Temple Of Saints - Saints Grind It Out

Bells League Division One 13/12/2008

Saints 1 Morton 0 - League Table Here

Team : Main, Irvine, Craig, Morris, Rutkiewicz, Caff, Millar, Hardie, Samuel, Savo, Sheerin
Subs: Hillcoat, Anderson, Moon, Holmes, Peaso

Well the nerves had well and truly settled in at McDiarmid going into this one. While we were all still happy at being well clear at the top of the table, three draws on the bounce and some below-par performances meant that a morale-boosting win was becoming more important. With nobody else in action last weekend the lead had extended to five points but it also meant we were one game up on the rest. Today saw the Greenock mob make their first visit to McDiarmid with not-so- under-fire-any-more manager Davie "Voodoo" Irons in the away dugout to try and scrounge a handshake of some of the Saints players. Saints had come into this one looking to dump the pre-Xmas hoodoo which has caused us so much grief in recent years. This game and next couple of weeks saw us facing two the sides nearer the foot of the table and with two of the matches at home most of the fans were looking for a winning treble to celebrate the festive period. Defeat wouldn't necessarily be a disaster, but at the same time it might take the leadership battle out of our hands and who wants to rely on Scumdee for anything.

The teams had fought out a good draw at Crappielow back in August with the Greenock side arguably lucky to take a point from a game Saints enjoyed the better play in. But since then they had flirted with relegation as well as a couple of embarrassing cup exits, the most recent of which was in their last competitive outing a fortnight ago when a trip to Peterhead saw them well and truly dumped. Their supporters had been deservedly pissed off earlier in the campaign with the performance under Irons but the dissenting whines from the Cappielow faithful had all but disappeared in recent weeks although you got the feeling it might not take long before Voodoo boy might be on the end of some more rusty pins in his jacksy - mind you given they'd already decided to risk their health by buying one of the Love St stands from the Paisley mob then anything could happen.

As it turned out, it almost became the fourth draw on the trot as a nervy Saints struggled with the height of the men from Greenock with too many high balls and too many players taking things for granted. For all that a disappointing first half turned round for us and we had plenty of pressure late on as some of the players began to show their skill. Even so it still meant a late, late goal was required to seal the points and keep the lead at the top of the table. Possibly this one should just be filed under the "ground out wins" category. Still from these games are titles won.

No new injuries last week had meant that things were ticking along nicely for Saints. Kevin James and Euan McLean were absent through back and finger injuries respectively but apart from that Del had a full- strength side to pick from. The fringe players had been given a run out on Tuesday for the reserves in a cup win over the Pars. Del still tinkered with the side with Collin Samuel given a start ahead of Sherlock while the likes of Swankie and Jacko missed out. For Morton, Weatherston was out through a ban and it meant that James "Repulsive wee Shite" Grady got a chance to try and piss off the Saints fans once more - and unfortunately with the referee deciding that he would try for the nomination for crappiest official of the season, it meant a lethal combination at times.

The added bonus of the vouchers for the cup-tie being dished out meant that there was a decent crowd for kick-off - well not really with the conditions seeing some folk preferring the scraps of the Woolies sales ahead of the sexy football on show. We started with a 4-4-2 formation but it still took until the third minute for the first half-chance to appear out of the murk with Liam managing a cutback for Savo whose looping header was easily held by the Cat. Craig tried again from a freekick after he was clobbered three minutes later but his high effort eluded the blue shirts and caused no problems for the Morton defence. It was obvious we were suffering from a height disadvantage resorting to the Mad Mental One pushing forward to try and win knock downs but too many long balls and a lack of urgency and pace meant chances were at a premium.

The visitors' first real chance came for them in the 11th minutes thanks to a Craig slack pass allowing them forward. The final ball ended with Irvine conceding a corner and from that a Main punch clear ended with a shot over the bar. Irvine was being slowly tortured by McAllister on the right but he was managing the odd attack forward and in the 14th minute set up Sheerin with a cross ball and he crossed in for Savo but Cuthbert was again too sharp for the Saints striker. The game was pretty poor overall but the first real escape for Saints came in the 20th minute. Irvine had been beaten again and it was left to Rustybitz to win the corner. That was headed clear but only as far as Jenkins who headed the ball goalwards. Luckily for us wee Jody was there to spring up and head the ball off the line with Main eventually gathering the ball.

As the half wore on the ineptitude of the referee was more and more apparent with some heavy challenges on Savo, Sammy and even Hardie going unpunished. Mind you it wasn't like we did anything when we did get a set-piece as we did in the 22nd minute when Sammy was caught from behind. That freekick ended up being missed by the keeper but with no follow-up for Saints we never came close to scoring. There was no real flow to our play and Saints were struggling to even string a few passes together. As it was the first time we managed to do it was after half-an-hour when Savo released Hardie who set up Craig on the left wing. Liam got up and sent in a great cross for Sammy who rose up but headed the ball just wide of target.

All the attacks seemed to be coming down the left though and the likes of Millar was rarely in the game. With 36 minutes on the clock, Millar, who had been talking pre-match about his lack of goals, was gifted the perfect chance to break his duck. Hardie was in the box and squared the ball right for the onrushing Millar but the effort suffice to say ensured Chris' feathered fried remained well and truly intact. The first booking of the game came seven minutes from the break as Hardie went in on Finlayson. The Morton player saw yellow though which after some of his antics at McDiarmid last season perhaps added an air of poetic justice to the game. It didn't improve the rest of the entertainment on the park although there were a couple of chances before the interval. An Irvine cross found Hardie but his header was well held and at the other end a Ruti slip up allowed Pantypoo room to try an angled shot which although on target was eventually gathered by Main.

With the kids at the half-time shootie-in showing more skill in front of goal than the first team, there were thankfully some signs of improvement at the start of the second period with perhaps a few kicks up the arse having been administered in the dressing-room. Within a minute of the restart, Savo and Sammy had broken into the Morton box with Sammy eventually passing to Morris who laid it back to Savo who won a corner. That was wasted but set the tone for the half. Liam tried his luck with a good run through the middle playing a one-two before being crowded out by three defenders. Then Sammy had a run and cutback for Hardie but he sclaffed his shot. It still spun out to Millar but his cross was cleared to Liam and his shot was blocked. Ruti had a long-range effort but it was deflected out for a corner that was easily cleared.

The play was better overall but the midfield was still not getting forward enough with only Morris showing any composure on the ball. Still the chances kept coming and Sammy had a decent break in the 58th minute but only managed to shoot over the bar when it seemed easier to score - cue some signs of the pre-Xmas hoodoo starting to haunt the faithful. Del made his first change of the game just before the hour mark with the unfortunate Millar making way for Sherlock. He moved up the park to partner Savo as Sammy switched to the right side of midfield. Almost immediately a rare attack from Sheerinho found Samuel but his shot went wide of goal. Then a poor kickout from Cuthbert saw us break forward with Savo making a great run and crossing for Holmes who rose up but only managed to header a decent chance over the bar.

Morton hadn't really done much in the second-half but began to get more into the game. A long throw from Pantypoo in the 63rd minute caused all sorts of problems for the Saints defence with Main missing the ball completely although Sheerin was on hand to head the ball out for a corner. Even when we were given a good chance, the pressure was showing though. Morris was shoved in the 66th minute leading to a freekick about 25 yards out in front of goal. Cue the training ground set-piece where the ball was tapped to Ruti who managed the sort of long-range shot that no doubt made the McDiarmid ground staff glad that they'd put a decent-sized stand behind the goal as the ball looked about as likely to hit the target as we have of seeing Hearts get the award for most Financially Astute Club in Scotland. Morton went straight up the park and within a couple of minutes had a good chance as Irvine managed another slip-up and sub Brian Wake (on for the dear departed Grady) had a run into the box forcing Main to get some exercise and come out and save at his feet.

Saints were looking more and more scrappy as the half wore on. Irvine set up Sammy for a good cross only for Hardie to needlessly foul the keeper. Then Caff played a long ball for Savo who won a corner but again the lack of height meant it was just a total mess. Peaso came on for Savo with fifteen minutes remaining as both teams still chased a winner - although Morton seemed more and more content to just hit us on the break, Caff picking up a booking for an exuberant stop to one of those. Mooner came on for Hardie for the last ten minutes as Del seemed to be going for finesse over the long punt. But it was Morton who had the better chances with the impressive McAllister getting too much room to turn and shoot just wide of the goal, then three minutes later seeing Irvine managing to block his shot.

With four minutes left, Craig played a good ball forward for Holmes who knocked the ball down for Morris. His shot was blocked and then when it broke to Sherlock he was too slow and Cuthbert managed to gather the ball. Two minutes later and with time running out, Mooner tried to set up Peaso and his cross saw both Holmes and Samuel too slow to reach the ball with a defender conceding a corner instead. We were starting to despair of even coming close to scoring but up stepped Liam for one of the most perfect inswinging crosses and as it floated over up rose Rustybitz like he'd had a rocket up his arse to head the ball past Cuthbert and into the net. One-nil and there were more sighs of relief than cheers among the home fans.

Having taken the lead and with only three or four minutes including injury time to go you'd have thought that we'd try to calm things down and get the ball out to the corner flag and run the clock down. But oh no Saints were still bricking themselves and within a minute Morton had the ball in the box for a game of pinball as the ball ricocheted around the crowded box (well we didn't have any blue shirts forward) before Shimmin had a powerful strike blocked in the six yard box and out for a corner. That was headed wide for a goal kick and even then in injury time there was still time for a Pantypoo long throw-in to be headed well wide.

Given the shaky performance from Saints I think almost all of us will be happy with the points tonight. It wasn't pretty but it worked although in my mind it seems all the more infuriating given we know how much better we can play. As for MoM Caff, Craig and Sammy did well as did Morris who seems to be gaining more of his match sharpness but by a mile the best Saints player was Rustybitz - solid at the back and scored the goal just when we needed it. These are the results that can make or break challenges and while today we might have been lucky (and God knows we can improve), we'll play better and not take anything from games.

Twelve in a row now - it would be nice to still be celebrating this at Xmas.

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LEAGUE TABLE

Team P W D L F A Pts
Saints 17 9 5 3 27 20 32
Dunfermline 16 8 3 5 22 14 27
Partick Thistle 16 8 2 6 18 15 26
Livingston 16 8 1 7 25 23 25
Ross Co 16 7 1 8 21 21 22
Queen of the South 17 6 4 7 21 20 22
Scumdee 16 5 5 6 11 16 20
Morton 16 5 4 7 16 20 19
Clyde 16 5 4 7 17 22 19
Airdrie United 16 3 5 8 13 19 14

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