Saints 3 Morton 1 - League Table Here
Team : Main, Irvine, Craig, Mooner, Rutkiewicz, Caff, Millar, Mad Mental Martin, Savo, Samuel, Sheerin
Subs: McLean, Ando, Morris, Swankie, Holmes
The pressure might have eased a bit on Saints after the glorious Smiting of the Coags last weekend, but there was still some work to do before the McDiarmid cleaning staff could order some silver polish in. Three points today or even just matching what Partick did at home to Airdrie would be enough to force Voodoo Irons to eat humble pie and exorcise the Ghost of Gretna. But, as we've seen before, if we don't get off to a good start, Saints aren't the best side at chasing a game and the memory of Dobbie savouring extra pies after the TV mess a fortnight ago is still fresh in the mind. Last weekend though looked to be the result that finally convinced some of the media that we'll still take the title (unless you work for STV, the Daily Record, or your name is Billy Dodds) and the fans were out in force today looking for a title- winning performance to wrap things up, with the sparse away support penned into the North end - none of us wanted to have to risk too many fans' health making the trip to the Airdrie Swineflu Hot Zone next weekend.
Morton had been in the chasing pack for a while but after their capitulation against Partick a fortnight ago they'd all but given up hope. Second place was still a possibility and they had a game in hand after sitting on the sidelines last weekend due to the Pars cup involvement - at least it let Irons make the trip to Dens to see what championship-winning performances looked like. They had plenty of danger men in their side and the scourge of two years ago in a certain J. Grady Esquire was all we needed to give an added bit of spice to the clash. As well as that though ex-Saintee Kevin Cuthbert was in the away goals and his performances this season had caused us almost as much grief. But it was their manager that we really wanted to deal with - and without Wullie McLaren in the home dugout to pick a fight Saints were going to have to do all their talking on the park. There was as much incentive as anyone would need though and with the likes of Sheerinho and Rustybitz looking to improve on their medal tally from the game and the first team out to emulate the Under-17s and have a trophy to parade, the place was jumping before kick- off.
And after all the heartbreak and oh-so-close moments of recent seasons, Saints today showed just how good we could be. We destroyed Morton and provided the sort of sweet feeling for the 6000-plus Saints fans that comes along oh so rarely. We were simply outstanding from the players on the park through to the fans in the crowd. This was the sort of climax to the season that you dream about. Tonight will be one of those nights that will live on in Saints folklore and legend. For all the criticisms we've had to put up with this season about the team being negative, lacking support and atmosphere and the usual pish Chic and co come out with, every single one of them was put to bed today. This was simply one of the best performances I've seen at McDiarmid in a long time and if anything the scoreline flatters the Greenock side who could easily have been on the end of six or seven goals but for the woodwork and a cracking performance from Cuthbert in the away goal. But at the end of the day that doesn't really matter and we are on the way to the "delights" of the SPL.
After the win at Dens, Del was lucky that the boys escaped relatively unscathed. Alan Main had a calf strain that necessitated cutting his sock open while the Mad Mental One had been on the end of the sort of assault that was more appropriate for the wrestling ring than anything else. At least the latter had managed to apologise to the manager after his wee tantrum when he was subbed although the fate of the ball smashed into the Dens dugout still remains unknown. Elsewhere in the squad and Caff and Jody had come through their comeback games unscathed while Gary Irvine was notching up his 82nd game in a row for Saints before getting an early pass due to suspension next weekend. The only real worry going into the game was the rumour that Rustybitz had decided to make things that bit more difficult for us by shaving off the lucky beard ahead of the match. Talk about tempting fate. So it was that the changes to Del's starting eleven amounted to the grand total of hee-haw with the only tweak to the bench being the replacement of Barrett by Swankie. Well you don't tinker with perfection and who was going to tell Mad Mental Martin he was dropped. For the Greenock side, Grady started while there were plenty of familiar faces with the likes of ex-Gretna's Pantyloo and ex-Saints players in Cuthbert and McManus.
There was a good crowd inside McDiarmid Park as kick-off approached with plenty of folk unable to get a seat in the East Stand and the Main stand just as packed. The early stages of the game saw Mooner show his skill as he grabbed the midfield by the scruff of the neck and took the play up the park. The first freekick came to us after Sheerinho was held (welcome to the Irons school of tactics). Irvine's ball into the box was headed towards goal but the Cat held onto it. Mooner was at the heart of everything in the early stages skinning markers all over the place although the final ball was poor. We won a second freekick in the 7th minute after Sammy was held (the Saints striker was on the end of a lot of nasty challenges today). The ball into the box saw Rustybitz go in for a header missing the ball completely. We were reduced to ten men for a spell as Mooner went off due to a nosebleed but Morton didn't really manage to threaten much. If anything we were showing more nerves in defence with Irvine conceding a corner in the twelfth minute - Main had no problem holding the ball though. A minute later and another Greenock- infected freekick into the box found the defence nowhere with Hardie punting the ball clear.
There were signs that it was going to be a sexy football day with a great passing move in the 15th minute involving Liam, Sheerinho and Hardie before the Wizard had a go from the edge of the box but a weak low shot caused the Cat no trouble. We threatened again a couple of minutes later after an Irvine freekick from just inside the Morton half was played deep into the box. Hardie headed the ball down for Sammy but his shot was over the bar. Irvine had an effort held and then Mooner, Savo and Hardie combined to win another corner that the Cat punched clear.
But with 25 minutes gone, the party plan hit a minor glitch. Referee Nicholls hadn't been too much of an arse up to now but after Irvine conceded a freekick on the far touchline, he decided to go for the Most Hated Man in McDiarmid trophy (and with Grady and Irons in the building that's no mean feat). The freekick floated into the box was dealt with but the man in the middle decided to give the Greenock side a penalty with Liam and Rustybitz protesting. Not sure why it was given - I can only assume it was for a shove in the box. Anyway up stepped McGuffie and he took the kick well to give them a 1-0 lead.
Last year we might have let the heads go down but the fans we backing the players to the hilt and Saints were soon pressing back. Liam conceded a daft corner but that amounted to nothing. Then in the 28th minute Savo had a good run down the right and sent a cutback to Chris cutting inside. His ball across the box went out for a corner. That ended up in a stramash in the box before a shot was blocked. The ball broke out to Rustybitz who set up Liam. His ball in the box found a Saintee head that knocked the ball down for Sammy. His shot was blocked but the ball bounced out and there was Mad Mental Martin to blast an angled shot into the net. Cue 6,000 sighs of relief and silence from the away support.
The goal lifted Saints and we began to play with a lot more confidence. Sammy chased a loose ball a couple of minutes later and just lost out to Cuthbert. A minute later and Sheerinho set up a break from defence and a brilliant long ball was perfect for Savo but his cross cum shot was just over the bar. Another Saints break was broken up and Morton went up the park to force a corner but Sammy cleared that - typifying the fight that the entire Saints side were showing. Every player was playing out their skin and the energy and effort on the park was a joy to behold. The only threat that seemed to be coming from Portyloo with his long throws but the defence were well on top of the balls coming into the box (there's a good joke in there somewhere).
Ten minutes from the break and Moon, Sammy and Savo combined but the latter was just offside. Mooner was playing the game of his life though and was probably our most creative player on the park - no square balls from him, every ball was forward and found their target. Irvine forced another corner and Sheerin's ball in ended up with Liam but his cross was cleared. Then Mooner set up Savo who found Sammy but his turn and shot from the edge of the box went across the goal and about five millimetres wide of the post.
If that wasn't bad enough, a minute later and Mooner released Sammy on the right and his run and cut in ended with a cracking low drive that beat Cuthbert but cannoned back off the base of the post and across the goal. It's not even as if they were bad shots it just seemed that the luck was against us. Liam and Sheerinho linked up next but the latter's cross was too deep. Then four minutes from the interval and Sheerinho provided more entertainment with the ball coming off the corner flag and allowing him to skin the Morton defender before his cross was cleared as far as the Mentalist who couldn't find room for a shot although he was guilty of trying to walk the ball in. Saints won another freekick as McManus again clobbered Sammy but again it was cleared as the half drew to a close.
No changes at half-time although there was some inspiration for the big boys as they saw the U-17s presented with their league- winning trophy. And it wasn't long before the boys were continuing from where they left off before the interval. Two minutes into the second period and a quickly-taken freekick from Main found Chris Millar. His cross was missed but Sheerinho played it back in for Sammy and Hardie who saw shots blocked before it broke to Millar again but his shot came back off the woodwork. Chris wasn't finished though and a few minutes later he got on the end of a Sheerin and Mooner move before setting up Irvine whose cross was blocked. Millar was there for follow up with a cross for Savo but he was tackled.
It didn't matter though. In the 51st minute it was pure total football from Saints with a move that was so sexy 6000 Saints fans wanted to marry it. Sheerinho and Savo linked with Hardie and Millar in one of those flowing passing moves at the edge of the box completed with back flicks and sexy passes and the sort of thing that if Chick the Prick had seen Barcelona do it he wouldn't have shut up about it for ages. The ball came to Sheerinho though and a wee flick to Savo on the edge of the box and a cracking finish saw the ball rocket past Cuthbert and into the top corner. Two-one Saints and the party was on.
By now the confidence was flowing through the team like drugs in a Coagey's veins - although the high was a lot sweeter. Even a rare foray up to the Saints half for Morton which ended in a corner off the bonce of Rustybitz didn't even cause us any worry with Hardie blocking the corner and Sammy clearing the danger. The referee was doing his best to aid the Greenock side falling for Finlayson's antics when Mooner fairly tackled him. But the better chances were still falling for Saints. Sammy had a run and shot across goal in the 59th minute but it was a weak effort then Greacen became the first player in the book after hacking Savo. Sheerinho's freekick went out for a corner but from that Liam struck a sweet inswinger that was only just headed off the line.
Sheerinho saw a shot go over and then a lovely pass set up Sammy in the box but despite Walker handling the ball we didn't get the penalty. Saints though were simply brilliant and despite the one-goal lead, there was a growing feeling that nothing was going to stop us. Pantyloo got a warning for a foul on Sammy (must have been his turn in the kick Sammy rota - see Chapter 3 of the Irons book of tactics, the one after how to get your boss signed off sick for being mental). The freekick was played out for Irvine who had a good run in the box before a short pass to Sammy saw him turn and hit a sweet shot just wide of target. Grady turned chicken and ran as he was subbed with twenty-five minutes remaining but given he was playing up front for Morton he wasn't exactly busy.
Another Saints ball up the right wing in the 67th minute should have seen us notch a third goal with Sammy making a brilliant run and playing a great ball across the goal for an unmarked Savo. All he had to do was header the ball into the net but somehow he managed to head the ball wide of target picking up an injury in the process. Wake headed wide for Morton but that was about it for them as we continued to press. Walker got a yellow card for daring to foul Hardie. Del's first change in the 71st minute was a bit of a surprise as Homer replaced Sammy - especially as Savo seemed to be struggling. Weatherston stuck an elbow on Hardie and was lucky to only be booked (welcome to more consistent refereeing SFL-style). Rusty sent a long ball forward for Millar next but his square ball for Homer saw the striker fire a shot straight at Cuthbert when it seemed easier to score.
Sheerinho saw a freekick blocked and a one-two with Savo ended with Irvine curling one wide. But there were no nerves or signs of anxiety in the Saints side as the players piled on the pressure and the fans backed them all the way. And with ten minutes to go we were rewarded with another sweet moment of perfection. A deep cross from the right found Liam and his cross back into the box was headed back by Homer and there was Savo to hit a scissoring volley from all of six yards which the keeper didn't even see before it was threatening to burst the net. Party on!!
Jody came on to replace Mooner as the game entered the closing stages. The game was still goalless at Firhill and the songs suddenly changed to the Championees as we all knew what was coming. Liam hit a low ball across the Morton goal that almost ended in an o.g. The resulting corner was headed wide by Hardie and with three minutes to go he went off to be replaced by Swankie - and no tantrums in the dugout this week. Caff picked up a booking as Morton looked for some consolation but the chances were still coming to us with Millar setting up Savo who headed over and then a Liam cutback missed by Savo. To their credit Morton almost got a second at the death when they saw a header come off the post but by that time we couldn't care less.
The attempts to stop the pitch invasion were about as effective as Livi's excuses when the wages are late and about 2000 fans helped the players up the tunnel. The singing started in earnest and.....och if you weren't there there's no point in trying to get over what the occasion meant. All the defeats, all the crap performances and all the shite winter goalless draws we've had to see paled into insignificance and the cheer when Rusty finally lifted the trophy was loud enough that even a Daily Retard reporter couldn't find anything to criticise.
The players took their lap of honour and deserved every moment of it as did the fans. Credit to the Morton supporters who stayed behind for the presentation as well. As for the performances, every player played their part today but I'm still going to give Millar the MoM award for setting up the goals and showing us just what he's capable of.
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