Temple Of Saints - Nervy, Nervy

Bells League Division One 20/12/2008

Airdrie 1 Saints 1 - League Table Here

Team : Main, Irvine, Craig, Morris, Rutkiewicz, Caff, Millar, Hardie, Holmes, Savo, Samuel
Subs: Hillcoat, Anderson, Sheerin, Swankie, Jackson

Another Saturday and the chance to round off the first half of the season and with the unlucky-for-some 13th game in a row without defeat. Given we usually blow things about now it would be nice to indulge in the turkey and brussel sprouts without worrying about the Pars and Fissel sneaking up our backsides. That meant unfortunately that we had to travel to the salubrious delights of New Broomfield and hope that for the first time in donkey's we'd manage to take all three points from a ground which has never been the nicest place to visit (I mean that in a football sense, but of course it does really apply to the wonderfully friendly atmosphere the locals strive to create for visiting fans).

Under Kenny Black, Airdrie have not surprisingly struggled a bit after winning promotion but they are the sort of team that can when the need arises revert to the battling tactics that have served their club well in the past (back when it was called Airdrie as opposed to the current one that used to be the Bankies - such is the convoluted politics of the history of these "football" towns in Wegieland). Whether that meant Saints were likely to escape from Lanarkshire with all their limbs intact remained to be seen but even without the likes of feral defender Paul Lovering in the side, it was possibly just as well that Nick packed the anti-rabies shots in the medical kit before setting off from Perth this morning.

Given the nature of the nervy performances from Saints in recent weeks with three scrappy draws and an even scrappier win last weekend, it's hard to say what we expected from today's game. Certainly we were favourites going into the match and despite our record in P45land, most of us expected the three points to come away. But the key thing would be whether or not the performances would improve and the midfield and front men might show the sort of linking play that has got us this far in the league, but has been sorely absent in recent weeks. We at least had had a free week while Airdrie had been forced to travel to Cumbernauld before defeat to Clyde left them well adrift at the bottom of the table. Unfortunately for Del, for too much of this game we looked like we were chasing a lost cause with too many players well under par and signs that the side needs some freshening up.

That it took a late penalty to give us the lead wasn't much of a surprise after last weekend but the soft goal we conceded just after it and the missed chances tell their own tale. Defensively we looked solid enough for long spells but the midfield was again too negative and defensive minded as I lost count of the number of balls played back to the defence instead of someone showing any sort of gumption and taking the ball forward. As for the front men it seems that as the season has worn on the level of understanding shown between the strikers has decreased. I'm afraid I'm starting to lose patience with Holmes - sure he wins the odd ball in the air but it rarely finds a teammate and his return on the goals side has been woeful for someone paid to stick the ball in the net.

After the Morton win, Del had hoped to field an unchanged side. A hip injury to Mooner and the departure of Crispy McKoy had meant some changes to the squad shape with Sammy getting a start on the wing and the return of Swankie and Jacko to the substitute's bench in place of Mooner and Peaso. The defence kept the same lineup although with this being Caff's last game before he serves his suspension, there will be a definite change next weekend. For Airdrie, plenty of unfamiliar faces although McLachlan started at right-back after arriving on loan from TFOD and there was the familiar face of Stephen Robertson in the home goal.

The thoughts of going to get the last minute box of chocs for Auntie Senga meant that the crowd for this one might have had a boost but that was countered with the shitty weather (and the crap surroundings which made downtown Basra look civilised). Still Saints had a decent crowd through that matched the home support (complete with their BNP section at one end of the stand). The referee decided to stamp his authority on the game within the first 10 seconds as Holmes was adjudged to have fouled a defender. The opening stages looked promising for Saints as the game was played at a high pace. Three minutes gone and Savo and Sammy linked well but Samuel's run into the box saw him lose the ball. A minute later Millar's cross from the right found Sammy who headed the ball back for Holmes but he failed to create anything. Then Samuel again had a good run down the left before cutting in but again he was robbed by a defender.

Airdrie didn't look like a team at the other end of the table and in the 6th minute created their first chance as they broke down the right and cut in but Irvine and Rusty combined to clear the danger. Our next best chance came three minutes later as a Craig freekick from the halfway line was played down the left wing for Sammy who beat his man and cut inside before sending the ball over but the intended recipient in Mad Mental Martin was too slow to reach the ball. The long ball game was certainly helping to create some chances but at the same time the lack of support from the midfield and mobility from the front pair meant we were struggling to finish the move off. Savo and Millar linked up well in the 11th minute to release Irvine down the right and he sent a lovely deep cross over to the back post for Holmes but the ball was headed out for a corner. Morris sent the inswinger over and managed to clip the crossbar with a lovely curling shot before it was cleared.

Airdrie were threatening when they got the ball into the Saints area but other than that were on the defensive for large parts of the game. Unfortunately we were simply unable to capitalise on this. Savo in the 14th minute set up Sammy and Millar who released Irvine for a cross behind the goal - it was turning into that sort of day. A minute later and Airdrie broke up the park down the right wing where Craig was having a tough time of it before crossing into the box where it was headed over the bar. Straight away we went up the park where Sammy was clipped on the left. The freekick into the box found Hardie who headed the ball down and he found Holmes who went for the spectacular with an overhead kick that Robertson easily saved. McLachlan picked up the first booking for a tug in the 24th minute. Two minutes after that we had another good chance after Holmes was fouled on the edge of the box. Hardie took the freekick but despite beating the wall the keeper held the ball. Airdrie hit back and with the Saints midfield apparently unable to tackle, we ended up with a half-hearted effort from Hardie in the 29th minute giving them a freekick. That was played into the box and bounced about a bit before a powerful shot was fired in that Irvine eventually blocked and Craig headed clear.

Millar had a great break in the 33rd minute as Saints broke three on three with a cross in for Holmes but the striker was too slow and the keeper easily gathered. Then Sammy and Craig linked up on the left with Craig cutting the ball in for Sammy but his shot was blocked. Airdrie had another chance in the 38th minute after Morris slipped up and lost the ball but Main had an easy save from a long-range drive. Saints finished the half strongly with a couple of corners that turned into easy clearances and then a Millar run about three-quarters of the pitch in the 43rd minute before finally crossing for Holmes but his header failed to find the target. A minute later Hardie conceded a soft corner that was played out before a cross came back in and was played just over the bar with Main nowhere. The half ended in typical fashion as Holmes released Sammy who cut in from the left before skying a shot over the bar from the edge of the box.

Saints started the second-half brightly enough and there was some hope that we'd manage to break through the Airdrie defence. But the problem was that we seemed determined to walk the ball in the net - that's fine if there are plenty of blue shirts forward but the midfield support just wasn't there today. The first real action saw a booking for Saints as a clumsy tackle from Samuel (well what else did you expect) saw him go in from behind. Millar cleared the freekick. Airdrie cut inside Rustybitz next and a shot in was headed out by Craig from the edge of the six-yard box when the ball looked destined for the back of the net and Main was nowhere. The Saints keeper did react a bit quicker to the resulting corner succeeding in punching the ball clear.

We kept pressing and in the 55th minute should have taken the lead. A good ball in from the right found Hardie in the six-yard box but he somehow only managed to slip on his arse. The ball was half-cleared by a defender and found Millar but his shot was well blocked. You just began to get the feeling it wouldn't be our day - there was a real lack of urgency amongst the players and as the game wore on the home side seemed to be growing more and more in confidence. Sammy had a good run in the 62nd minute leaping a tackle but his final cross was woeful. Then we missed an even worse sitter in the 65th minute. A good long ball out from defence found Savo on the right and his run for once beat the offside trap. He took the ball to the byeline before cutting it back beautifully for Holmes in the six-yard box. All Sherlock had to do was tap the ball home but somehow the screwed his shot and it went inches wide of Roberston's post

That was enough for Del and the changes began. Swankie came on within a minute for Samuel and he had a good run linking with Savo and Morris before the latter spread the ball out for Millar on the right. But Chris isn't used to being in a scoring position and his shot ended up in the side netting. Time for change no 2 and Jacko was introduced surprisingly for Savo - in my mind that was a poor change with Holmes probably the poorer player on the park and the change leaving us with less pace up front. Holmes managed to get his head on the end of a Liam cross in the 72nd minute but yet again the final ball seemed directionless and was easily cleared. Del made his third change with 15 minutes remaining as Hardie made way for Sheerinho. He took over on the left wing as Swankie moved to the right and Millar came inside.

Saints were starting to get more and more desperate now and kept pressing forward. Holmes tried a flick on for Millar but he was ruled offside. Airdrie won a corner but from it we broke up the park with Swankie doing well to get the ball over but both he and Irvine saw their crosses cleared all too easily. With nine minutes remaining we broke through again and this time Morris played a low ball through the middle for Jacko to run into the box and get - only for the striker to have his feet taken from him. He went down, the referee pointed to the spot and after booking an Airdrie player for what seemed to be dissent, Liam Craig calmly stepped up and slotted the ball straight through the middle to give us the lead.

With the cheers of relief still ringing round, Airdrie tried to hit back and almost immediately the nervous side of Saints came back to the fore. They won a soft freekick from Caff on the edge of the box but the wall did it's job deflecting he ball out for a corner. Then Main had to look sharp to get down and save a low shot. But with two minutes to go Airdrie had another break down the left and before we knew it and the blue shirts had even begun to take on a semblance of being organised, sub McGuire had sneaked in at the near post well ahead of his marker or Main to head the ball home and trigger a mini-Nuremberg amongst the home nazis.

We tried to hit back and a good move on the left saw a lovely backheel from Sheerinho for Liam but his cross for Holmes saw the ball headed into empty space. Craig won a corner at the death and the ball in was headed down by Morris of all people into the box where Rusty tried a good volley but it went straight into the keeper's hands.

Given our form at the ground and the overall game a draw was about right but there's a real feeling of complacency starting to sneak into the Saints ranks. It's all well and fine saying we have the confidence but we're not showing it on the park - too many times the safe option is taken and we are simply failing to dominate games we should be controlling. There were some good performances today - Caff, Millar and MoM Craig all played their part but too many players like Holmes and Hardie just seem unable to motivate themselves to stamp any sort of authority on the game.

We're still five clear but things have got to start improving before we lose the momentum.

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Team P W D L F A Pts
Saints 18 9 6 3 28 21 33
Dunfermline 17 8 4 5 26 18 28
Livingston 17 9 1 7 27 23 28
Partick Thistle 17 8 3 6 18 15 27
Clyde 18 6 5 7 22 26 23
Ross Co 17 7 1 9 22 23 22
Queen of the South 18 6 4 8 21 22 22
Morton 17 6 4 7 18 21 22
Scumdee 17 5 6 6 11 16 21
Airdrie United 18 3 6 9 14 21 15

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