Saints 1 Clyde 0 - League Table Here
Team : Main, Irvine, Hanlon, Morris, Rutkiewicz, Ando, Swankie,
Craig, Holmes, Savo, Sheerin
Subs: Hillcoat, Moon, Jackson, Morgan, Millar
Fattened up on turkey and the festive spirit, Saints went into this post-Boxing Day encounter out to make amends for some poor displays in recent weeks. Only the crappy form of our title rivals has ensured the five-point gap at the top of the table remained intact and given we've drawn four of the last five games and only just scraped a win in the other match, the bums were getting squeakier by the minute down McDiarmid way. It didn't help that we were being forced to face our bogey team for the third time this season and given we'd only taken a solitary point in our two games so far this season against the Cumbernauld side, there was more than a reasonable cause for concern. At least Del wasn't trying to paper over the cracks and while we hadn't been chalking up the wins, the Saints defence had looked solid enough and if the midfield and front men would take their chances there was every hope that we'd round off 2008 with another three points.
Clyde had improved a lot of late and notched up an impressive draw at East End Park last weekend in a game that by all accounts they should have won. The board had even given Bomber Broon an extension to his contract which if nothing else would guarantee plenty of publicity on the west coast press. Their unbeaten run meant that today's game was against the two form teams of the league and was going to be a close one - in the likes of Pat Clark they'd shown that they could stick the ball away if required and with Wullie McLaren they could carry out a similar job on any bottles of Buckie lying about.
The game was surprising eventful and exciting although for the decent sized home crowd, there was the usual sight of the closing stages where you almost expected Saints to blow their lead a la Airdrie. As it was the three points were thoroughly deserved for Del's 50th game in charge and the only real disappointment was the narrow winning margin. We dominated the game and the new-look midfield were a lot more fluid and willing to move and pass as they attacked. Paul Hanlon was outstanding at left-back and didn't show any nerves even though he had occasionally to come into close proximity with the Winehousesque physique of Wullie McLaren. Mind you given that Clyde showed their real side as the game wore on it there were more than a few sighs of relief that we escaped with only minor injuries including an early departure for Ando.
Saints were forced into one change ahead of the game thanks to Caff's enforced spell on the naughty step taking effect. That meant a switch in the middle of defence and surprise, surprise it was Ando who got the nod over the other hundred or so spare centre- halves we have at the club. Thoughts have already been turning to the transfer window. Stephen Kerr was let go this week and with McKoy out the door. Into the squad though came 18yr old Paul Hanlon on loan from Hibs and the left-back started allowing Craig to move to midfield. Meanwhile Hardie, Sammy and Peaso were all doubts prior to the game with various injuries. It meant a starting lineup which saw Ando and Hanlon introduced to the defence while the midfield saw Millar benched and Sheerin, Craig, Morris and Swankie make up a very attack-minded side supporting Holmes and Savo up front. For Clyde Clarke and McLaren started up front with the latter receiving a polite greeting on his return to his former employers. And it was good to see the ref went for an outfit as close to the Cumbernauld side as possible.
With a reasonable support out to back the lads, and taking advantage of the vouchers for the cup tie, Saints started the game the livelier side but Clyde's frustrating tactics started early with Morris taking a clobbering in the first minute. Swankie's freekick found the box but no takers. Craig and Sheerin linked up a minute later to miss a shot. Clyde went straight up the park and in a rare attempt at goal a low cross into the box forced Main into a save at Clarke's feet. The game was being played at a hectic pace but to the credit of both sides they were trying to play some decent football. Craig was partnering Morris in the centre of midfield and the difference in the options as we pressed forward was obvious. The majority of the attacks were being generated down the wings and Irvine floated a great cross in for Holmes in the 4th minute. Sherlock chested the ball down for Savo who chipped it back for Holmes but his first-time shot was well blocked by Hutton in the Clyde goal. A minute later and another long freekick for Holmes was headed on for Craig and Sheerin on the left but their attempt was cleared.
All it seemed to be lacking from a Saints point of view was just a wee bit of sharpness in the box - certainly we were well in control of the midfield. Holmes saw another header from an Irvine cross held in the tenth minute although like too many of his attempts today it seemed to lack any power. Four minutes later and Savo beat the offside trap and set up Hanlon but his cross was cut out by McLaren who broke up the park as if his methadone had been laced with speed. Luckily the giant white rabbit spoke to him in time and his shot was held by Main. Saints were still creating plenty of chances though. Sheerin saw a header create a good move with Hanlon and Craig but the latter's cross cum shot went over the bar. Savo tried to set up Swankie in the box in the 18th minute but he was too slow to react. A minute later Irvine crossed for Holmes but his header back across the goal went behind Craig. We won our first corner in the 21st minute when Sheerin released Hanlon who made a great run down the left wing before his low cutback was cut out and put behind at the near post. Swankie's inswinger was somehow headed off the line and found Morris at the edge of the box but his shot was well-blocked.
Obviously this pressure was too much for Brown in the Clyde dugout (complete with Wegie gangster coat) to bear and within a couple of minutes Pat Clarke had dropped to the deck quicker than Lithgow's y-fronts in Airdrie. The freekick tried to be clever but Swankie was smarter and intercepted the pass. That was it as Saints put the pressure back on. Irvine set up Holmes for a header that went wide and then Holmes and Sheerin linked for the latter to send a low shot in that the keeper and the Saints players all missed. Morris crossed it back in but despite another couple of headers across goal we were unable to put it in.
Clyde had another freekick as the half hour mark approached but Craig cleared this one before going on a good break which only ended with Craig's shot being blocked. It didn't matter a minute later as Hanlon and Sheerin linked well to cross from the left. Holmes rose up to head the ball down for Savo and he somehow sclaffed the ball past the keeper and into the net. Not pretty but at that point we didn't really care. So with the Bully Wee down it was time for the game to start getting ugly. Two minutes after the goal, Saints broke again and Savo crossed for Craig but his header was cleared. Swankie sent the ball back in from the right but Holmes saw his header cleared by the keeper. Holmes was left flattened by the challenge and with the ball up the park, Hanlon had possession as the referee correctly stopped play. Restarting the game with a drop ball McLaren decided to show his inner ned and went in on Craig instead of just playing the ball back to Main - something which says a lot more about his ned-dom than anything else. The referee was quick to award a freekick while Holmes rejoined the action.
That seemed to fire us up as the half drew to a close. A Savo cross for Craig saw a shot blocked then Swankie set up Morris who saw a similar effort blocked. Another cross in the 37th minute saw Holmes head the ball down for Jody on the edge of the box but his shot was blocked although the Saints midfielder seemed to be downed as he took the shot. Clyde made their first change as Mark Brown went off but they were relying on set pieces to even come close to our goal. Even more entertaining was their freekick three minutes from the break. Amy McLaren somehow sclaffed his shot allowing Ando in to clear it. He found Savo who found Holmes and he released Swankie on the overlap on the right but Swanks ended up seeing his shot blocked when it seemed he should have scored. Clyde ended the half with another freekick but their low effort was as miles wide of Main's goal.
The second-half saw Saints start with the same hunger and aggression as the first while the entire side seemed to have done a McLaren and their collective neddishness was there from the start - Savo being the first recipient. Craig's freekick into the box was headed across goal by Rustybitz but both Holmes and Savo failed to create anything. Three minutes later Hanlon had an absolutely brilliant run down the left before playing an excellent low ball across goal forcing the defender into conceding a corner - pity it was cleared. There was some real controversy in the 50th minute though as a long ball found Holmes making a break down the left channel only to be flattened by Hutton outside the box. The Saints striker was left looking groggy but even more annoying was the fact that the referee only showed the Clyde keeper a yellow card when it seemed a red would have been more appropriate.
That was just the start though and although Swankie's freekick was cleared Saints kept up the attacks. Savo was chopped next and then in the 54th minute, another Saints move saw both Holmes and Morris scythed down despite the referee's best attempts to play some sort of non-existent advantage. That meant bookings for Trouten and Higgins for Clyde as the bruises kept mounting. Craig saw a low freekick well held and then another Irvine cross for Sherlock was knocked down for Sheerinho but the wizard's attempts to walk the ball into the net were thwarted by some Dark Arts from Cumbernauld. Morris set up Craig and Sheerin for a run down the left which ended in another good save for Hutton.
A Ruti run on the hour mark saw him taken from behind. The freekick was cleared but as Saints ran back Ando was poleaxed. He ended up limping off to be replaced by Chris Millar as Craig dropped to left-back and Hanlon moved to the centre of defence. At least it left Millar in the middle of the park where he seemed to be more effective. We were still as effective going forward though. A great ball from Morris in the 62nd minute found Swankie who cut inside before setting up Savo but his shot was deflected out for a corner. Hanlon had a good clearance from defence next finding Swankie who tried to go on a run only to be clobbered again. Alan Main had been fairly quiet most of the half and his first real chance to exercise his ageing limbs was to get down and gather in a 64th minute freekick.
The cheers from that were matched a few minutes later as Wullie the Junkie went off to be replaced by Gary McSwegan. Not that it affected much of the play but as Saints chased a second goal, you could see the legs starting to tire on the likes of Sherlock and Savo and while Millar was effective in the middle, the attacking options of Craig were sorely missed. The Clyde defence seemed to be getting their act together as well as the offside count against Savo and his chums began to mount although there were more than a few decisions to be filed in the drawer marked controversial.
With thirteen minutes remaining Millar had a great break through the middle of the park only to be well tackled. Clyde went up the park where Hanlon put in a smaller stopping challenge conceding a corner. Time for the nerves as the ball came in and Main could only punch it clear. Caught off his line a looping header came back in but luckily Rusty was there to head it off the line. It was worrying though as it highlighted the shakiness of the Saints defence and we seemed to be sitting back more and more as the closing minutes drew near - memories of the last few games sprang to mind. But we were still creating chances and Savo and Swankie combined in the 81st minute to cross for Holmes but while his header had the power it just missed the target. Swankie set up Millar next for a one-two and Gavin won us another corner. This time Craig's ball over found Savo who set up Millar but his cross was held.
Almost immediately Clyde hit back and Main was finally forced into a save to tip a header over the bar. The corner over was cleared only for a foul to be given against that well-known Saints hard man Gain "Clogger" Swankie. The wall did its job dealing with the freekick. Eventually we decided to dump the deep defence strategy and with Mooner and Jacko replacing Swankie and Savo for the last five minutes we took the play back to the other end of the park. Jacko had a good run and cutback only for the usual minimalist number of takers to be present in the box.
Then in the final minute Holmes won a foul at the corner flag. Liam and Sheerin linked to sent Liam along the goalline for a cutback for Mooner but his well-struck shot was deflected over for a corner. This time Liam and Sheerinho did another nice double act with the Wizard taking he ball into the box and setting up Millar but he had two shots blocked. Clyde cleared and the play saw Craig and a Clyde player clash as the ball went out for a throw-in. The shy up the park found Liam only for McSwegan to stick what looked like an elbow on the Saints player. Referee Somers didn't show any hesitation as the red card was flashed and the player only good enough to be a backup to Neddy McLaren walked. Clyde kept pressing to the end but only had one other chance deep into injury time as they sent a volley towards the car park.
There's no doubt we should have won by a lot more but even so this was a much, much better performance over recent weeks. It's hard to pick a MoM with plenty of good candidates on show - Irvine, Ruti, Hanlon, Craig, Savo etc but for my money Morris had one of his best games yet with barely a ball wasted. Del has come far with Saints and today saw us win and as well as that we won playing some great passing flowing football at times. And going eight points clear helps as well.
I might even start to get optimistic soon.
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