Europa League preview: Saints have Marseille spur for European comeback against Turks

LIAM Craig has seen St Johnstone’s name tagged alongside French giants Olympic Marseille and insists there could still be a twist in the Perth club’s Europa League tale.

Saints have to buck the odds to overcome a 2-0 first leg deficit against Turkish side Eskisehirspor when they clash in the second-leg qualifier at McDiarmid on Thursday.

But the midfielder, pictured, insists the Perth side can still work their passage to the south of France.

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Craig said: “I think our performance in Turkey earned respect from opponents who wouldn’t have known much about us. Both teams know a whole lot more about each other now so that will make the return leg interesting.

“With a club like Marseille awaiting the winners, there is added incentive, if it was needed, for the players to push for the win we need to advance.

“It’s great for us just to see the name linked with Marseille but we know the hard work starts now. And we believe the tie is very much alive for us. It’s not just wishful thinking.

“It would be amazing for the players and the fans to be playing Marseille next week.

“We know we have our work cut out because you could see they have quality internationals who are very good technically and they are a big, big side. Their midfield three are quality footballers.

“But in the closing stages we forced a string of corners and free-kicks in dangerous areas, created a couple of chances, and made them look uncomfortable in their own stadium.”

While Frazer Wright was tagged with an own goal after a low cross veered off his shin and into the net for the Super Lig side’s second, Craig revealed that the opener had actually clipped Es-Es striker Batuhan Karadeniz before squirming away from stranded keeper Alan Mannus.

“Everyone thought it came off me because I was closest to Alper Potuk when he got the shot away. But it actually missed me and nicked off their striker to take it away from Alan. It was a sore one to take, especially when you hear he knew nothing about it and it actually came off his backside. The big striker was trying to get out of the way. It was a fluke.

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“We had been looking comfortable with minutes until half-time and while their fans made the atmosphere special they were getting quieter because we were keeping our shape and frustrating them.

“The second goal was also unfortunate because the cross was just lashed in and bounced off Frazer’s shin. We limited them to very few chances.

“Sometimes playing a higher level team you have to accept it when you are beaten by superior skill but that wasn’t what did for us in Turkey. Going into the game I don’t think they expected much from us. But I think we gained their respect this week, judging by comments made after the game.

“We definitely weren’t overawed by the occasion and our fitness levels were a match for them.

“ They were a bit nervous towards the end and we’ll see what happens if we can get ourselves in front. We know we will have to be wary of their counter attacking capabilities. We saw that over in Turkey. But we are still in contention and that was the goal going out there.

“Hopefully with the backing of our fans on Thursday we can make it an uncomfortable night for them.”

• St Johnstone v Eskisehirspor, 
McDiarmid Park, 7.45pm, Thursday