Montrose 1 Saints 1
Team : McLean, Irvine, Topolski, Morris, Anderson, McCaffrey,
Millar, Craig, Jacko, Samuel, Swankie
Subs: Kelly, Peaso, Holmes, Weatherston, Rutkiewicz
It seems like ages ago since the end of the league campaign and the Hampden semi-final. And after a summer noticable only for its lack of transfer rumours and gossip, today saw us return to action with Del's squad having come through from all accounts, a good solid pre-season. Plenty of new faces in the lineup as well after the wheeling and dealing at the end of last season and a nice summer Saturday trip to Montrose to visit legendary skipper Jim Weir was just what we needed to get back into the swing of things. There had been a couple of closed doors games to get the boys up to speed but today was the first chance the faithful had to see the new boys in action and to get a response to the age-old questions of who on earth was going to be playing at left-back (with a mystery Pole having turned out midweek against Hibs) and to enjoy the traditional comments from the crowd of "Which one is he?" and "I forgot we'd signed him".
The game itself was played out on an artificial surface which seemed to excuse some of the lack of play from the Saints stars, but up against a well-organised packed defence, Saints struggled to open up the opposition or to create many clearcut chances despite dominating long spells of the play. The equaliser was a fluke in itself and while it would have been cruel to lose, there's no doubt that Del was less than chuffed with the overall performance with Saints showing a real lack of match sharpness.
With Alan Main sidelined after a trip to the doctor's in the summer, Del's starting eleven saw Euan McLean between the sticks. Given the playing surface he'd already opted to leave out the more fragile players so Savo, James and Hardie joined the injured Kevin Moon in the stand. In defence he opted for Irvine and Polish trialist David Topolski on the flanks with a central pairing of Ando and Stuart McCaffrey. Saints were sticking to the 4-3-3 formation and in midfield we had Chris Millar and Liam Craig flanking skipper Jody Morris in the middle whilst Samuel and Swankie did a similar role on the wings for Jacko up front.
Conditions weren't exactly what you'd call summery with driving rain for most of the game but there was a good turnout for the match with a large travelling support. The game got off to a fairly lively start with both sides eager to take the lead but it was Montrose that threatened early as we seemed to lack the concentration with too many passes going astray. Things weren't helped with the home midfield crowding out the Saints trio all too easily. Topolski came under early pressure but while he dealt with the threat easily enough, there was little link play to the front men with the result that for most of the first half both Swankie (the "S" no longer silent) and Sammy were living off scraps in terms of service.
For all that, it wasn't until the 5th minute that Montrose carved out a chance with a cross from the left easily held down at his right-hand post. We didn't manage a real attack until six minutes later when Craig had a good run up the left end in him being brought down. Swankie took the freekick but sent the ball way too deep across the box for Jacko to have a hope of making a connection with. We were soon punished for that and in the 14th minute Irvine was woefully slack with a square pass across the defence and Baird nipped in to intercept the ball and from fully 25 yards out sent a lob over the stranded McLean and into the net. While Montrose hadn't done much to deserve the lead, the finish was a good one and given Saints performance no more than we expected. The pre- season optimism suddenly seemed to be evaporating rather rapidly.
Saints hit back within a minute with Craig forcing a corner. That was headed down in the box for Caff but his low drive was cleared off the line. Craig saw a freekick held and then a great run in the 27th minute from Swankie saw him send a neat chip across the goal but Jacko failed to make contact with it. Swankie then linked up well with Samuel who had a run and played a cutback which went out for a corner. This one was played back to Topolski (who seemed to enjoy going on a run a lot) but his long-range attempt was best described as embarrassing. Another corner in the 32nd minute broke out to Morris but again his shot couldn't get past the keeper.
We were enjoying a good spell of pressure though and three minutes later another corner saw both Ando and Jacko try headers with the ball eventually going over the bar. Then a real stroke of luck as a simple freekick into the Montrose box saw Gavin Swankie held down. The referee didn't hesitate in pointing to the spot and Jacko wasn't slow in claiming the ball (especially with a Mr. P. Sheerin absent). Unfortunately Jacko's spot-kick finishing is about as accurate as a Dundee set of accounts and his low attempt was blocked by the keeper. He went for the rebound was well but was well tackled from behind with the ball going out for another corner.
Still, credit to Saints for keeping up the pressure and Montrose weren't allowed to clear their lines before Topolski put in another good tackle to release Samuel for a cross. That found Liam Craig in the box but again he dwelt on the ball too long and the ball was cleared; this time only as far as Gary Irvine who tried to make amends for setting up the goal by letting rip with a long-range rocket that was well saved by the keeper. Jacko and Samuel both missed the target with headers and Morris sent a shot over the bar before half-time with the only other real action being the sight of some of the Saints players (Craig and Topolski) getting involved in niggly clashes with their Montrose counterparts although none of the clashes went beyond the handbags at dawn stage.
No changes to Saints for the start of the second-half as we immediately went on the attack with a neat flowing move seeing Swankie and Morris is link up to square the ball to an oncoming Millar but the ex-Morton player's shot went just wide of target (still trying to free himself from the influence of Irons' coaching then). Next up Jacko and Craig broke into the box but both suffered from a severe allergic reaction which prevented them from using their brains and shooting at the goal and instead the ball was eventually cleared as they were easily crowded out - at least Liam showed some signs of recovery a couple of minutes later with an effort that went over the bar. On the plus side, we were beginning to make plenty of chances and had Montrose for the most part pinned back into their own half.
Craig and Samuel were both coming into the game a lot more and had chances blocked. Then in the 55th minute we had our best chance with a direct ball through the middle from Craig finding Jacko and his snap shot was just tipped over the bar by the home keeper. Even then we had another chance straight from the corner when the ball went deep to the back post and found Topolski whose effort was held . Millar was next to try his luck with a shot over the bar but just to prove it wasn't all a wonderful improvement, McCaffrey and McLean managed to cause some panic in the defence as a simple passback turned into the sort of crisis that looked like requiring UN intervention.
Pre-season games wouldn't be the same for Saints without an injury worry and so it was that in the 65th minute Jody (who looked a lot sharper and fitter than last year) pulled up with what looked like a twist after landing awkwardly on the artificial pitch. Luckily though he was able to carry on and seemed to run off the injury comfortably enough. With Saints lacking any real punch up front and the Weir and McGowne tactics for the home defence apparently outfoxing Del, it was always going to take a wee bit of magic to get us level and so it was that out of apparently nothing, we conjured up an equaliser in the 73rd minute. Swankie and Topolski had linked well to send the latter on an overlap to the left byeline and our favourite trialist went for a cross that took a wicked deflection off the Montrose defender and looped over his and his keeper's head before dropping into the net. Not the best goal we'll score all season but more than welcome all the same.
Del made his first change almost immediately with Peaso replacing the unlucky Jacko. Saints kept up the pressure as we chased a winner with a series of corners coming to nothing more than a fresh-air shot from Samuel and a volley screwed wide from Morris, while a good run from Swankie in the 79th minute saw an excellent low cross across the goalmouth suffer from a lack of supporting yellow shirts.
Weatherston came on to replace Millar in the 80th minute. Just after that Samuel and Weatherston linked well to get into the box before passing to Swankie but his chip was held. That was the end of the game for him as Derek Holmes came on as our final substitution. Not the most mobile of players but in the few minutes he had on the park, he showed that he has plenty of ability in holding up the ball and isn't afraid of getting stuck to win it either. As it was though, the closing stages summed up the afternoon for us with shots from Holmes, Peaso, Weatherston and Samuel all failing to find the net in the closing stages - still at least the effort was there.
It's always hard to judge these games. There were plenty of positives to take from the play especially with the form of the new signings such as Swankie (my MoM) and there were no Daalesque disasters on show either which helps. Topolski looked like a decent player for left-back although it has to be said that no matter who we find for that slot, they are going to have a lot to live up to in order to be worthy of taking over from Goran. On the downside, we lacked some fitness with Samuel and Millar tiring towards the end and the lack of sharpness in some of the play, especially when trying to break down the crowded Montrose defence is still a worry. But these are minor quibbles and it has to be said there is a lot more confidence and optimism amongst the fans this season.
It's good to be back!!!!!
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