Saints 1 Burnley 3
Team : McLean, Irvine, Trialist, Millar, Rutkiewicz, McCaffrey, Swankie,
Hardie, Jacko, Peaso, Sheerinho
Subs: Trialist, Weatherston, Savo, Craig, Holmes, Kerr, Reynolds
Tonight saw Saints play their first home friendly of the campaign against Owen Coyle's Burnley side. The former Saints boss might not be at the same stage in his preparations, but there is no doubt that he's fully aware of the strengths and weaknesses of Del's boys. As for Saints, the pre- season hadn't quite gone according to plan and while the results have been brushed off with the "disnae matter" label, there's no doubt that going into Saturday's first competitive game with the Challenge Cup defence starting in Dingwall, we needed a wee bit of a morale boost - failing that a new left-back would be nice.
From "we've got loads of time to get someone in", Saints had in their previous warm-up games gone through most European countries in an effort to fill the slot left vacant by Goran's inevitable departure last season. And with only a few days to go, the lack of cover for that side of the defence was becoming a concern - not that the whole of the back four wasn't a worry either given the reported poor performance up in Inverness at the weekend. Tonight's game though was going to be a tough one with Burnley having notched up decent results against QoS and Partick so far. And with ex-Scumdonian Kevin McDonald and Tannadump "idol" Christian Kalvanes in their squad they had some decent players, although only the latter made tonight's side.
As it was, Saints didn't deserve to get beat by the final scoreline and gave a decent enough account of themselves. But at the same time some of the more dependable players from last season - Irvine and Jacko being the best examples - are still not hitting any sort of consistency and with no more warm-up games left that is a worry. Another left-back trialist played tonight but to be honest it seems they're getting worse by the week in that position and if Del isn't raking out Topolski's phone number for the weekend then we have a real problem in that position. Tonight's Mr X seemed to be caught out of position too often, rarely made a tackle and showed about as much talent for eading the game as Gordon Brown has for managing the economy.
With half a mind on the weekend game, and bearing in mind the injuries we'd been picking up like a nasty Hulltoon rash over the last few weeks, it would have been understandable if Del had opted for the cautious approach. Going into the game Ando and James were the main doubts while Jody and Collin Samuel were also nursing knocks. Even so the depth of the squad these days meant that, Sheerinho's left-back role notwithstanding, we had more than enough cover across the park. We opted for a 4-4-2 lineup with Caff and the Rusty One in the middle. Sheerinho was a surprise choice to start at left midfield while Swankie played on the right with Millar and Mad Mental Martin in the middle.
There was a pretty good crowd inside the ground with the stewards ending up opening the whole of the West Stand with a decent Burnley travelling support in the North Stand. The game got off to a lively enough start with the Championship side pressing early although it has to be said that the Saints defence weren't exactly quick off their marks to stop the likes of Akinbiyi from carving out some chances with Caff having to look sharp to close the Burnley striker down. Saints were getting no time on the ball and with Irvine and the trialist both playing host to Mr Cockup on a seemingly continual basis it was looking pretty bad.
Not that the rest of the side was much better and although it took until the 11th minute for the English side to get their first chance it again came from a Saints mistake with Peaso caught in possession on the edge of his own box. Burnley got forward, played a simple cutback and it took a good reaction save from McLean to gather at the feet of their striker. We tried to hit back but the referee (not the best we'll ever see) refused to award a freekick after Peaso was downed and in the 13th minute Burnley got their first goal. A good break forward saw the trialist at left back caught out of position and his hesitation allowed a cross to go over to the middle where Paterson had a simple header for their goal with the defence and keeper both playing a wee game of statues. Del was not happy.
The manager had a wee smile on his face a couple of minutes later as we drew level. Some good work down the right wing saw the ball played back in for Swankie who went on a run into the opposition area. His angled shot was well blocked by the keeper but tearing in like the Wing Wizard we all know he is came Sheerinho on the other flank and his angled shot went into the net for his first goal from open play since the days when Gr£tna were a threat to other teams.
The game livened up quite a bit and the physical nature began to show. Rusty and Caff combined well to clear a corner and then in the 19th minute a great long crossfield pass found Sheerin in plenty of space but his final effort was either a poor shot or a crap cross no matter what way you looked at it. A minute later Peaso turned provider and played a neat lob forward which found Millar round behind the Burnley defence only for their keeper to clear. His clearance only went as far as Gavin Swankie though who tried a long deep cross that went just over the bar. It at least showed that the midfield were getting their act together with both Swankie and Chris Millar looking impressive and Hardie back to his best (even keeping his temper as the Burnley defence seemed intent on beating him up in what looked like a practical joke on their squad by Sandy and Owen - "Aye just hit Hardie, he'll never react").
It was another attempt to rile the Mad Mental One in the 23rd minute that led to a freekick. The ball broke wide for Hardie and his cross into the box found Swankie who passed it to Peaso. A neat little flick on from the Saints striker and the ball fell to the surprise feet of Rustybitz who despite a turn and shot that Savo would have been proud of, had to settle for the ball going just wide of the goal. Three minutes later Jacko was on the receiving end of some hefty challenges. That freekick was blocked and we ended up settling for a couple of corners, the last one half-cleared and then played back into the area where Millar slotted it home only to be ruled offside.
Burnley's second goal came after 32 minutes following another cock-up by Saints. This time it was one of those "rehearsed" freekicks that you've not seen since the days of Broomfield which ended up going straight to a Burnley player. They broke up the park and a simple cross in from the right found Akinbiyi for an easy finish with McLean left offering some less than constructive criticism of his defenders.
Ten minutes before half-time, the physical nature took over with the Burnley right-back giving Peaso a kick in the ribs, which didn't do much for the "friendly" nature of the game. The half closed with Saints trying to chase the equaliser. Hardie played a good long ball for Swankie who tried to find Peaso in the box only for the defence to cut the final pass out while a Millar break saw him link well with Irvine who found Sheerinho but his decent cross was easily held.
Del made one change at half-time with Sherlock Holmes coming onto replace Peaso, while Burnley made the first few of their wholesale changes. We made the running in the early stages of the second half. Some slow build-up a couple of minutes in ended up with a decent Swankie shot held. The game was still as physical and both teams were going for it. There was a wee bit of controversy in the 55th minute though when Burnley's no 10 decided to disagree with a throw-in decision against him and was politely told by the man in the middle to leave the park with the insinuation to Owen that if he wasn't subbed he'd be off. Saints made a couple more changes in the 56th minute with Liam and Savo replacing Hardie and Jacko with the latter definitely looking off the boil. Five minutes later and Savo had a decent run and cross over which Swankie hit back in only to see it headed wide.
There was a bit of a worry for Saints in the 65th minute as Caff went in late on a challenge and ended up with a Burnley player landing on top of him - but thankfully the memories of Ian Ferguson didn't get repeated and he recovered. While the game wasn't perhaps being played at the high pace of the first- half with Burnley more content to sit back and soak up pressure, we were at least creating chances. Some good attacking play in the 69th minute saw Savo, Liam and Swankie all have shots before the ball broke to Irvine. He laid it inside to Swankie and his 20-yarder went just over the bar.
Davie Weatherston came on for Sheerinho in the 72nd minute and three minutes later the trialist keeper came on for Euan. We were still creating the bulk of the chances without really managing to cause the Burnley keeper any real concern, although Savo and Holmes seemed to be linking well with Sherlock winning more of the ball in the air. The best chance came in the 81st minute when some good pressure saw Swankie cut inside from the right and play a nice through ball to find Weatherston in the box. He managed a turn and shot which looked to be going in before the goalkeeper got over to tip the ball wide. The corner was a decent one that broke for Millar but his chip was weak and went over the bar. Liam, who looked good when he came on, tried his luck from distance but saw his effort go wide and then Weatherston was crowded out in the box as he tried to line up a shot.
As we kept up the pressure in the closing stages, the Great God of Fitba decided to have one last laugh at the home fans. Two minutes from time and another break up the park down the left saw Irvine outpaced and a cross at the byeline to give one of their subs a simple finish from a couple of feet out to make it 3-1 - a scoreline that more than flattered the visitors. Stephen Reynolds came on for the last minute in place of Swankie but only managed a couple of chances, while the final shot saw Liam hit another one over the bar.
Plenty of food for thought for Del going into the weekend. Of tonight's side, Rusty and Caff seemed solid enough and in midfield Swankie (IMHO our best player), Millar, Craig and Hardie/Morris looks to be the best choice, especially as it looks like we're moving towards a 4-4-2 lineup. However the striking positions are a problem - Jacko isn't on form but there is a risk in dropping anyone that it will hit their confidence. Even so, I'd be inclined to go with Savo and Sherlock as the starting pair. Mind you all of that pales into insignificance when it comes to the real problem of sorting out who plays at left-back.
Where's that Warsaw phone book again??
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