

In the next game, United welcomed Lochee United to Recreation Park and the defensive mistakes continued, enabling the Dundee side to go in 4-1 up at the break. A determined fightback from United didn’t get the reward it deserved with a Lochee side that were on the verge of collapse holding on to win 4-3.

Saints made their first visit of the season to Keirs Park, the home of Hill Of Beath, and recorded a fine battling 1-1 draw against a hard-working side. Once again, United were rather unlucky not to take all three points but at least they were off and running with a point on the board.

Saints took strength from the point and, in the next game, took all three when Carnoustie Panmure - with whom United would battle all season - were defeated 2-0 thanks to goals from Buchan and Dignan. In the next game, however, the proverbial wheels came off the wagon as a trip to the eventual Super League champions, Bonnyrigg Rose, saw Saints return on the wrong end of a 5-2 scoreline. It is a slight comfort perhaps that no side played better against United for the rest of the season and Bonnyrigg turned out to be worthy champions.

The next visitors to Recreation Park were the club that would be relegated at the end of the season, Bathgate Thistle, and a vital three points were claimed by Saints thanks to another Gary Sutherland hat-trick in a performance that could have lead to a far heavier beating for the visitors.

United travelled to another of the championship hopefuls next when they visited Newtown Park, the home of Bo’ness United, and if ever a scoreline lied then this was it. United played well against a Bo’ness side that admitted it was the hardest game they had played this season, however, the scoreline did little to back this up as Saints went down 3-0. In another game, Saints should have won but Camelon managed to take a point back south from Recreation Park.

Next up for United was the Second Round of the Scottish Cup, the club had been given a bye in the First Round so it was the end of October before they entered the competition against FC Stoneywood of the North Regions Super League. The Aberdeen side were no match for Saints as they ran out 4-0 winners thanks to goals from Gary Sutherland, Kevin Fotheringham, Ryan Suttie and new boy Alan Tulleth. Little did United know just how far they would go in that competition.

At the end of October, United signed Adam Porteous. The big defender had been spotted playing for Abertay University and his name was passed on by former Saint, Mark McGuigan. Manager Jim Hardie decided he was worth a chance and signed him on an 18-month deal.

Into November and another valuable three points were gained as United defeated Musselburgh 3-2, repaying the Lothian side for that opening day defeat.

Saints ability to slump to new depths at the drop of a hat appeared again against lowly Haddington in the Fife & Lothians Cup, the teams drawing 1-1 after 90 minutes with the Edinburgh side winning on penalties.

The Haddington defeat was bad enough but the following week saw it compounded by a dreadful 2-1 defeat at Bathgate, Johnny MacRae scoring Saints’ goal.

United’s home form, meanwhile, remained solid as relegation rivals Carnoustie were dispatched 3-1 in the Third Round of the Scottish Cup but the away form remained an Achilles Heel as United went down 3-1 at Linlithgow in what would be the last league game of the year.

The year 2011 ended on a bright note, if not a wee bit early, when Downfield were beaten 1-0 in the East of Scotland Cup thanks to a great goal from Kevin McMullan. However, the local lad was to score a better goal early in 2012 but more of that next week, as well as the story of Saints’ East of Scotland Cup triumph along with that fight against relegation.