Livi 1 Saints 0 - League Table Here
Team : Main, Irvine, Byrne, Mooner, Rutkiewicz, Caff, Swankie, Millar, Savo, Barrett, Sheerin
Subs: McLean, Garters, Peaso, Craig, Holmes
Another Saturday and another high-pressure must-win game for Saints. After our home form, the midweek trip to Clyde had seen a return to the sort of morale-boosting, entertaining performance that had the title party champagne orders being planned. As always, it's still too early to count our chickens but the way Saints set about a determined Clyde side was heartening for all to see. With most of our title rivals dropping points and that vital game in hand over a Partick side that Keech McCall was taking to East End Park today to face a relegation-threatened Pars side, it meant we had another good opportunity to try and extend that lead at the top of the table and increase the comfort zone. Nobody was taking anything for granted but the spirit and fight that the players demonstrated in midweek meant that there was plenty of optimism in the Saints camp as we headed for the concrete wasteland known as Almondvale.
Livi meanwhile were possibly just glad enough to be able to field a team given the recent form of the "Ambitious" Meadowbank Cosa Nostra in actually paying players' wages. Don Corleone had been having a rant in match programmes and over the tannoys about how the media were picking on them. It was more like the Almondvale Mafia, like Gr£tna before them, were suffering from the wrath of our lovely journos who don't like being made fools of, especially by the so-called "Third Force" in Scottish Football. For all that though, the influence of ex- Saints skipper Paul Hegarty in the dugout and Danny on the pitch meant that they were becoming a decent side and their four-two gubbing of the Pars in midweek was nothing to be sneezed at. To counter that though, Saints had shown some decent form in recent games at Almondvale and short of finding a horse's head in his bed pre-match it was unlikely Del would change our tactics too much.
Unfortunately that wasn't enough and it's black borders on the P.A. sports pages this week as, for the first time since the days of the Huns in Europe Saints ended a league game with no points. The wind had a big part to play with the pitch not helping matters but the sad truth of it was that Saints in the end weren't good enough to cope with the conditions or the hunger of the opposition. We knew going into this one that Meadowbank were scoring for fun as if their lives depended on it (and given their bosses is that a surprise?) but despite the cracking result and performance in midweek, Saints were unable to raise their game enough to match them. Ironically we've played a lot worse without losing this season but tonight that counts for nothing. The individual performances weren't the nightmare you'd expect either but we lacked the teamwork and concentration that is vital at this time of the season. At least there's still time to sort things out before the big games come our way.
After the rigours of having to look at Wullie McLaren's ugly mug in midweek, Del had scope to tweak the side further. Collin Samuel was available after his dead leg against Ross County. Chris Millar was the victim of a dodgy refereeing decision (well Brines was involved) so his booking meant a looming suspension was about to kick in but he was available today while Richie Byrne was set to play the last game of his month-long loan from Caley Thistle. After their heroics in midweek though the Saints side saw hee-haw in the way of chances both on the park and in the dugout as Del fielded an unchanged side for the first time in ages. Meadowbank meanwhile had paid their players their pocket money this week and they lined up with plenty of familiar faces including Danny Griffin and Leigh Griffiths looking fresh from dipping his head down the club toilets for another bleaching in midweek.
There was another big traveling Saints support which led to a good atmosphere before kick-off despite the sub-Arctic conditions and swirling wind. The early stages of the game turned into a bit of a lottery as Saints struggled against the wind. We almost created a chance in the first minute after Irvine was upended but from Swankie's freekick, Richie Byrne managed to show why he hasn't scored many with a headed clearance out of the Livi box. A minute later Livi won their first corner after a McDonald break was only stopped by a solid Caff challenge. The opening stages saw us struggle though as we continually failed to find the front men with a pass and the midfield seemed unable to either keep the ball on the deck or to control the ball with their first touch while in defence we seemed happy to just clear our lines.
With the wind behind them Livi were making the most of the wind but thankfully Main dealt comfortably with a 7th minute corner and Caff and Rusty were effective enough at the heart of defence. Saints though were unable to capitalise even when we were given the chance. We won our first corner in the 9th minute but Swankie's inswinger curled straight out. We did manage a few runs forward but too often we were closed down far too easily as happened five minutes later when Sheerinho and Savo tried to link up for a run in the box. A minute later Griffiths (complete with boots the colour of snotters) broke through but Rusty got back to make a great challenge and clear the danger. Back up the park though we weren't having as much luck with a long throw-in to Mooner ending up in a blocked shot, the best we could muster.
To be fair though the Saints fans weren't too disheartened and there was plenty of backing from the stand (and we didn't need any bloody tribal drums either). It got a bit worse as the half wore on though. Main held a 21st minute Livi freekick but three minutes later there was another lapse in concentration as a quick throw-in for the home side almost released wee Snotter-Boots but Rustybitz was over to cover - unfortunately he used his hand to do so and picked up a booking in the process (one of the few decisions Mr Finnie got right). The freekick into the box ended with Main being fouled. That was the start of some poor refereeing from the officials and while the ref was dodgy, the linesman in front of the Saints stand didn't help matters, missing some bad fouls. Ironically as the half-hour mark approached, there were a couple of chances for Saints. Gary Irvine sent a great cross over that was headed behind for a corner and from it Swankie played a low cutback across the goal that was put just wide of the goal.
That was the signal for the kick in the teeth though and with 32 minutes gone, Livi broke down the inside left channel and found Snotter-Boots with a through ball and he fired in a brilliant volley past Main and into the back of the net. A good goal but you felt the defence could have done better although with a booking against him it didn't help Rustybitz. Caff also blotted his copybook and picked up a yellow card in the aftermath of the goal.
We continued to lose our shape, Sheerin being warned for a foul on McParland, as the game became very scrappy. Both strikers were finding it difficult to make room on the ball with Barrett in particular looking well off the pace. The best chance for us came in the 37th minute with a deep ball from Caff finding Irvine who cut into the box and laid the ball back for Savo but his shot was just wide. Livi then had a good chance after we stood off Hammill and he tried an effort from the edge of the box that went just wide. Defensively we were making too many mistakes and the luck we'd been riding all season had deserted us.
Barrett and Savo linked well four minutes from the break but Savo's effort was well held. Then on the stroke of half- time it was real trouser staining action as Caff's pass back to Main saw the keeper miskick the ball. With the wind carrying it forward Main managed to get back, control it and dribble it clear of an incoming Meadowbank Mafioso - summed up the lack of concentration throughout the side though.
Half-time saw Del make a change as we started with the wind behind us. In came Homer as Barrett made way and within a minute Millar had played a good cross in for him from the right that he managed to head behind. Can we please have him concentrate on heading the ball to a teammate or downwards in training this week? Irvine found Savo on a break but he ended up sliding out the park. There was plenty of early pressure from us but a real lack of control meant we were fighting a losing battle - typified five minutes into the half when both Rusty and Caff slipped to let a Mafioso through - thankfully the linesman was alert enough to flag for offside. There were no lack of chances though and the wind and Homer seemed to help matters as we kept the pressure up. Sheerinho saw a shot blocked then the cross from that was headed over the bar by Holmes. Irvine and Mooner (another good game from him) linked to cross for Swankie but his header was cleared. The ball broke to Swankie but despite a blatant handball we were denied a penalty.
The hard fact though was that we were making far too many simple mistakes and allowing ourselves to be closed down far too easily. The defence were far too casual at times and almost let Don Hegartoni's men in a few times - it wasn't making for pleasant viewing. Mooner had a run and set up Millar in the 58th minute and he won a corner but McKenzie held it unchallenged. Del made his second change replacing Byrne with Liam on the hour mark. Still we kept up the pressure. Irvine finding Homer who headed down for Mooner but despite being tackled he managed to get a shot in that McKenzie saved. The home keeper also had to be alert to punch clear a deep cross from Irvine but again he was unchallenged.
At the other end a long freekick allowed Snotter-boots in for a turn and shot but Main made a great save. Swankie became the third Saints player to be carded for a non-challenge and the referee wasn't helping himself by continuing to block passes between Saints players with all the style of a Brines - it even got Sheerinho a bit riled up. For all the play we had though it was Livi that had the best chance of the half with fifteen minutes remaining as man-mountain One got in on the end of a long ball as Rustybitz slipped but with only the keeper to beat managed to play a shot so weak that Main easily tipped it wide.
Del's last chance saw Sheerinho replaced by Peaso who went to the left as Swanks came over to the right wing. We were wasting too many balls though and even when we won a rare freekick, more often than not it went straight out of the park. Saints kept pressing though and to their credit the Saints fans were still backing the side - after all we've seen this side snatch a point out of nothing before. Swankie played a good cross in in the 76th minute for Savo but despite a good turn, his shot was poor and easily held. With nine minutes remaining we had probably our best chance of the game when a good move from the midfield ended in a Liam Craig cross from the left that Holmes met unmarked but still only managed to header over the bar. A minute later Swankie and Peaso set up Mooner who won a corner. Craig's ball over found Rustybitz but the referee decided to penalise the Saints skipper.
Swankie had a couple of runs and then another good linking move saw Mooner and Craig link up to cross the ball over for Peaso who managed a good header on target - pity it was straight at the keeper. Swankie had a run and cross for Homer ruled offside (the linesman continuing to fail in his attempts to demonstrate he knew the rules of the game). Then in the final minute a long ball saw Homer fouled. Despite the ball being played forward the referee decided against the obvious advantage although at least the Livi player was carded. Liam took the freekick from about 25 yards out and sent a low effort past the wall and inches wide of the post. It was time to throw everything forward and Rustybitz became a striker. Irvine saw a cross cleared and then One was booked for a foul on Liam. Main took the freekick but only succeeded in sending it straight out the ground.
It was that sort of day and while the home fans were relieved when the final whistle went (well they'd been shouting for it for ten minutes) the Saints fans at least managed to applaud their team off the park. It wasn't a bad individual performance from the side but there was no teamwork and until late on precious little sign of the passing play that we'd seen at Broadwood. Conditions didn't help and perhaps the tactics were wrong but we didn't play to our strengths enough. MoM for me was probably Gary Irvine who rarely made a mistake although Mooner, Swankie and Caff all did well. There is still time to get things sorted and perhaps a full week's gap will help Del get the players motivated again. There's no doubt we've got a psychological hurdle to overcome but this is still a strong fighting side and there's every chance we will do it.
Besides we're still top of the league and at least we can pay the players' wages.
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