Temple Of Saints - Saints Go Top!!!

Bells League Division One 01/11/2008

Pars 1 Saints 2 - League Table Here

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

The good form of recent weeks made today's trip to East End Park the game of the day in the first division (although with only East Coast teams involved you had to wonder what massive level of coverage the media would give us). Saints went into this one with plenty of confidence after last weekend's comfortable win over Partick while the Pars had to sit in their Fife slums after their game was called off - although our opponents had played in midweek as they were knocked out the Co-op cup at Tannadump. There were some words of caution though. East End Park hasn't been a brilliant ground for Saints to visit in recent years and November is usually when the pessimists get all excited as any title challenge falters in the weeks running up to Xmas. But there was an added boost with the travelling support's numbers enhanced thanks to a pre- match campaign on the Internet to get fans to bring as many friends and family to the game as possible.

The Pars had been in good form as well in recent weeks and along with Saints and QoS were probably the form team in the division. Jim McIntyre had come through his debut managerial season and was now building his squad with the likes of Andy Kirk and Graeme Bayne coming in and has-beens like McManus and Burchill offloaded. They'd pretty much torn us apart in the first encounter of the season but like the Partick game that was when Del's rating with the fans was at a low point and the Saints side today was going to hopefully show more of the spirit, fight and skill that we'd seen in our run of form over the last few weeks. Even so, I don't think I was along amongst the Saints fans in being willing to settle for a share of the points in what would probably be one of the toughest away encounters we'd face in the league.

The game turned into a nerve-wracking affair at times as both the Pars and the referee made life difficult for us. But in front of around 1600 Saints fans in full party mode, the boys showed the sort of dig and fight that had been missing the last time the two sides met. A couple of outstanding goals (both probably candidates for goal of the season) and a battling performance for the full ninety-plus minutes that the game dragged on for saw us through. Make no mistake, this was probably our toughest game of the season against one of most physical teams in the league but defensively we were solid enough and the midfield and front men put in the required running and tackling to frustrate our opponents at every opportunity. It was never going to be a pretty performance but the faces at full-time showed just how much it meant to the players and fans.

Going into the match Saint's preparations had suffered with the midweek postponement of the Reserve Cup game due to bad weather. Euan and Jacko were still out through injury but even so, both Jody and James were added to the squad. There were a couple of doubts after both Rustybitz and Ando had picked up knocks in training this week but both were expected to play. Lee Robinson was also set for his final sub's appearance before returning to the Death Star, hopefully fully prepared to spread the Saintee Gospel across the great unwashed TFOD hordes. Ruti made the side with Ando on the bench alongside Jody Morris. Morgan and Peaso dropped out while Swankie lost his starting jersey to Mooner and had to settle for a place on the bench. For the Pars, it was almost a full-strength side that took the field with Bayne and Kirk up front and Harper out to cause problems on the wing.

The weather was slightly better than last week with no rain and no real wind to cause problems and once we'd endured the wit and sheer crappiness that is Sammy the Tammy, the Saints fans settled down to sing their hearts out easily drowning out what looked like a poor home support. Right from the kick-off we were on the attack and taking the game to our hosts. The great atmosphere helped and within two minutes of the start, a cross in was headed on by Savo for Sherlock but the keeper came out to claim the ball. Almost immediately the ball was played down the right wing for Harper and he got up the park, beat Craig (not for the first time) but his shot was well held by Main. The pressure on Main's goal continued with Craig conceding a freekick a minute later but this time Rustybitz cleared the danger and set up Mooner who played a great ball wide for Millar to run onto only to be tackled.

The next chance came down the left in the fifth minute with Craig and Savo linking to set up Sheerinho. The Wizard turned to line up a shot only to be brought down on the edge of the box in mid-pirouette. Hardie and Craig lined up over the ball for the freekick with a five-man wall in front of him. In typical accurate punditry, I'd only just finished saying "Even I don't think Hardie will have a go" when the Mad Mental One himself ran up and fired the most perfect curling shot over the wall and past Gallacher into the back of the net. One-nil up and the party was really underway.

Dunfermline tried to hit back and pressed almost immediately with another dangerous cross in for Bayne but Main came out to take the ball. A minute later and Glass had a go with a long- range attempt that went well wide of the goal although the room he was given was a bit of a concern. Overall though, we looked fairly comfortable but at the same time the Pars were getting a lot more of the ball. Our only real chance came in the 14th minute when a Craig freekick was sent forward and headed on by the Mad Mental One for Savo. He chested it down and laid it off for Hardie who had a go from the edge of the box but curled the ball wide of the goal. Holmes tried his luck next breaking behind a defender but the angled effort went wide of goal.

The Pars main threat was coming courtesy of Harper on the wing and too often they were given too much room to get a cross in. For the most part we were able to handle the danger with Moon and Hardie clearing the ball when necessary although too often the front men weren't getting the room to take the ball forward and ease the pressure. Caff was caught fouling Bayne in the 18th minute but Glass sent his freekick over the bar as he badly looked like needing a lesson from Mad Mental Martin in the basics of taking a freekick. The game threatened to boil over as some of the challenges began to get a bit heavier. Burke went in late on Millar in the 21st minute but escaped a booking and Saints failed to capitalise as the freekick from Irvine went straight to the home keeper.

The crosses kept coming at Saints as Main had to hold one in the 22nd minute. But a minute later, another freekick into the Saints box was only half-cleared and Craig ended up putting the ball out for a corner. That floated into the six yard box and was missed by everyone only for Wilson the Ned to rise up and head the ball home despite Mooner's attempt to head it off the line. That drew the home side level and allowed Wilson to attempt to celebrate in front of the Saints fans as the referee ignored his actions. Not a pleasant individual. We almost regained the lead in the 26th minute when a speculative punt into the box from Holmes was headed on by Sheerinho for Savo who got behind his marker but unfortunately chipped the ball over the bar when it almost looked simpler to score.

Things went from bad to worse for Saints a couple of minutes later when Glass went in late on Mooner with his studs up catching the Saints midfielder in the groin. Glass got a deserved booking for the challenge but Moon was left injured on the pitch. After about five minutes of treatment he was eventually stretchered off with Gavin Swankie coming on to replace him, moving to the right wing as Millar went into the middle of the park. Unfortunately it signalled the start of the worst spell of the game for Saints as the switch combined with the break in play seemed to disrupt the shape and flow of the Saints side. That let the Pars keep the pressure up and Harper got another cross into the box in the 34th minute. Luckily there were no takers but Phinn came close to making contact. At the other end the referee overruled his linesman and decided not to award us a corner before a Hardie low ball into the middle found Swankie getting a lucky break of a Pars defender but his low shot was well held.

Main was called into action three minutes before the end of normal time in the first- half as he had to save at the feet of Phinn, while Irvine had to look sharp to clear another freekick into the Saints area - it was real backs to the wall stuff.

The half-time interval gave us plenty of time to regroup and by the time the Pars players took to the field (having kept us waiting for a while) the travelling support were in full voice once more. Almost immediately after the restart, the Pars were pressing down the wings and continuing where they left off as they fired crosses into Main's box keeping the Saints keeper busy. Even worse in the 48th minute a long ball down the right saw Liam caught napping and Harper sneaked in behind him but thankfully his angled shot went across Main's goal and wide. Saints early attacks saw Savo play a couple of decent crosses into the middle but there were no takers. That ended up in a Pars counter-attack which saw Harper caught by Caff earning the latter a yellow card.

Del took the opportunity to reshape the side with Ando coming on to replace Sheerinho. Ando went to left-back straight away allowing Liam to move up to the left midfield role. Unfortunately the first action of the new left pairing in the 50th minute saw both Ando and Craig caught napping as a cross came in from the right. Main got down to the ball but spilt it and it ended up going out for a corner. That was cleared but next up was Glass had a run cutting in but again he shot over. We took the game up the park and Holmes released Chris Millar who played the ball forward for Savo. He managed to run into ball into the box and tried his luck with an angled drive that went just wide of goal.

Craig cut in from the right a few minutes later with a nice chip in for Holmes and Savo to head the ball on but Gallacher came out to hold. The longer the game went on the more you got the feeling that we were wasting too many balls. The next chance came on the hour mark with another Craig freekick which was headed out. The shot came back in and Phinn blatantly handled on the edge of the box but again the ref decided to keep the cards in his pocket. The freekick into the box but there were no takers when it was headed on. The difference in the play though as Craig pushed forward was noticable. He forced a corner in the 62nd minute but it was cleared as far as the edge of the box only for Swankie to play it back in and low. The ball was again cleared and when Hardie went for it he was bundled over but no penalty was awarded. The Pars had a freekick into the Saints box but the ball was cleared thanks to Hardie and Irvine.

We had one of our own in the 65th minute and both Holmes and Craig were fouled in the box but the referee again waived play on. The ball fell nicely for Savo on the edge of the box he laid it off for Swankie but his shot was wide of goal. But two minutes later the Saints fans behind the Pars goal were able to smile properly as we witnessed what has to be one of the goals of the season. A ball forward down the right wing found Holmes who did well to control the ball and keep it in play, before a short pass found Liam who had made a run from the centre of midfield. Craig then too the ball across the park and with the Pars defence standing off him he made room and from fully 30 yards out let rip with an amazing drive that was rising all the way into the box, past the keeper and into the top corner. Sixteen hundred Saintees behind the goal simply went mental.

Suddenly it was a different game and the confidence began to flow through the Saints side once more. A minute later and an Irvine cross had Holmes heading the ball out for Millar but his shot went over the bar. Then Hardie had a good run and set up Savo out wide right. His cross over found Holmes at the back post but unfortunately for Sherlock, the header was somehow headed off the line. The Pars seemed to be visibly slowing up as we kept the pressure up and the Saints midfield was starting to dominate the play. With thirteen minutes left we should have increased our lead as a good run from Savo into the box saw him cut the ball back for Hardie but the midfielder's shot was well blocked. The Pars weren't out of it and were throwing everything at us. Main had to look lively to punch a corner out in the 78th minute.

Sammy came on to replace Holmes for the last ten minutes as both sides went for broke. Liam tried a cheeky 30-yard lob which was held and the Pars had a long-range attempt go just over the bar. We seemed to be happy to hit on the break as the defence soaked up the pressure with all the cool of a BBC complaints department.

The scrappy play was interrupted by some skill in the 87th minute as Sammy released Savo but his shot was a weak one and held. A minute later Savo released Sammy who squared for his fellow striker. Savo was blatantly fouled but no penalty was awarded. Irvine picked up a soft booking as the Pars countered but the freekick was easily cleared. Liam headed a ball out for a corner as the home side kept on being awarded the softest of freekicks. The corner was cleared but despite another handball the Pars were allowed to get the ball forward again, with Craig again called into action to clear the danger. That led to the five minutes of injury time that the referee somehow managed to conjure up but the Pars had simply run out of ideas and indeed it was almost Saints that managed to increase their lead as he got onto the end of a good break but despite getting through on goal one-on- one with the keeper, his shot had no real power and was easily blocked. But it didn't matter as the ref finally blew for full-time and the celebrations began.

This was more of a psychological win than anything pretty. There wasn't really a bad performer throughout the side and if we were guilty of making some silly mistakes and wasting good balls it was forgivable given the quality of the finishes that won the game. Even so my MoM goes to Rustybitz - a rock at the back and nothing seemed to get past him. Praise for Craig and Hardie as well while Swankie and Millar were solid in the middle and Savo outstanding up front.

On the downside we can only go down from here.....

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Team P W D L F A Pts
Saints 12 7 2 3 21 16 23
Queen of the South 12 6 3 3 19 10 21
Livingston 12 7 0 5 18 17 21
Dunfermline 11 5 3 3 14 8 18
Partick Thistle 12 5 2 5 12 12 17
Ross Co 12 5 1 6 16 15 16
Airdrie United 11 3 4 4 11 10 13
Scumdee 12 3 4 5 7 14 13
Clyde 12 3 3 6 12 18 12
Morton 12 2 4 6 9 18 10

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