Temple Of Saints - Saints Scrape Through

Bells League Division One 14/02/2009

Saints 1 Meadowbank 0 - League Table Here

Team : Main, Irvine, Craig, Morris, Rutkiewicz, Caff, Swankie, Millar, Holmes, Jackson, Sheerin
Subs: McLean, Garters, Hardie, Savo, Sammy

It was the first home league match in donkeys today and Saints were out to get out of the rut that the draws in our last three outings had produced. At least at Dingwall we'd managed to score a couple of goals and the comeback and overall performance suggested we perhaps deserved a bit more from the game. But Livi have shown signs of revival under the new Hegarty regime and would be no pushovers. Out record against the Mafia has been good in recent times with an opening day win matched by another one at Almondvale. But that counted for little going into today's encounter given the recent form of Saints with 2009 notable for its lack of a win bonus - we might be top of the table but at this stage of the year, the Saints fans could do with a bit less of the shredded fingernails and a bit more of a comfort zone on a Saturday afternoon.

Livi went down to the Scum last weekend and we arguably set to be under-strength today. But the "Lions" (as in Cowardly ones) still think they're in with a chance of moving up the table under new gaffer Paul "Strepsils" Hegarty. Of course whether or not they'd end up doing a Gretna given that they seem to owe everyone more dosh than Penfold ever dreamed of skimming out of the club remains to be seen - but given they've gone from Penfold to Pearse Flynn to some dodgy West Lothian Mafiosi, it seems they're more likely to end up like Scumdee - at least in the most dodgy directors category. But all that should have been brushed under the carpet - after all Love was in the Air today so no doubt we were in for one of those nice romantic football afternoons you'd remember for years to come.

Come 4.45 though and it was still just a romantic dream as Saints again pushed their luck to the limit and put in the sort of nightmarish performance that makes the title look as far away as ever. We won this one by the skin of our teeth with the players looking rustier than the lock on the Dundee trophy cabinet. It's all the more annoying when you realise just what this team is capable of. The unbeaten run continued but I'd be wary of betting on it lasting much longer based on today.

After resting last week Savo was back in the squad today but the festive climate had curtailed his training during the week. There was no sign of the mystery left-back that the papers had hinted at earlier in the week (well we can but hope) and while ex-Bairn Graham Barrett had been trying his best to win a deal, the jury, and Del, had still to make their minds up. The only known absentee going into the game was Kevin "Sicknote" James who managed to pick up a foot infection earlier in the week - but Mad Mental Martin and the rest had come through the game against the Scotland U-21 side earlier in the week without any after- effects. All of which meant that Del went for a starting eleven that showed two changes from the comeback side at Dingwall. Main notched up another start as he closed in on Drew Rutherford's record while the defence consisted of Liam Craig, making his 50th appearance for Saints, at left-back, Caff and Rusty The Media Personality in the middle with Irvine on the right. Up front the disallowed goals this week looked set to come from Jackson in for Sammy and Homer the duck-breaker. That meant Swankie on the right wing with Millar through the middle. Mad Mental Martin and Savo made the bench but it meant no place for Ando or Mooner.

For the winners of the Meadowbank Bankruptcy Candidacy Awards (2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009) ex-Saint Paul Hegarty managed to scrape together his starting lineup which saw a familiar face in defence as Danny Griffin made a long-awaited return to the McDiarmid playing surface. James McPake has vanished to Coventry (literally) while Leigh Griffiths best tantrums earned him a seat in the stand today. Ex-Blackburn striker Rafaele de Vitta (Ryvita to his mates) was in line for his debut after months out through injury (either that or he'd been lost in the West Lothian roundabout maze) but he must be crap since ex-Partick striker Armand One started ahead of him.

Conditions weren't perfect but then us lowly SFL clubs don't have the wonderful pitch protection systems that the elite install in places like Fir Park - unfortunately it means we still play on grass instead of the SPL-quality mudbowl. Well almost as the McDiarmid playing surface showed plenty of after-effects from the rugger bugger games. Saints started the game half-asleep and McParland caught Liam out of position (not for the last time) but Irvine was there to clear the danger. Our first chance came in the second minute when Holmes was fouled. Liam took the freekick and found Sheerinho with a deep ball but the Wizard hadn't sprinkled enough fairy dust on his boots instead only managing to blooter the ball into the stand. Unfortunately for the home fans, that was about as good as it got in terms of threatening McKenzie's goal for the remainder of the half. Rustybitz cleared the next Livi cross as Main had a game of statues with himself.

Swankie managed a rare moment of effort in the 5th minute with a decent ball in for Holmes but the striker could only head the ball against the keeper's chest although in an attempt to match our incompetence McKenzie somehow managed to chest the ball out for a corner. Craig played it in but the ball ended up with Swankie and he was unable to make room for the shot. Millar and Swankie linked up next to set up Jacko but the Meadowbank defence cleared. The next chance came in the 11th minute when Craig played a great ball into the box for Holmes. He tried to lay it off but both Morris and Swankie saw their shots blocked. The pitch and wind weren't helping our sacred mission. An Irvine slip almost cost us dear but luckily the resulting cross ended up with the unmarked One and he demonstrated he hasn't improved with the sort of fresh air shot that made you think the spirit of Peter Fyhr still haunts the ground.

They did come a lot closer after quarter of an hour of the boredom had been endured. A Meadowbank break up the park saw the Saints defence do their Keystone Kops On Ice impression sliding all over the place to no avail. Hammell suddenly found himself in room and tried a chip shot that beat Main but thankfully came back off the underside of the bar to eventually be cleared by Irvine. Three minutes later we scraped together enough effort to create a half chance with Craig and Sheerinho linking for the former to send in a cross. That was cleared to Swankie and his ball back in was headed over by Caff. Caff was in the thick of it for Saints five minutes later when another Livi cross was headed clear. With 23 minutes on the clock though we had our second escape of the afternoon. Craig was again skinned by McParland who cut inside and fired in a great chance that cannoned back off Main's left-hand post with the keeper nowhere - the defence eventually cleared the danger.

Generally we were poor with no sign of teamwork across the park, obvious really by the number of stray passes. Swankie in particular seemed to be having a nightmare on the right wing with the Livi defence closing him down far too easily. Irvine set up a chance in the 25th minute when he sent a freekick into the box which Holmes headed on for Jacko but Andy's header was held and referee Winter decided the striker had fouled an opponent in the build-up.

The game took an even worse turn for Jacko just after the half hour when he went down injured after possibly catching his studs in the pitch - certainly it seemed to be accident. After some treatment he was stretchered off with a splint on his leg. Savo came on to replace the unlucky striker.

Holmes went over on his ankle next but recovered although we still looked a poor side. Livi almost took the lead five minutes from the break with another long ball from the right after Craig was once more beaten. Main again left it and while Ruti tried to cover the danger Talbot stretched in to get the ball but thankfully shot wide. Rustybitz had a shot blocked before the break and Holmes put one over but the real controversy saw Livi skipper Innes continue his anti-Valentine relationship with the Saints fans - not only did he try to foul Savo but when the referee looked over, there was Innes clutching his face before throwing himself to the deck - thankfully the referee was having none of it, but it was a pathetic attempt to cheat.

After the break and we all hoped for the real Saints to make an appearance as they did last week. Del shuffled the midfield about with Swankie out left, Millar on the opposite wing and Sheerinho through the middle. We certainly started the half a bit livelier - an early Craig cross was held and Swankie threatened with a freekick that the keeper spilled but survived thanks to the lack of a Saints follow-up. Livi managed a chance after a slip by Caff and Swankie let McParland through but he shot well over. A slack pass from Millar allowed them another break in the 52nd minute with Jody conceding a foul to break it up - the resulting freekick went wide. Our best chance of the game so far came ten minutes into the half. Sheerinho released Irvine on a run into the box. He passed to Swankie but despite his shot beating the keeper, a yellow-shirted defender was there to head the ball over the bar.

We kept pressing and certainly looked a lot sharper- Sheerinho seeing a shot blocked on the hour mark. Meadowbank's McDonald picked up the first booking in the 64th minute for a late foul on Morris. Swankie sent the freekick in and Sheerinho played it back across the goal but the eventual header was held. That was the last of Swankie and he went off to be replaced by Sammy in the 67th minute. Saints kept up the pressure. Craig played in a freekick which ended with a Savo shot. That broke to Sammy who set up Morris. His cross again found Savo but his header was just over the bar.

It looked like we had about as much chance of scoring as Boruc has of getting a Valentine from wee Aiden when suddenly the luck changed. 71 minutes gone and a Holmes knock down found Millar on the right. He looked up and played a deep cross right over into what looked like an empty box. Empty that is, apart from a sprinting Sammy who came steamrollering in to somehow get the ball past McKenzie and into the net. Not even slightly stylish but finesse wasn't what we needed.

With the goal came a surge in our confidence as we began to play more comfortable relaxed football. Livi stuck Ryvita on for One but we set up the next chance in the 75th minute as Sammy and Craig combined to cross for Savo but again his header was over. Morris tried to set up Savo next but this time he was tackled in the box. Holmes had a header held and while Livi were restricted to the odd break, Saints were playing like a team again typified by a brilliant piece of backtracking by Millar ten minutes from time.

Innes picked up a booking for a foul on Sammy next. Then Del made his final change as Mad Mental Martin replaced Sheerinho. The closing stages saw Livi throw everything at us and the Saints defence put to the test. And again we just survived with a series of corners ending in an 89th minute let-off. Rustybitz conceded the corner but when the ball came over and Main missed it completely and it was headed towards goal the Saints skipper somehow got his foot to the ball to clear it over his own bar. The resulting corner still caused us problems with Main's wild punch falling to a Meadowbank player but thank Rod the shot went just over the bar.

The final whistle seemed ages in coming but was warmly welcomed. Make no mistake we were bloody lucky today and arses need kicked ahead of next week's trip to Dumfries. Credit though to the players for coming onto a better game but again we need to ask why we're not hitting teams like that from the start. Anyway no surprise that MoM candidates are few and far between - Caff and my choice Jody the only real choices in my opinion.

We may still get the title but it's going to be a hard slog getting there!

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Team P W D L F A Pts
Saints 23 11 9 3 32 23 42
Dunfermline 22 10 5 7 31 24 35
Partick Thistle 24 10 5 9 27 26 35
Livingston 24 10 4 10 36 33 34
Scumdee 23 9 7 7 17 19 34
Queen of the South 24 8 6 10 31 28 30
Ross Co 22 9 2 11 29 31 29
Morton 23 7 8 8 24 26 29
Clyde 23 7 6 10 28 34 27
Airdrie United 24 5 8 11 18 28 23

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