Saints 0 Pars 0 - League Table Here
Team : Main, Irvine, Ando, Mooner, Rutkiewicz, Garters, Samuel, Millar, Holmes, Savo, Sheerin
Subs: McLean, Hardie, Swankie, Barrett, Craig
After the disappointment of the Luvvies late equaliser on Saturday, we at least had the consolation that the boys were back in action quick enough. It was time tonight to play the game in hand and the first of a double-header against Scottish Cup semi-finalists Dunfermline. While the psychological battle at the weekend possibly ended in a draw as well (certainly both Del and Keecher McCall seemed happy with a share of the points), it had meant a bit more emphasis on tonight's game and while we had the best home record in the league, the fans in the stands didn't need much reminding of what happened the last time the Pars came to visit. At least we had the consolation of seeing the pre-match comments and a return to the one-game-at-a-time mentality.
The Pars hadn't had their troubles to seek in recent weeks and with the cup run masking some poor form in the league they seem to be taking over the "draw specialists" tag from Saints with late equalisers against the Scum and Airdrie in recent games - just as well we knew how to handle any late pressure really isn't it? But there's no doubt about the strength of their squad with plenty of talented players who no doubt were going to cause us problems tonight and on Saturday. They even harboured wild notions about sneaking back into promotion contention but even if that seemed to be up there with idea of a "Bring Back Barry" campaign doing the rounds at the SFA, there was no doubt that the Fifers felt they had a point to prove and were still playing for cup places.
Tonight's encounter was as good a no-score draw as you'll get all season and while it didn't increase our lead at the top of the table by much, the overall performance was certainly better than we saw against Partick with only a lack of goals the downside on the evening - whether or not that means we're in for a long and nerve- shredding end to the campaign remains to be seen but certainly there was no criticising the players tonight for their fight and effort. It does put more pressure on us though to really go out and get a result on Saturday and get rid of this label of being perennial draw specialists.
Saints had come through Saturday's game relatively unscathed although as usual when we get an injury its to a major player. So it was that with Peaso still ruled out, the major doubt before the game was over fellow striker Savo after he picked up a knee knock against Thistle. On the plus side, Del was able to welcome back Chris Millar into the squad after his spell on the naughty step. As it turned out, despite Savo making the starting eleven, Del still tinkered with the side with Liam and Mad Mental Martin dropping to the bench and Ando coming in at left back as Millar started on the right side of midfield. And just in case you thought we didn't have our troubles to seek, Caff was originally due to start in defence but seemed to pick up an injury in the warm-up so it was a rare appearance for Garters alongside Rustybitz. For the Fifers, despite all the stories to the contrary in the papers Scott Wilson managed one of those miraculous recoveries only ex-TFOD players can get away with while Jamie Mole also managed to start on the wing in a strong Dunfermline side.
There was a decent crowd in the ground before kick-off although the North Stand saw about as poor a Pars travelling support as I can recall seeing at McDiarmid - maybe it was the dodgy Day-Glo strips their heroes were wearing that put them off making the journey. Plenty of applause for Alan Main as well as he matched Drew Rutherford's all-time appearance record. Anyway for a change Saints actually got off to a good start and almost straight from the kick-off Savo won us a corner. That was all too easily cleared (a pattern already developing) with Thomson picking up an injury for the Pars. It didn't stop Mooner getting on the clearance and setting up Millar but his shot went wide. The Pars proved they weren't just here to defend though and the impressive Mole cut inside Irvine in the third minute before testing Main with a shot from the edge of the box. He easily dealt with the effort though and just as casually plucked a corner out of the air a minute later. Our next chance came after some good work in the seventh minute with Irvine and Millar linking well on the right touchline before the latter laid the ball back to Sheerinho who fired in a great shot between two defenders from the edge of the area and Gallacher did well to palm the ball away.
The next real action was more drama than anything else as first Mole and then Thomson limped off for the Pars before twelve minutes were gone. In between times Savo set up Sheerinho but the return chip saw Gallacher come out to beat Savo to the ball. Things were definitely looking promising for us. Sheerinho set up Millar next for a chip that was cleared and then when the ball was played back in from the other flank Homer got a header down for Irvine but the ball ran wide. Another Sheerinho freekick in the 15th minute found Garters at the back post but this time his header went across goal where as happened too often, there were no takers. A Pars freekick in the 18th minute was well cleared by Millar in the middle of the park and he found Savo who played a one-two with Homer before chipping the ball from just inside the box and seeing it go just wide of the far post. Millar saw a cross cleared as we continued to press and on the rare occasion that the Pars were able to get up the park the Saints defence was looking solid with Garters pulling off one great last man tackle in the 20th minute. But even so we were still struggling to create anything once the ball was in the box and too many high balls were like bread and butter to the likes of Wilson.
Bell picked up the first (and only) booking of the game for a late foul on Sammy as he broke down the left in the 28th minute. Sheerinho took the freekick but while his attempt had power it didn't really trouble the keeper. Three minutes later and Garters won a solid challenge on the halfway line and almost walked unchallenged up the park (the Fifers looked like they were waiting for a whistle) before playing the ball out to Sammy who tried to set up Savo for a run but again Gallacher was too quick off the mark. We were showing plenty of skill around the box with Sheerinho and Mooner in the middle both controlling the play well but the final ball was often missing.
Ten minutes before the break another Saints freekick was played over into the box where Savo and Homer managed to lay the ball back to the Wizard but his low shot was well met by the Pars keeper and the ball was tipped round the post. Savo tried his luck a few minutes later with an effort from distance and then five minutes from half-time Millar broke down the right and for once kept running tearing down the wing and into the box where he skinned a defender, went to the byeline and played a great cutback across goal. Of course this being Saints there were no bloody strikers there to tap the ball into the net and the ones at the back post were too slow to beat a defender. The resulting corner was wasted as usual.
The closing stages saw us continue to press for the opener. Sammy won a corner that ended up with Ando clearing the ball (you could easily get the feeling it was going to be one of those nights). Then Irvine, who had a great game coming forward, saw a cross met by a distinct lack of blue shirts before another neat ball forward found Millar running just offside.
Dunfermline made their final substitution at the break with Phinn removed from play. For Saints it was more of the same although there was a bit of hope that a head knock to Homer early in the second-half might knock some sense, or even skill, into him (no such luck). The big striker did come close with our first chance of the half a minute later as Sheerinho and Millar combined for the latter to send a low cross into the box that Homer managed to head down - it beat the keeper but also went wide of target.
That was followed by the first real spell of pressure from the opposition and it wasn't helped by our inability to clear our own lines with Ando caught wrong-footed on several occasions and with the midfield continuing to drop back we were just creating problems for ourselves - luckily the Pars were even more inept that we gave them credit for and for all their bluster, the attacks didn't come to anything. Still we managed to make some trouble for ourselves in the 54th minute as a simple through ball for the Pars found Garters and Main in a mix-up with the former eventually taking over and failing to clear his lines, allowing a Pars cutback and a low shot that Main took a couple of attempts to gather. Who says we looked shaky?
Even so we still took the play back up the park and a Millar cross for Homer saw the striker win the ball off the keeper but have to settle for a corner - at least we were still showing the sort of challenging and fight that we've lacked at times in recent weeks. The corner was a good one but still only ended up in blocked shots for Millar and Sammy. The latter especially wasn't having the best of luck and while he was well marked by the Pars defence he seemed to lack pace tonight - not helped by as poor a first touch as I've seen him show. The next Pars attack on the hour mark caused us more trouble with Rustybitz flattened in a challenge and picking up a back knock. The Pars broke down the left and ended up with Main being drawn out of his box - they still managed a cutback into a keeperless area but luckily Ando was there to hoof the ball clear.
We again went back up the park and this time it was a left-footed Ando cross that found Homer who knocked the ball back to an unmarked Mooner at the edge of the box. He fired in a strong, low shot but again a Dayglo-attired defender got in the way to block the attempt. Del's first change saw Barrett come on to replace the ineffective Homer and it has to be said that there were a few cheers when the big man went off - he huffed and puffed all night but just doesn't seem to have what it takes.
The game itself was getting scrappier as both sides began to tire. With 65 minutes gone though there was some good work by Saints on the right and the ball was played into the box for Barrett who seemed to be blatantly hauled down. The referee denied us the penalty though (it was as good a claim as we'll have all season) and we had to settle for a corner. That led to even more entertainment but of the "hide behind the sofa" variety as the Pars broke up the park. With Irvine coming across for the loose ball Alan Main decided to get in on the act and came tearing out to try and clear the ball from just inside his own half. That was hashed up and as he tried to dribble himself out of trouble and the Pars threatened to hit a long shot thankfully Mooner got in with a tackle of his own although the referee decided to award a freekick to the Fifers.
Saints kept creating chances. Sammy crossed for Savo to head at the keeper. But more and more we were on the defensive with the game taking on the look and feel of the closing stages of the Partick game. With sixteen minutes remaining, a lob forward found Sammy and Gallacher collide on the edge of the box with Shields the unlucky filling in their sandwich. He was flattened but as play continued, Sammy got a cross in that Savo just completely miskicked - it was that sort of game. Liam replaced Ando a minute later as we moved to a more attack- minded formation. Sammy saw a cross cleared and then at the other end only the legendary Rustybitz Whiskers blocked a Pars cross conceding a corner in the process. That ended with Irvine throwing himself in to block a Burke shot. Main set up our next chance with a long kick out that was headed on by Savo for Barrett and he passed to Sammy running in from the right but the final low angled shot went just wide of goal when it seemed simpler to walk the ball into the net.
Maybe the pressure and nerves are getting to the players but it seems more and more that if we're not leading after an hour the play gets scrappier and almost more desperate. Swankie replaced Millar for the last ten minutes and two minutes after that there was more controversy with Bell attempting a woeful dive in the box. The referee (who had a decent game) was having none of it but despite signalling diving, he didn't show the already- booked Pars player a second yellow. A foul on Barrett at the other end saw a good Swankie freekick fired low into the box from the left side of the pitch but again it was cleared all too easily.
Burke took a plummet in the 85th minute but again the referee waived play on. As the game drew to a close, both sides were getting more and more desperate. Liam and Swanks combined to win a corner and Swanks ball over found Garters at the back post but his header was straight at the keeper. There were no other clear cut chances although plenty of nerves in the East Stand as the Pars attempted a late challenge.
We held out though and while it might be looked on as two points dropped there was plenty to take from the performance. We created a lot more in the way of chances despite lacking the cutting edge in front of goal and for all their efforts, the Saints defence was a solid as ever with Garters having a good game. The midfield did well though and Sheerinho's class and creativity just gets him my man of the match although there were plenty of decent performances throughout the side. The Pars didn't look as dangerous as earlier in the season but there's no doubt that Saturday will be a different matter - and to be honest we will need to up our game again for the closing stages to the campaign.
Still five games to go and four points clear is still fairly healthy.
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