Morton 0 Saints 0 - League Table Here
Team : Main, Irvine, Garters, Morris, Rutkiewicz, Caff, Millar, Craig, Holmes, Savo, Sheerin
Subs: McLean, Samuel, Swankie, Jackson, Ando
At last Saints were finally back in action for what seemed like the first team in ages. Without having to rely on a dodgy McDiarmid Park thermostat to keep the pitch in decent nick we headed west past the new Paisley MethaDome to the quaint surroundings of Greenock and the second visit of the season to Cappielow. Last time we were here, Voodoo Chile Davie Irons wasn't having the best time of it and a bad-tempered draw between the sides didn't help matters. Nowadays it seems that while Morton have begun to find some sort of consistency, their league position still isn't that great. Not that any of that mattered when Saints had to be more concerned with their own form. Five points clear at the top going into this thanks to our rivals failing to take advantage of our postponement last weekend, there was also the wee matter of the fifteen-game unbeaten run coming into this one and the fact that Del was closing in fast on the Sturrock Legacy.
As usual, we were squeezed into the condemned wreck of a main stand - and don't give me any of that "Traditional Scottish Ground" pish, it's a bloody uncomfortable way to spend ninety minutes on a Saturday afternoon, especially if most Saints fans haven't had our growth stunted by drugs like most of the West Coast midgets. Still at least you get the pre-match entertainment on offer and if nothing else the closeness to the edge of the pitch makes it a lot more fun when shouting abuse at the home players - you wouldn't get that down the road at the MethaDome. Morton had notched up a draw against Lost Wages Livi last weekend which had been taken in by Del. The telling comment from the Saints manager pre-match though had been that Irons' mob were now a more "physical" side - so at least we should have been prepared for an Airdrie-esque bloodbath.
Despite there seeming to be little difference in quality between the sides going into the game, the end result saw Saints the more frustrated side after easily creating the better chances throughout and dominating most of the play. But the lack of goals is becoming a problem and for all the cool defending and sexy midfield play, it's up front we have most of the problems. However, on a day when the Pars arguably made a bigger cock-up, leaving Cappielow tonight with a point (and our knees just about intact) was good enough for me - especially after we hit the bar and we had two blatant penalties turned down by a referee who seemed to be on the downward slope in terms of his competence as the game wore on. Plus the result means we equalled the 16-game unbeaten run under Luggy - setting us up nicely to set a new record at Dingwall next weekend.
Last week's lay-off had been a mixed blessing for Del. While it allowed him plenty of time to prepare for dazzling us with his wit and wisdom on Sunday's Off the Ball, as well as allowing the sick list to go down a bit (cue more paranoid ranting from the Pars conspiracy theorists that can actually work a phone and call Radio Scotland), it also meant that we had barely kicked a ball since surviving the Firhill monsoon a fortnight ago - although it seemed there had been some wheeling and dealing going on with the news yesterday of Mooner signing up for another two years. Moon's Pelvis and Ando's ankle meant they were the only real doubts going into the game but both travelled through anyway. Elsewhere in the squad Garters had started his comeback and the Friday training ground accident list had seen no new victims while Mad Mental Martin had learnt how to kill the opposition courtesy of a rugby physio while Savo was also fit. Chris Millar returned to his old club with tales of dodgy texts doing the rounds in the papers this morning so he didn't need much incentive.
One big problem was the absence of Paul Hanlon who had made the lonely journey back to the Capital to try and shore up Mixu's managerial career. Del had hinted at a replacement all week but today saw the number three shirt being adorned by Garters for his competitive debut for Saints. The starting side saw Sheerin and Morris in the middle of the park with Millar and Craig on the flanks although Gary Irvine pressed forward often enough to turn 4-4-2 into 3-5-2. Up front it was Homer and Savo with Sammy on the bench with Jacko, Swankie and Ando. For Morton, Kevin Cuthbert was in goal and intent on putting on the sort of performance to get us really worried that he was released but elsewhere in their side, much to the disappointment of the Saints fans, there was no room for Grady or Allan McManus missing out through injury and suspension respectively. Still there were plenty of names for us to hate with Finlayson up against Garters and Greacen at the back doing his usual clumsy fouling.
The game got under way with Saints pressing from the off. As early as the second minute we'd created our first chance with a long ball forward headed on by Homer for Millar but his control was off and the Cat was able to come and gather. A minute later a Craig freekick from the left found Homer who fired in a great header but again Cuthbert was on form. Back at the other end though Saints seemed intent on creating their own problems with Main putting new boy Garters under pressure with a soft kickout. Garters struggled with the pace of the game early on but quickly came onto a good game and certainly looks a decent player. Our next real chance came in the 7th minute after a Ruti clearance was laid on by Savo for Irvine tearing up the right wing. He cut inside his opponent and tried a left-foot shot but the ball went just over the bar. Another Irvine move a couple of minutes later ended with a Millar header being held by the keeper, before Sheerin and Craig combined brilliantly on the left wing for the latter to send the perfect cross into the six yard box for Homer. He lost his marker and fired in a good header but it was just over the bar - unfortunately it will go down as another bad miss for the striker and almost summed up our problems in front of goal.
Millar had a good run through the middle in the 13th minute trying to set up Homer but he was fouled. The freekick into the box tried to find Rustybitz but Cuthbert just got to the ball in front of him. Weatherston had a turn and shot for the home side a minute later but sent the ball well wide of target. But that was a rarity as Saints continued to press the home goal and our next move saw another good break and cross from the right through Irvine. He found Morris but his downward header was blocked on the line. Morton tried to hit back but Main was rarely troubled. Weatherston and McGuffie had shots. Then Garters made a rare mistake missing a tackle and allowing Weatherston in for a shot but he sent the ball well over the ball. There was more poor defending midway through the half and while Morton were struggling to get a shot in, Saints at times were making a meal of clearing their lines. It ended up in the 26th minute with another shot from the edge of the box from Weatherston which Main spilled but managed to gather at a second attempt.
Saints struggled to get forward with the home defence resorting to the offside trap and catching us out too often. There was still time for some entertainment though as a minute later we saw Garters waltz out of defence and run through the middle of the park. He was clobbered on the halfway line but still recovered enough to get a pass to Holmes. He in turn laid it off for Savo who managed to force a corner. The inswinger was headed on but Cuthbert managed to tip it clear for another corner. Cue some more entertainment as Craig and Sheerinho decided to turn into Laurel and Hardy with one of the poorest worked set pieces since the days of the Broomfield free kick fiascos.
Five minutes from the break and we should have taken the lead when Savo laid off a great pass to Sheerin breaking free on the left. But the Wizard didn't have his broomstick with him and a lack of pace meant the defence caught him before he could let rip - he ended up squaring the ball into the box where it was easily cleared. Sheerinho kept up the pressure though and two minutes later hassled Shimmin into a hasty clearance which fell for the Wizard's feet. He managed a cross but again the ball was cleared all too easily.
Saints were forced into a change then as Savo went off to be replaced by Sammy. He didn't seem to be injured but had faded from the play over the last fifteen minutes or so and had been receiving treatment at the edge of the pitch earlier in the half. It didn't do us much good though as the half finished with Morton creating their best chance of the game. Irvine, impressive as always, conceded a corner and from it the ball broke to the edge of the box from a Main punch. Morton's right-back Walker was there and he fired in a solid effort but Main pulled off a good diving save to cleanly take the ball.
There was no let up in the play at the start of the second-half and it was good to see Saints keeping the tempo up. Morton had the first chance two minutes after the restart but Weatherston maintained his inept form and stuck the ball wide. A handball against Garters next saw a Morton freekick played in which ended with Finlayson sending the ball wide (most of us were actually astonished he'd decided to kick the ball and not a blue shirt). For their part Saints tried with a Craig cross for Millar but the ex-Ton man couldn't find room for the shot. He laid the ball off for Jody inside the box but his effort was blocked. Then in the 53rd minute Greacen decided to flatten Liam. We got the decision and Jody sent an inswinging freekick in which Garters threw himself at - unfortunately he ended up in the net while the ball was taken by the keeper.
The chances were coming thick and fast though. A minute later Irvine played a good cross in which Homer headed back off Cuthbert only for the referee to rule that the ball had gone out of play. Irvine had another couple of crosses in and linked well with Millar but there were never enough blue shirts in the box to get on the end of the ball. Millar and Irvine won another corner in the 58th minute but the keeper held onto the ball once more. The only real action at the other end of the park was a clash between Weatherston and Garters which had the former giving the verbals to the latter - suffice to say our opinion of the makeshift left back grew a bit more.
Alan Main's goal was rarely threatened as Morton seemed intent on relying on set pieces to get the ball anywhere near the Saints box. Caff and Ruti were excellent in the heart of defence and we looked as solid as ever. And things were almost topped off nicely in the 63rd minute when we should have taken the lead. A long ball from Sheerinho up the touchline when all seemed lost found Liam who beat the offside trap and sent a great deep cross in from the byeline. Cuthbert was nowhere and up rose Homer at the back post to fire in a great header....which proceeded to clip the bar before being knocked behind for a corner, which was duly wasted. You began to get the feeling it might turn into one of those days.
We seemed to lose our shape and momentum for a bit after that chance. Voodoo-boy decided to make his first change of the afternoon with Wake replaced by Russell which gave the home side a bit more pace up front. Saints were still creating chances and in the 70th minute Irvine tried to set up Millar coming in on the overlap but Cuthbert got out in time to clear - it was hard luck on Chris as he had a pretty good game and certainly seemed willing to get forward a lot more than he has done in recent weeks. McGuffie picked up the first booking of the game for a foul from behind on Millar in the 72nd minute. The freekick into the box was headed back down by Homer for Liam but his right- footed shot went wide of goal. Garters played a great ball through for Sammy next but Shimmin got over to clear the danger. Then Irvine and Millar teamed up on the right but again Cuthbert was able to gather before a shot was fired in.
With fifteen minutes to go there was the first penalty claim for Saints as Morris had a good run into the box before being caught. The referee waived play on (incorrectly if you ask me) and Saints didn't do themselves any favours by complaining afterwards. Four minutes later and it seemed like it had all changed as Irvine had a great run cutting in from the right and breaking into the box. He was chopped down and Thomson immediately pointed to the spot. Only for his linesman to tell him the foul took place right on the 18-yard line. He was possibly correct this time but why the Morton defender, who was easily the last man, wasn't carded is a complete mystery. Liam took the freekick but the wall did it's job blocking his effort.
The referee's decisions were under scrutiny now, as Saints chased what would be the winning goal. Walker saw yellow for a late foul on Sammy on the far touchline with the resulting freekick headed just wide by Garters. Five minutes from time another excellent cross from Millar came across the box where it was blatantly handled by a Ton defender as he put the ball behind. Again no penalty and Craig Thomson's decision-making was again called into question. The corner was played over and both Morris and Sammy had shots blocked before another dodgy offside went against Saints.
The Greenock side had a couple of chances at the death. Sub Jenkins had a decent run down the right but Liam was there with some excellent defending then Weatherston got onto the end of a cutback but his shot was deflected wide for a corner. Main gathered the ball and sent it long for Sammy to chase but although he outpaced his marker, he couldn't get to the ball to get a shot in before that man Cuthbert beat him to it.
There was a reasonable amount of relief at full-time given how easily we could have lost the game. The mistakes haven't been eradicated from the performance but today was a much more composed performance throughout the side. The midfield knocked the ball about well and some of the passing and movement at times was outstanding. In defence new boy Garters fitted in well although he doesn't look as natural a left-back as Hanlon was. There is still a problem up front though - the lack of goals is a major worry and the form of our strikers and injury to Savo (the other great mystery of the day) is a worry. As for MoM, it's hard to pick one but I'll go for Gary Irvine again who had an excellent game on the wing and supplied some of the better crosses into the middle.
We're still top, but we really need to start scoring again - next week at Dingwall will do nicely thank you.
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