Temple Of Saints - No goals but no ground lost

Bells League Division One 17/01/2009

Partick Luvvies 0 Saints 0 - League Table Here

Team : Main, Irvine, Hanlon, Morris, Rutkiewicz, Caff, Swankie, Craig, Holmes, Jacko, Sheerin
Subs: McLean, Samuel, Moon, Ando, Millar

After the drama of the midweek moment of TV stardom it was back to the bread and butter stuff today with another revenge match. We may be out front in the league but the performance and result from our last trip to Luvvie Land still rankled the fans and playing staff. An absolute howler of a performance had seen us lose by four goals and probably marked the low point for Del's managerial career to date. But since then, despite the odd blip, the points have been racked up and the side are playing with the sort of confidence that has us looking like title contenders. Even the depression of losing on Tuesday thanks to our own stupidity didn't look like breaking the momentum the boys have built up in recent weeks. The players and management know as well as the rest of us that today's game and next week's hosting of the visit from the Fife inbreeds could go a long way to determining the eventual fate of the league title. Added to that there was a need to see Saints re-establish their form after stuttering a bit in the league in recent weeks.

Jobbie McCall's cup exploits last weekend had been pretty embarrassing with a three scud humping in Inverness as they made a Craig Brewster side look professional. The Jags have been part of the leading pack for most of the season but have lacked any real consistency in their form with the result being that games against them are hard enough to predict at the best of times. With injuries and mistakes mounting in their performances it looked like their title challenge was on the wane as the lack of depth in their squad began to show as the league campaign wore on. But the Firhill mudbath is a great leveller and we'd learnt so many times in recent seasons not to take them for granted - especially given our form in Maryhill. If anything their decision to let kids in free this year at least made it one of the more attractive away trips to make.

The game itself was a fairly entertaining affair given the blustery conditions on the park. Saints tired towards the end and while both teams had chances, our domination in the first half should have sealed the points by the interval - as it turned out only the panther-like reaction of Irvine for a goalline clearance late on preserved the unbeaten record. There's no doubt that the cup-tie had a knock-on effect but the key thing was that we didn't lose any ground at the top of the table today. It possibly puts more pressure on us not to lose next week but hopefully by then a bit more sharpness will be enough to sort things out in front of goal. After the cup-tie Del had some hope of welcoming back his injury victims. The Mad Mental One had missed out during the week and was a doubt going into this one as was Savo, with Del planning to rest the pair ahead of next weeks home match against the Pars. Peaso at least had managed to resume training and while Liam had put himself through the pain barrier on Tuesday (his injury exacerbated by some nasty challenges from the Govan Ned) he was also available.

Paul Hanlon was set to be watched by a dozen Scouse scouts but there was no sign pre-match of the dodgy taches and permed figures in shellsuits anywhere in the away end - the home stand was full of Wegies though so I suppose they would have been well concealed there. The big question for us was whether or not the gaffer would stand by the Rusty and Caff partnership that had served us so well or whether the highly-rated Garters would get a chance to break into the team. Up front Jacko had put in a good performance against the Forces of Darkness and although he'd failed to score, it merely put him up in the Sherlock-level of ability to contribute to the Saints front line and he had put himself into contention for another starting place today. As it was, Del went for only one change in the starting eleven with Chris Millar dropped to the bench and Sheerinho starting on the left. Elsewhere in the dugout Ando and Mooner came in for Garters and Savo.

The pitch was in reasonable nick given the weather / rugby games / used syringes / Chic Charnley marks (the latter making a guest appearance at half-time to scare the kids) but the wind was strong enough to affect the play and the drizzle turned into a shower for the second half. Thistle seemed to start better with a first-minute corner but Caff was there to clear the danger. But within a minute the play had moved to the other end of the park and with the wind behind us we began to cause the Partick defence some problems. Hanlon sent in a cross which broke for Morris but he shot over. Craig got onto the end of a Swankie pass next but his shot was just wide of the goal. Then a good move from Jacko and Hanlon on the wing with the latter cutting in and setting up Holmes who knocked the ball down for Sheerinho but his delicate chip was tipped over the bar by Tufty. The resulting corner was a deep one for Jacko who won a freekick. Swankie played it in and won the first of a series of corners but despite the pressure from Saints we were unable to capitalise on the set-pieces despite some excellent deliveries from Liam with the best chance a Holmes header tipped round the post.

Another bout of pressure from Saints in the 11th minute saw Morris set up Gary on the overlap down the right. He played it on for Swankie but his angled shot was blocked. It broke for Craig who tried to set up Sheerinho but another Luvvy got in the way. Saints seemed to be guilty of trying to walk the ball into the net again which wasn't really working against a packed Thistle defence. The game had been played in a reasonable spirit but the niggly challenges soon started to go in with Chaplain putting a hefty challenge in on Morris in the 14th minute. Liam's freekick was blocked as again Saints struggled to find a way through.

Partick's first real chance came in the 17th minute with a break down the left but thankfully Caff came over and made a brilliant tackle in the box. A minute later Hanlon sent a good cross over for Holmes but again the Luvvy defence beat him to the ball. Irvine and Swankie combined to win yet another corner. This went deep and Sheerin went on another mazy run on the wing before setting up Liam. His cross was cleared and when the ball broke to Swankie, his shot was held by Tufty. We were pressing well and mixing things up but the final ball seemed to be lacking with Holmes and Jacko being crowded out and Swankie unwilling to make the sort of runs to the byeline that we were crying out for. Hanlon at least was consistent with his deliveries. Another great cross in the 26th minute fell for Storey who managed to sclaff his clearance into the wind with the ball ending up behind him and going out for a corner. That ended up with the ball breaking to the edge of the box but neither Holmes or Jody were able to make room for the shot.

A minute later Craig won the ball in the middle of the park and released Jacko but his run on goal ended in a shot going wide of the target. The move left Liam down and needing treatment but he was able to continue after Nick Summersgil kissed it better. Next up was another freekick for Saints after Jacko was downed on the touchline. Liam took the kick and the ball curled into the box but was somehow missed by everyone and went just wide of the goal when it seemed it just needed a touch to end up in the net. Tuffy was easily the busier of the goalies dealing with a Sheerin cross and then getting down to gather a Holmes header after another freekick.

Just in case we thought we were getting off lightly Partick passed up a gilt- edged chance eight minutes before the break as a Thistle freekick into the box which was squared to an unmarked Luvvy - luckily he couldn't keep the ball down and skyed the shot over the bar. The closing stages of the half were a lot more even - not helped by the referee deciding to go OTT with some of his decisions. Sheerinho picked up the first booking for a foul on Paton, a soft challenge and about the Wizard's first challenge of the game. Two minutes later and Liam ended up in the book. The final chances of the half saw Swankie try and set up Jacko but the Saints striker was crowded out again and Main having an easy catch from a Thistle freekick.

After the half-time booing of Charnley (what is it about the name Chic in Scottish football that angers us so much?), the second-half got underway in much wetter conditions with Saints playing with the wind behind them - not that it helped us much as Thistle were a much livelier side. Rustybitz had a solid enough game and was called into action early on after a deflection off the ref allowed Thistle to break - Rusty cleared the danger. A minute later and another dangerous cross was headed behind by Irvine with Main nowhere. The Saints right-back was involved in more controversy in the 50th minute with a good run down the right but he was felled as he cut inside - only for the referee to yellow card Gary for diving - a disgusting decision. We were still creating the odd chance though. Swankie forced a corner next but Holmes saw his header held.

Partick immediately broke up the park with a flowing move ending in a decent shot that Rustybitz reacted to, heading the ball out for a corner. That was held by Main but the ghost of the cup was about to come back for another haunting. Main's throw out to Hanlon put him under pressure. Hanlon squared it for a short passback to Main but the pass was weak and for the second game in a row Main was our stranded in no man's land - luckily the build up to the Partick shot was interrupted as Rustybitz was held. Partick kept up the pressure and forced a corner in the 56th minute with ex-Saintee Simon Donnelly showing glimpses of never- fulfilled promise to head the ball straight at Main.

Del made his first change on the hour mark with Swankie withdrawn as Millar came on to the right side of midfield. It didn't exactly have an immediate impact on the play although we began to push forward more as the game opened up - unfortunately a combination of unpunished handballs for the Thistle defenders and some dodgy offsides against Jacko prevented us creating anything of note. Sheerinho at least tried to provide some entertainment with a cheeky backheel out of defence at one point allowing Hanlon (who was rock solid all afternoon) to clear. Hanlon himself gave us something to cheer about in the 67th minute with a run into the Partick box but he was tackled before cutting the ball back with the ball going out for a corner. That was played out for Sheerinho but his shot was held by Tufty.

Sammy came on to replace the knackered Jacko in the 70th minute as the game opened up wider than McCall's erse-cheeks when doing his jobbie. Partick saw a corner end in a header wide of goal before Thistle finally picked up a booking of their own as Paton was carded for a late challenge on Sammy. Liam had a good run to the edge of the box in the 77th minute but he was upended earning the Thistle defender a yellow card. The freekick from Sheerinho was blocked and by the time the ball was played back in the Thistle box was again more crowded than a Rangers sales list with Sheerinho and Sammy both having shots blocked. Partick broke straight up the park and with the Saints defence wide open, the ball was squared. Main came out to narrow the angle but the shot from Donnelly still headed goalwards. But with his lightning reflexes up sprang Gary Irvine with a brilliant diving header to block the shot and head the ball clear.

Two minutes later Partick had another good chance with another dangerous cross into the box but this time Caff was there to make a great tackle. Play was going from end-to-end but Saints looked to have run out of ideas and energy with the likes of Holmes, Jody and Craig looking all but done in.

Mooner came on to replace Liam but to no avail. Sammy had a decent run into the box but slipped. Then Irvine and Millar had some pressure but neither was willing to get to the byeline before playing in a cross, although Millar was showing some decent form. Caff rounded off the bookings with a yellow card for a late challenge, and deep into injury time (God knows where the referee got that from), Roberts, off the bench for the home side, had a chance to clinch the points for them but could do nothing more than hit the side netting.

Overall it wasn't the best game we've seen between the sides in recent years. Saints performance obviously suffered from the hard game during the week but with a bit of luck, especially in the first half, we'd have taken all three points. But as it is a draw was probably a fair result. MoM for me was Gary Irvine for his goalline clearance. But while there were no real standout performances, there weren't any really bad ones - though Holmes, Sheerin and Swankie all struggled. The unbeaten run continues though and the main thing is we're still top. Hopefully a full week's rest for the players and some back from injury will see us through.

Next week is when we need to turn it on....


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LEAGUE TABLE

Team P W D L F A Pts
Saints 20 10 7 3 29 21 37
Dunfermline 20 9 5 6 28 20 32
Partick Thistle 21 9 4 8 22 21 31
Livingston 20 9 3 8 29 26 30
Ross Co 19 9 1 9 25 23 28
Scumdee 20 7 7 6 13 16 28
Morton 21 7 6 8 22 24 27
Clyde 21 6 6 9 25 32 24
Queen of the South 21 6 5 10 23 26 23
Airdrie United 21 4 8 9 17 23 20

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