Temple Of Saints - Five Points To Go

Bells League Division One 11/04/2009

Pars 1 Saints 3 - League Table Here

Team : Main, Irvine, Ando, Millar, Rutkiewicz, Garters, Swankie, Hardie, Savo, Samuel, Craig
Subs: McLean, Kinniburgh, Sheerinho, Doris, Holmes

East End Park was the home of the big rematch today and with honours even after the first round of the double-header against the Fifers, there was a bit more pressure on Saints today to get back on the winning track after two disappointing draws in our last league games. At least Tuesday night had seen the performance on the park improve a lot more and we were arguably unlucky not to come away with a win but with the lead now only four points with five games to go it the season run-in looked like heading for major sphincter-tightening territory. Confidence still seemed high in the McDiarmid camp according to the pre-match press reports but with Partick at home to Queen of the South and the Scum with an apparently easy game against Airdrie we needed to get a result.

For their part, the men from Fife still harboured some vague hopes of challenging at the right end of the table but their form had meant they were still perilously close to the relegation play-off slot. Their home form didn't help matters with "pish" possibly the best description of their season at East End Park. But leaving aside their league form, they still had cup semi-final places (and the excellent chance to progress to the final) to play for and that's a pretty good incentive most of the time. The last encounter in Dunfermline with Saints had seen us get a narrow win with the 12th man in the crowd providing excellent backing and Liam Craig's scorcher providing the icing on the cake - no doubt it would take something just as special today.

This game was a totally different affair to Tuesday's. Saints we by far the better side and while the home side suffered by being reduced to ten men for most of the second half, the end result was that the old fighting spirit and attitude from Saints was perfect on the day and backed by a massive Saints support it turned into one of those perfect footballing afternoons. The sort of game and performance that restores your faith in everything Del has achieved over the season and finally, but finally, we looked like a team heading for the title. From back to front the whole side played their part with the sort of dig and encouragement that we've lacked in recent weeks with the fates as well playing their part and finally giving us that wee bit of luck. Saints played out of their skin at times and by God we looked good.

After Tuesday, the injury situation hadn't changed too much. Caff's hip problem (as in hip joint as opposed to any fashion-conscious issues) had given Garters a rare start in midweek and the Irishman had put in a good shift alongside Rusty. Savo's knee had seemingly held up well and despite a back knock Rustybitz was fit. Coming back from injury and Jody still hadn't resumed training and Peaso wasn't match-fit yet. Caff was the major doubt and also didn't make the side while Barrett and Mooner dropped out of the squad - the latter a surprise omission. In terms of changes from the midweek side, Del opted to keep the same back four but put Sammy up front in place of Homer while Sheerinho was rested and Hardie and Liam came into the midfield with Millar and Hardie in the centre. For the Pars, Thomson and Mole were out as were most of their "big" names. Phinn had also limped off at McDiarmid but he managed to start while David Graham was there to cause us problems up front. Alan Main got the biggest cheer of the day as he broke the club appearance record.

Backed by a big Saints support, the game got off to a good start for the home side as we looked a bit nervous. A cross in the second minute was headed over by Wilson and then three minutes later another cross in was headed behind by Liam. The ball broke to Woods but he shot well wide of target. We were playing some nice football, keeping the ball on the deck and avoiding too many long balls. Swankie saw a decent cross cleared in the 7th minute but we lacked any real punch going forward.

Sammy had a run three minutes later before he was upended. While waiting on the freekick, the Pars were forced into an early change as Muirhead was replaced by McCann after picking up an injury (ever get a sense of deja vu?). When the kick was finally taken, Liam played in a near inswinger but the referee decided Garters was guilty of a shove in the box. Still we almost capitalised on a poor kickout from Gallacher with Sammy pouncing on a loose ball but his shot went wide. The Pars were playing well on the wide pitch and Saints seemed to be getting stretched all over the park with the midfield caught out on the flanks as players were guilty of drifting into the middle. Ando was having a poor time at left-back as well as he was being left exposed by a lack of support from the midfield. Still the main thing was that the home side were being prevented from doing too much and other than a couple of loose crosses, Rusty and Garters were having a fairly quiet afternoon.

Given the lack of chances for Saints so far, it was a bit of a nice surprise when we took the lead. With eighteen minutes gone, Swankie had a good break on the right and managed a neat turn in the box to send a good cross over that was headed behind for a corner. Liam sent over an inswinger that went deep. The light blue shirt of Garters was there to volley the ball back into the six yard box and Mad Mental Martin was there to provide the finish to make it one-nil.

That lifted the Saints support and suddenly the confidence was high, helped in no small part by the news trickling through from Firhill where the first goal had also been scored. Saints were like a totally changed team and Sammy went on a great run down the left next before being upended. The freekick was squared to Millar who played it into the box for Sammy. With his back to goal, Sammy played it out for Hardie who tried a cheeky chip that Gallacher held well. Liam tried his luck from distance next and then in the 26th minute Hardie played a ball in for Sammy. He laid it off to Irvine in the box who got to the byeline and crossed for Liam but his header was cleared by a defender.

It seemed like the Pars were losing psychologically as well and their cause wasn't helped a couple of minutes later when Graham had a great run down the right wing, skinning Ando only to slip before he fired in a cross and watch the ball go out for a goal-kick. Just goes to show what we know though as a minute later a long ball down the middle for Kirk found Garters trying to clear the danger. The ball bounced a couple of times into the box and with both players going for the ball, Kirk went to the deck. Referee O'Reilly didn't hesitate in pointing to the spot with Garters picking up a booking in the process. Alan Main tried to get the fans behind the goal to wind up Kirk as he took the penalty but the ball was hit low and to the wrong side of Main to level the scores. Sphincter-tightening time again?

The Pars began to play some good football and put us under pressure again. They had a decent break down the right in the 32nd minute but Ando and Garters were there to provide cover. Garters' game got a bit worse two minutes later when he got back to the goalline to cover a clearance only to sclaff the ball and allow a shot in on the angle that went just over Alan Main's bar. The Pars had a decent deep freekick next but Main easily held it. For our part there wasn't much in the way of decent chances. Savo had a good break in the 38th minute and won a freekick after a Pars handball. The freekick bounced around the box with a couple of headers before Liam's final header won us another corner. No chance of a repeat though, as Gallacher easily held the inswinger.

But three minutes later there was a moment of sheer beauty and utter perfection for the Saints support. A simple attack turned into a thing of wonder. As we pressed Gary Irvine picked up the ball and wandered across to the left on the edge of the box. He cut back inside his marker and played a perfect right- footed chip shot that went over the defence, beat Gallacher and went in off the top right corner of the bar and post to nestle in the bottom of the net. Simply the perfect way to give us a two one lead.

The rest of the half saw us start to press with the stuffing knocked out of the Pars. Hardie tried an effort from distance that went over the bar. The Pars came back with a freekick from the left which could have caused problems but Gary was there to clear the danger. The final chance though fell to us with Swankie trying a cheeky backheel for Savo and when he went for a one-two he was downed. McCann got a booking for dissent but the freekick cannoned back off the wall.

Del made one change at the break with Sheerinho replacing Swankie as Millar moved to the right side of midfield. And two minutes after the restart, life got even better for Saints. Liam and Sammy linked well on the left wing before Sammy cut forward and played a great cross over the six yard box. That was cleared but only as far as the Wizard and the took a couple of touches before playing a cracking shot in which Gallacher leapt to pull off a great save tipping it to the right. Savo was in there to go for the rebound but as he went for the shot in came Wilson to scythe him down. No doubt over the penalty and the icing on the cake came when the referee decided the offence warranted a red card for Wilson who tried to argue the case before making the long walk. Liam was the man to take the spot kick and a textbook finish sent Gallacher the wrong way, made it three-one for Saints and let him and Sheerinho celebrate in front of their fans.

The home side immediately made their second change and with David Graham going off it seemed like most of their danger had been removed. Saints were in control though and brimming with confidence. Sammy and Savo linked well but the latter saw his shot cut out for a corner that was too easily cleared. Millar had a run next down the right and played a great cross over for Sammy but he seemed to be shoved in the box - no penalty though. Sammy had a good run and shot blocked and then Irvine was upended by Burke earning the Fifer a booking. Liam floated a beautiful freekick into the box and somehow it bounced across the six yard box and found no takers with Savo and Hardie both inches away from getting the slightest of touches to score.

We were well in control and for a change didn't look like easing up, but almost had a rude awakening on the hour mark. The Pars had a good break down the right and a cross over was only half-cleared before a shot from the edge of the box. But record-breaking Main was there with a brilliant save down to his left and Liam followed up by clearing the danger. Up the other end of the park Sammy and Savo saw crosses cleared and after the Wizard won a corner Hardie saw a header go just over the bar. Then Irvine played a long ball for Savo who linked with Millar and Hardie and his final cross in found Liam but the glancing header was just wide of target.

The game was wide open and while we looked fairly comfortable, it seemed like the Pars were getting more and more of the play. Burke had a long-range effort go wide and then with 20 minutes left Hardie blotted his copybook with a daft booking for dissent. The resulting freekick was played deep into the Saints box but Rustybitz somehow got back to block the ball for a corner. That was cleared with Ando being hacked in the process - cue another display of a yellow card from the referee, this time for Bayne. As the closing stages drew near, the game got a lot scrappier with Saints seemingly happy to sit back and hit the Pars on the break. Unfortunately it left us open to the counter, although the closest was a Pars freekick that went well wide.

Steven Doris came off the bench for Hardie as the latter's form dipped and with 12 minutes remaining and the Saints fans in full voice (let's hear it for the chorus of "We'll Meet Again") we had a brilliant display of one touch passing from Millar, Ando, the Wiz and Liam with the latter ending up on the deck. The freekick found Savo but his header went wide. The Pars went straight up the park and a cross from the left was headed down only for Rusty to somehow get back and header over his own bar.

The final change saw Homer replace Sammy for the last ten minutes but most of the play came from the home side as they tried to make the scoreline a bit more respectable. One cross saw Garters make a good header clearance over his own bar but other than that our play was still too scrappy. They had a freekick curl round the defensive wall and go just wide. But the final minutes saw us chase a fourth and if this one had come off it would have been goal of the decade, never mind season. Some more excellent one-touch play on the left wing saw Liam play a great cross over for the back post where Doris came steaming in and went for a van Bastenesque volley which if he'd made contact with the ball would have rocketed into the net - pity he missed the bloody thing but to be fair by that time we weren't caring.

The final whistle was met by restrained, polite applause from the Saints fans - not and you could see what it meant to the players as well. This was our Airdrie game and this is the one that possibly cemented the title. There was barely a failure in the side although Ando struggled again on the left. The rest of the defence was excellent and Irvine's goal was amazing. In midfield Liam gets my MoM but all four worked their arses off and even up front we created more and looked more comfortable and pacy. The sort of entertaining sexy football that we've wanted to see all season - oh aye and we didn't win.

Five points and its ours....

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Team P W D L F A Pts
Saints 32 14 14 4 45 30 56
Partick Thistle 32 14 7 11 36 33 49
Morton 32 12 11 9 38 32 47
Livingston 32 13 6 13 52 52 45
Scumdee 32 11 11 10 28 29 44
Ross Co 32 12 7 13 37 40 43
Dunfermline 32 11 8 13 43 41 41
Queen of the South 32 10 10 12 45 42 40
Airdrie United 32 8 12 12 27 36 36
Clyde 32 8 8 16 34 50 32

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