Livi 2 Saints 1 (after extra-time)
Team : Main, Irvine, Morgan, McKoy, Ando, Caff, Millar, Hardie, Jacko, Holmes, Sheerin
Subs: McLean, Craig, Swankie, Samuel, Savo
With the diddiness of the Challenge Cup out of the way and the Scottish Cup a distant prospect, Saints took a break from the so-called delights of the First Division to head through the obstacle course of roundabouts, shellsuit stores and discarded Buckie bottles to enjoy the dubious delights of a midweek trip to Livingston for the latest round of the Co-op Cup. This was a chance to take on the West Lothian Cosa Nostra on their own "turf" (as I believe the street-slang calls it), and for Del and the Doc to demonstrate their new expanded vocabulary of swearie-words which the home Don finds so offensive. Of course there was never going to be any danger of the fans or players being able to take even a semi-relaxed attitude to tonight's encounter. The Partick game had seen to that with the spectacular self-destruct performance at Firhill. The terms "crisis" and "sack" had been bandied about on the forums as the fallout continued from the weekend and on top of the Pars result, tonight was well and truly in the must-win category - if only to give us that microscopic piece of hope that we'd be able to produce some home fans at the Clyde game this coming weekend. It was never going to be easy though with the Mafia having had a decent run of results without any hint of referee bribery or corruption. Still even without Asti Spumante in goal for the home side the wee skunk up front still gave us a nice target of abuse.
Tonight's match though saw the Saints fans put through the whole gamut of emotions again but while we did lose out on the night, the overall performance and attitude from the players was much improved over recent games. We still lost a couple of soft goals but with the dodgiest referee this side of the Sicilian League, Saints were limited in what they could do without a home defender crashing to the turf. And there were plenty of pluses with Ando and Caff putting in a solid performance at the back and McKoy and new loan signing (and left back no 345) Alan Morgan both showed plenty of skill. No doubt there will still be calls for the manager to go but for my money Del has hopefully got us back on track.
Given the relative diddiness-quotient of the Co-op Cup, it might have been understandable if we'd rested some players. But at the same time the confidence in the side needed the sort of shoring up a good win can trigger and the financial niceties suggested it would be fairly useful if Saints continued their progression in the tournament. But injuries and end-of-trials had enforced some changes as Ruti's mystery plague ruled him out and Dan Smith took the high road to pastures elsewhere. Del was trying to get a new face in though and so Alan Morgan arrived fresh from Rugby Park to take over at left-back. Caff and Ando made up the central pairing while Jacko was selected to start alongside Homer up front. Crispy made his first start and Sheerin was recalled as Craig and Samuel dropped to the bench while Peaso had to settle for a spot in the stand.
After the protection racket that masquerades as the Almondvale Car Park had fleeced a decent sized travelling support, the Saints fans inside the ground were treated to the sort of display that gave us some hope from the start. A reasonable crowd in the away end saw Mad Mental Martin take the skipper's armband and he led by example with the first foul against him within 60 seconds. That came to nothing but the first shot on goal came in the third minute when another freekick for the home side (trust me there will be no horse's head in referee Nicholls bed tomorrow) ended with Fox shooting over the bar. Saints almost seemed intent on hitting the big red self-destruct button a minute later with a poor goal kick from Main ending with the rodentesque skunk getting the ball and getting through. Caff got back to make the tackle but conceded a corner than that ended in a free header for Davidson that Main did well to save. Saints tried to get back with McKoy playing a simple through ball for Jacko but the striker couldn't control it. Then Morgan and Sheerin linked well to set up Jacko who played in Homer. The ball was played back to Sheerin and he sent it wide right for the incoming Chris Millar but his angled drive was tipped over the bar by MacKenzie. Needless to say the corner was wasted.
The Rodent got through again in the 9th minute despite being at least two furlongs offside but Ando was back to tackle. He repeated his cheating a couple of minutes later and was in on goal but Main came out to make a good block which led to Saints going straight up the park and Millar setting Irvine up but the final cross was too deep and went behind. The Saints midfield was playing a million times better (yes I know that's not hard) with Sheerin and McKoy adding a bit of control to the play. But we still couldn't make any real headway in the attack. Holmes again was poor in the air although the attempted mountaineering that Innes kept trying out on the Saints striker didn't help matters, with even referee Nicholls having to risk the wrath of the Hitmen to award us one freekick in ten - not that we did much from them with Sheerin sending a couple of shots behind as it seemed every ball into the Livi box was headed behind by Ando or Caff.
The game overall was fairly evenly balanced if a little scrappy but still made for an entertaining cup-tie. As the half wore on the home side got more and more into the game and Saints suffered their first setback when Sheerin took a knock in the 34th minute. He tried to continue but ended up limping off to be replaced by Liam Craig - a player with a lot to prove after the weekend. The change was made just after Jacko had been clobbered by Fox which earned the Livi player the first booking of the game. Craig took the freekick but it was easily blocked and McKoy's follow-up was similarly dealt with. Caff tried to set up a route one effort next but the header on from Holmes found Jacko just offside.
Holmes was in the wars five minutes from the break when Innes decided to ditch the subtle approach and flattened Sherlock with an elbow. We didn't even get the freekick never mind the booking that the Gr£tna bully-boy deserved. Holmes was able to carry on after treatment but looked pretty dazed. That caused the game to boil over a bit and after a soft foul against Hardie wasn't given the Saints skipper picked up a booking for dissent closely followed by Jacko after he was clobbered on the edge of the box only for the foul to be awarded against him as the ref adopted the Don Corleone interpretation of the rules. The half ended with a Livi corner ending in a shot going well wide.
Del made his second change at the interval with Samuel replacing the dazed and confused Sherlock. The word inspired hasn't been used much in relation to Saints this season but the substitution possibly came into that category as within three minutes of the restart, Saints chased a ball down the right. Sammy got the break of the ball off a defender but then took the ball to the goalline before cutting it back across the goal where fellow sub Liam Craig timed his arrival perfectly at the back post for an easy finish to give us the lead.
Suddenly there was a real belief amongst the blue shirts and a minute later Craig played another good ball into the box for Jacko but he just lost out to the keeper. Millar won a corner that was cleared and Sammy and McKoy both tried to set up chances in the box. At the other end Main comfortably dealt with a Livi freekick before we hit back in the 56th minute as Morgan tried his luck from the wing seeing his cross deflected out for a corner. That ended with Hardie fouled but no penalty awarded and the final ball breaking to Samuel but his powerful shot was blocked.
Three minutes later the home side drew level after Craig conceded a corner. The ball was played deep, a header back across goal and the wee skunk popped up like a dose of genital warts to poke the ball past Main and give the stadium announcer one of those PA orgasms that seem to dominate some of the tannoys these days. To their credit, Saints didn't let their heads go down and hit back straight away with Millar making a good run playing a one-two before sending a shot over the bar.
We had another penalty claim in the 62nd minute as Jacko was fouled. Irvine's freekick into the box seemed to be handled but the referee turned a blind eye. Three minutes later the ref decided to really piss off the home fans. Craig skinned his marker only to be sent flying. No freekick, Liam opens his gob and makes an interesting gesture towards the referee - cue the third booking for dissent. It got worse after that with Hardie taking a sore one in the back - again no foul. If the referee was trying to annoy us, his assistants were getting in on the act as well with Samuel and Jacko the victim of some poor offside decisions against them. Ando was the next player booked in the 72nd minute for a body check on Griffiths. The resulting freekick saw Main called into action to punch the danger clear twice, eventually finding Caff. He tried to break up the park only for the Livi no 12 to do the sort of forearm smash that Kendo Nagasaki would have been proud of. Freekick to Saints and another yellow card.
We were trying to walk the ball into the net which wasn't helping and with little headway being made, Del made his final change in the 80th minute as Swankie was brought on for McKoy. But the closing stages of normal time saw both sides starting to tire. Craig lost the ball at one point but unlike Saturday made a good tracking run back to tackle his opponent and clear the danger. Livi forced a corner off Irvine but that only ended in a shot well blocked by Swankie before Millar pulled off a similar bit of heroics at a Livi freekick.
As the game moved into injury time we had a couple of great chances to win it. A good break ended in Millar crossing deep into the box for makeshift striker Mad Mental Martin but his header at the back post was held. Then with the final kick of the ball Samuel won the ball and played it left for Liam. He got behind the defender and cut in before trying a low shot that went through McKenzie's legs only for the keeper to somehow trap the ball before he was completely nutmegged.
Extra-time saw the nerves starting to fray as both teams looked for a quick goal. Jacko had a decent run but couldn't make the room for a shot and then after Swankie was up-ended, Liam played a neat one-two with Jacko at the freekick before firing in a shot that was just tipped over the bar. The corner saw Caff get a decent header on target but the keeper held it. A minute later and Livi were up the park. The ball came forward and wasn't properly cleared with Ando almost sclaffing his clearance only for Cuenca to pounce and fire a low drive from the edge of the box past Main and into the net. The phrase "kick in the teeth" sprang to mind.
Livi put up the shutters quicker than you could say "Schemie Bastards" and Saints struggled to get back with Samuel trying a couple of runs only to be crowded out. Ando headed a freekick wide but Livi managed to kill the game with some of the best timewasting this side of a Bryn Halliwell goal kick. They won another soft freekick as Caff clashed with the Skunk and when it was played into the box Main missed it completely although it was knocked behind.
The second period started with Livi spoiling the game and Saints resorting to route one for the most part. Mackay fouled Hardie cynically in the 108th minute but Swankie's freekick went well over the bar. Two minutes later the Saints sub broke into the box and his cross seemed to be handled but our luck wasn't with us. Ex-Saintee Rocco Quinn (yup he was apparently on the park) picked up a booking for a late foul on Craig but the freekick for Hardie saw his header cleared as he was fouled. Morgan tried a cross in five minutes from the end and it was headed down right for Hardie who struck a sweet drive only to see the shot blocked and Jacko too slow to react to the rebound. Craig and Morgan linked well to cross for Jacko just after that but his header was held and then at the death Morgan played Sammy through but again his shot was blocked.
Plenty of applause from the travelling fans for the Saints players tonight and to be fair they deserved it. The goals we lost weren't pretty but given the form of both teams going into this game and the enforced changes on Saints as Sheerin and Holmes were injured, the players gave their all. MoM for me was close with Morgan, Craig, McKoy and Ando all playing well but Caff edges it for a solid performance at the back. If we still have a problem it's up front and while Samuel was much improved over the weekend both he and Jacko struggled to create anything as they were easily crowded out.
Ach well - its just a diddy cup anyway.
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