Saints 2 Livingston 0 - League Table Here
Team : McLean, Irvine, Craig, Millar, Rutkiewicz, James, Peaso,
Hardie, Jacko, Samuel, Sheerinho
Subs: Kelly, McCaffrey, Weatherston, Holmes, Swankie
The first home game of the season and what should have been an optimistic start to a great campaign was pretty much ruled out after the first-round exit from the Challenge Cup at Dingwall last Saturday. Combined with some poor performances during the pre-season and the worrying lack of teamwork on show, the close-season hope had taken the sort of dip you usually associate with Meadowbank's bank balance. But still today's opponents were a team we were capable of beating comfortably last year with two 5-2 victories on the Sacred Perth Turf (even if the dodgy Delboy mentality of Pearse Flynn appeared to have been replaced in the summer with the Italian equivalent of Tynecastle's Mad Vlad) and the "glass half-full" part of the support also had the belief that last weekend's defeat might have led to some feet / posterior connections at the club this week. There was at least one thing nobody was in any doubt over though - we simply had to get off to a good start in the league.
The game itself turned out to be a pretty drab affair with little of the sexy Euro 2008 football with Saints again guilty of slack passing and little creativity or movement off the ball. While the return of Kevin James to the defence helped tighten things up, the downside was having to play the last half-hour with ten men after Liam Craig saw a straight red card for being the last man - although it was one of the few decisions that Iain Brines got right on the afternoon. But the three points are on the board and hopefully it'll be enough to get the confidence up.
After the Dingwall wars, the fallout hadn't been kind for Saints. Jody's hamstring has ruled him out for a few weeks and Savo was definitely ruled out while Ando was doubtful with his knee knock. On the plus side, Kevin James had been back in training this week to give us another option and he replaced Caff with the latter dropping to the bench. Of course there was no left-back in place with the move for Target No 932 (or as he's better known, the "preferred" target) having hit some of those nasty little hitches that seem to haunt Saints when we're trying to get a rush signing through. And with no loan signing coming on board it meant the choice was between Sheerinho and Liam for who had to take on the defensive duties. Del opted for Liam with the changes up front as we went to a 4-3-3 with Peaso, Jacko and Sammy up front while Holmes sat in the dugout. For Meadowbank, there were plenty of unfamiliar faces (at least outside of the Livingston Italian Restaurants Waiters Association AGM) with a mini-United Nations of footballers being gathered together in West Lothian. But the Schemie look was still present with Leigh Griffiths modelling the peroxide skunkesque hairstyle so prominent around Almondvale while in goal there was one of the many Italian waiters in some dodgily cocktail-christened character Martini.
McDiarmid had a decent crowd for the opener and Saints started well enough with Irvine sticking the first of several crosses into the box for Peaso but his header wasn't picked up by any of his teammates. The heavens opened just after that with the players given a good soaking of Scottish summer rain - not that it was enough to waken them up much. Samuel pounced onto a loose Livi clearance but his pass was overhit and Jacko's chase was in vain as the keeper gathered. We won our first corner a minute later but it was easily cleared. The following throw-in though came into the box and was headed out by James for Peaso but his shot as deflected into the goalie's arms.
The traffic wasn't all one-way though and Livi threatened in the 8th minute when they pressed and turned James in the box before trying a shot that brought out a good block from Euan. The Livi keeper decided to go one better three minutes after that. Liam sent a long freekick into the box which broke for Hardie. He found himself in loads of room an unchallenged took a couple of touches before trying a shot from just inside the area which Lambrusco did well to tip wide. The resulting corner almost led to the opener but Rusty's header went onto the roof of the net.
It had all been sweetness in light but the niggles started just after that with Hardie and Mackay squaring up after the Mad Mental One won the ball. James, meanwhile, had given away a freekick but McParland's effort went miles over the bar. Ruti decided to go one better in the 15th minute and he just gave the ball away leading to another Livi attack that ended with a Griffiths run and shot that McLean held. Saints had a claim for a penalty midway through the half when Sammy was caught as he went for a cross but the referee, as expected, waived play on. Jacko tried next with a header from a Peaso cross but that went wide of goal and then a long clearance from defence found Samuel who released Peaso with a shot that was well saved. Jacko had a good run next but lacked any real pace and ended up linking with Peaso and Craig to force a corner. That was taken by Jacko and in a well-rehearsed move from the training ground he played it short to Liam who crossed for James - his header went across the goal where Ruti headed it wide but it looked easier for James to just head the ball into the net with the Livi defence and goalie static.
Saints were getting more and more frustrated as the half wore on. Too often there were misplaced passes and the front men lacked the height to chase the long balls which seemed to be all they were being supplied with. The midfield did well when they played the ball on the deck with Millar especially looking creative but too often the ball was being played square across the defence while Sheerin and Hardie lacked the pace to get forward and support the front men. We weren't helped by some stupid mistakes still hanging round the team like a smelly coagie and Irvine managed to give the ball away with a slack pass on the half-hour letting Griffiths in for a good run down the left where he skinned both Rusty and James turning them inside out. Luckily he'd gone fairly wide and his final shot across the goal was tipped on by McLean and hoofed clear by a defender.
There was little in the way of real goalmouth action for the rest of the half despite both sides winning their share of corners - although both sides looked to have as much chance as scoring from one as Del had of conjuring up a left-back for the second-half. Livi had one good break after we screwed up another corner but Millar did well to get back and cover with a good tackle in the box. Our best chance came after Hardie forced a corner two minutes from the break but again James failed to find the target with his bonce.
Saints made an enforced changed at half-time with Swankie replacing Sammy who had strained a hamstring (God knows how - must have been jogging up the tunnel at the interval) and we moved to a 4-4-2 with Swankie going to the left-wing and Sheerin dropping into the middle. And Saints started a lot better with Liam finding Hardie in the 48th minute on the edge of the Livi box. Hardie played a nice one-two with Jacko before curling a beauty of a shot towards the goal which brought out a brilliant save from Cinzano in the away goal. Peaso tried his luck next with a run and cutback for Jacko but the defence cut that out. Millar and Peaso linked up well to set up Swankie but again the ball went wide of Bianco's goal.
We nearly took the lead in the flukiest of circumstances ten minutes into the half though when a simple header back from a Livi defender found Sangria flat-footed and it was all he could do to get back to his goal and dive to stop the ball crossing the line. Didn't make much difference a minute later though as a long freekick from Saints found Swankie and Peaso chasing the ball into the Livi box. The defender and Swankie sclaffed it and the ball went wide falling for Peaso whose narrow angled shot blasted past Chianti and into the roof of the net. The cheers in the East Stand barely covered the sighs of relief. Livi's Fox picked up a booking for his disagreement with the referee over our celebrations.
The goal seemed to relax Saints a bit and on the hour we almost doubled our lead after Swankie crossed deep for Millar and his header back across goal found Jacko but his attempt went wide of goal.A minute later though Mr Cockup returned for a visit. Craig made a mistake to let Griffiths past him and once the Livi player beat James and Ruti for pace, Craig went over and tried a sliding tackle outside the box. He was just too late though and Skunky Griffiths made the most of it leaving Brines not choice but to flash the Scarlet at Liam and leave us down to ten men. The freekick was blocked by James but Saints had to reshuffle with Sheerin going to left-back.
That was a start of a period of pressure from Livi. While that was to be expected, the influence Brines had over the game wasn't as the referee time and again awarded the softest, cuddliest of freekicks against Saints - usually involving Skunky backing into a Saints player. Still Saints were fighting for one another though and even when Livi managed to get into the box, as they did from a 64th minute freekick, Peaso dropped pack to stick the ball wide of the post for a corner - not that he was having much luck as he didn't even get a freekick when Mackay decided to try and flatten him.
We were under constant pressure but for all their possession, Livi were unable to create much in the way of chances. Mind you, we weren't up to much either and too often the ball was just hoofed from defence in the vague hope that Jacko would be able to run onto it. Millar picked up a yellow for a soft challenge 19 minutes from the end and a minute later Peaso was sacrificed as Caff came onto replace him in the centre of midfield, leaving Jacko on his own up front. It helped ease the pressure a bit as Caff got some tackles in and the midfield began to hold onto the ball a bit more - mind you Livi were rapidly running out of ideas of their own. Even so, we were still insisting on playing constant high balls and while it might not take much for Jacko to get a break, he just wasn't up to it. Nine minutes from time and Del made his final change with Jacko replaced by Derek Holmes who immediately started mixing it a bit more with the Livi defence and midfield.
The clock began to run down and Livi's only real chance came two minutes from time with a free shot in room which was easily held by Euan who seemed to be commanding his area a lot more today. With injury time looming, Saints then conjured up a second goal made by Chris Millar with a brilliant run down the right wing before cutting inside where Livi left-back Talbot decided to do some of the old impeding stuff. Definite penalty although there was still a feeling of injustice when Talbot, who looked to be last man was let off with a booking. Still the smiles were on the faces of the Saints fans quick enough as Sheerinho stepped up to send Campari the wrong way. Even then we might have had a third late on with a Livi passback that Swankie raced through on but AstiSpumante managed to dribble his way out of trouble.
Not the best performance we'll ever see and for long spells Saints were lacking in creativity but we scored a good goal and got a deserved win out of it over a Livi side who are a lot better than last season. We weren't helped by the ref but there can be no complaints about the red card for Liam - although all it really does do is highlight the need for a left-back. As for my MoM well Chris Millar shone through again - got a soft booking but didn't give up chasing the ball all afternoon and that's just what we needed.
Bring on the Stenny!!!
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