Temple Of Saints - Still On Top

Bells League Division One 04/04/2009

Saints 1 Partick 1 - League Table Here

Team : Main, Irvine, Craig, Mooner, Rutkiewicz, Caff, Sammy, Hardie, Holmes, Savo, Sheerin
Subs: McLean, Garters, Ando, Swankie, Barrett

With no less a legend than Rod the God trying to boost the Saints players this week there was no doubt that this game was the biggest of the season so far. Saints had managed to get some breathing space at the top of the table and with Scumdee and the Pars doing a Mutual Self-Destruction job on one another midweek, it could be argued that Partick are our only real challengers as games and chances start to run out for the other teams in the league. Not that there was any point in taking things for granted but with the echoes of that Airdrie game from 1990 doing the rounds this week it was easy to get a feeling of deja-vu from the whole situation - mind you at least Jimmy Bone's toilet habits weren't as bad as Keecher McCall.

Partick had done well to keep themselves in contention with a squad which their manager continually spouts off about being down to the bare bones. They came here with a decent record in recent weeks and were only three points behind us albeit with a game extra. The upshot of all that though was that the luvvies couldn't afford to lose today and really needed the win to try and close the gap - something they hadn't managed at McDiarmid in 17 years. A defeat for them and Saints would be well clear, although it didn't stop pre-match comments from Maryhill about how a draw might do. Still it meant that they'd have to come out and fight and perhaps that was just what Del wanted with the chance for a nice wide open game to entertain the big crowd and God knows, even get some plaudits from the reporters in the stand.

The game wasn't the best we'll see all season and in the end there will be more of an air of disappointment than anything after Saints threw two points away after cruising almost to the finish. Neither side was anything special but arguably Tufty was the busier of the keepers and certainly right up until Partick got the equaliser in the closing stages, we looked comfortable enough without coming close to the quality we saw against Airdrie last week. It means the pressure continues for another week as Saints now really have to get something from the coming games against the Pars if we don't want to see the nerves get any more frayed. Chris Millar had to miss out this one through suspension while Peaso had also joined him in the stand after picking up one of those contagious hamstring injuries in midweek. It was still too early for Jody to return but there were some changes to the squad.

Richie Byrne's loan had finished and he'd headed back north to try and win the affections of Terry Butcher while Steven Kinniburgh had joined and made the squad after undergoing an intensive de-Wegification process following his arrival from the Death Star (no doubt including the specific lectures on "When to go drinking in hotel bars after a game" and "Gestures that you shouldn't make to TV cameras"). Mad Mental Martin was ready to line up for this one in midfield and Kevin James had even returned from Ayr to give us a leadership talk in the build-up. Saints starting eleven saw Kinniburgh left out completely as Liam returned to the left-back berth. Mad Mental Martin partnered Sheerinho in the centre of midfield while Sammy and Mooner were on the flanks while Homer was recalled to the starting lineup to partner Savo. With Peaso out, Ando was moved up to the bench. For Fissel, there was no Liam Buchanan but apart from that they were at strength.

There wasn't much of an atmosphere before kick-off with the North Stand remaining fairly empty until just before kick-off (or curtain up as I believe the luvvies refer to it). The pitch certainly looked greener but the rain before kick-off meant it was still a slippery surface. And as usual, Saints we by far the more nervy side in the opening stages as we looked off the pace and struggled to show any composure on the ball. Partick for their part were putting pressure on us as early as the first minute with Caff having to get over to cover for Liam for a corner. That came over and with Main nowhere and showing about as much command of his area as George Burley does in the dressing- room Irvine was forced to put the ball behind for another corner.

Of course the visitors were only too keen to demonstrate their latest acting skills and Harkins got in on the act with a spectacular dive in the fourth minute after collapsing in the presence of Rustybitz - the resulting freekick went straight out the park though. We didn't create much for our own part with a Liam cross held by Tufty and a couple of runs caught by the Thistle offside trap. But we were losing the ball too easily and not really creating much. The defence were more than happy to just hoof the ball forward but that meant the midfield and front men were seeing little of the ball. Having said that, we began to get more into the game and arguably should have opened the scoring in the 12th minute. Sammy had made a good run down the left wing before being fouled. Liam's freekick went deep and found and unmarked Caff at the back post. Unfortunately Caff had his defender brain switched on and ended up hesitating in front of an open goal. That allowed three defenders over to cover but Caff at least managed to get in a decent shot that went just wide of the goal.

As the game wore on we were creating more and more. Sheerinho and the impressive Mooner tried to set up Sammy in the 15th minute but his first touch was poor. Four minutes later it was the Wizard that went on a good run only to see it ended with a Thistle handball (and the first yellow card of the game). Hardie took the freekick and fired in a decent shot but Tufty was comfortably behind the ball. At the other end Partick had a couple of corners and fired in some dangerous crosses but the defence looked solid enough even if they were a bit nervous in clearing the ball.

With 25 minutes gone we carved out another good chance as we broke from defence with the wacky idea of playing the ball on the deck. Sammy went on a brilliant run up the left touchline skinning a couple of players before cutting the ball in for Mooner who in turn squared for Hardie and he let rip with a cracking shot from the edge of the box that went just wide of the keeper's right-hand post. To their credit it seemed that the Saints players had let the hype get to them - there was certainly a lot more arguing amongst the boys during the first-half. Saints kept creating chances without really dominating the game. Sheerinho set up Liam for a shot that was held. But in general we lacked pace and movement off the ball and too often we were being easily crowded off the ball.

Sammy had a decent shot five minutes from the break after he cut inside from the left with a decent shot that was blocked. Then Liam put in a cross that Homer headed out. Partick had a break up the park but an excellent tackle from Irvine ended that and he countered with a good run up the park setting up Savo who forced a corner. The inswinger beat the defence and keeper and cannoned off Sammy's head at the back post and over the bar. The last action of the half saw another Saints freekick played in from the right but again it went straight at the keeper as Liam's skills deserted him again.

The second-half started brighter for Saints and within a minute of the restart a decent cross in from the right was headed on by Homer for Sammy coming in at the back post but his first touch deserted him and the ball was cleared. Partick had a header in the box but that was ruled out after a foul on Sammy. They made their first change three minutes into the half with Chaplain coming off the bench. Saints were soon struggling to create much in the box. Liam fired a low freekick across the goal that was easily cleared while for Thistle Doolan tried his luck with a speculative lob towards Main's goal but it went wide.

The next good chance for Saints came in the 54th minute after Hardie had forced a corner. Sheerinho took this one and floated a beautiful ball over for Rustybitz who rose up unchallenged only to end up heading the ball wide. Partick took the play up the park and as we struggled to get the ball cleared, Harkins managed to turn on the ball but thankfully shot over. Sammy had moved over to the right wing and Sheerinho to the left as Mooner went into the middle. Savo tried to set up Hardie for a shot from the edge of the box but he sclaffed the ball wide and then on the hour mark Mooner released Savo who went down in the box but referee Muir (who had a pretty pish game) waived play on.

Sheerinho and Mooner linked up to set up Homer but again he was crowded out. Then just to give us some more bitten fingernails we had the sight of a miskick from Rusty when dealing with a loose ball. That ended up with Irvine passing back to Main who kicked the ball out the park allowing Thistle to threaten from a throw- in that thankfully Caff was there to close down in the 6yd box. The deadlock was finally broken in the 64th minute. Hardie won a corner. Liam took it and played the ball into the box. The ball was cleared out but Liam was there and played it back in for Homer who headed it on and there was Savo in behind the defence and he had the simple tasks of slipping the ball round Tufty and into the net. That woke the East Stand up and the place went mental - full credit to Savo for the finish especially since he'd been struggling for pace in the game after picking up a knee knock in the first half. Anyway it was more than enough to shut up the luvvies.

With Partick having to press forward, the game livened up a fair bit. Homer almost created a chance for himself in the 68th minute after getting on the end of a Sheerinho hoof and only a lack of pace and, erm, ability, prevented him getting up there and creating a shot. Savo and Sammy linked up a couple of minutes later but after setting up Homer, they were unable to get a return pass as Homer managed to lose the ball. The last twenty minutes saw Partick come back into the game more and more as our play got scrappy.

Twaddle had a blast from 25 yards out that went wide while for Saints Savo set up Sheerinho for an angled volley that did the same. Del's first change came in the 74th minute with Sammy the surprise removal and Ando coming on allowing Gary Irvine to move forward to the right wing. Liam had a cross held. Then in the 78th minute a well-worked freekick from the right saw Sheerinho play the ball deep finding Caff unmarked at the back post. He headed the ball back finding Savo but his header was held.

As the game entered the last ten minutes it was the visitors that had more of the play.Barrett and Swankie came on for Hardie and Savo in 83 minutes but two minutes after that Harkins on a seemingly nothing run on the left side was allowed far too much room and ended up getting into the box. A low angled shot went through our defence and past Main and although the Partick player picked up a booking for the celebration, it was little comfort to Saints as suddenly the scores were level and we looked shaky. Partick closed off the game with a couple of corners and it was all hands to the pumps as we tried to block the balls and shots in the crowded Saints area with Rusty picking up a couple of bad knocks in the process. It seemed that the final few minutes had us all over the place and most of the shape and discipline had gone from the Saints ranks. Main managed to make a couple of decent saves and we were lucky with a couple of offside decisions but there was real relief when the final whistle went.

A draw was probably a fair result with both goals no doubt disappointing to the managers that lost them given the poor defending on both sides. For Saints though, we should have done a lot better given we'd had two weeks off. We looked to have lost some of the sharpness and perhaps the hype was getting a bit too much. For now its time to focus on the next game and start getting the daft mistakes out of our play - do that and I've no doubt we'll win the title. In terms of a man of the match, there were no real standouts today. Irvine and Mooner both played well and Sheerinho showed us what class was. The front men were poor and in defence we struggled at times but for me Caff had a cracking game and rarely put a foot wrong.

Still one more game down and we're still well clear.....

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Team P W D L F A Pts
Saints 30 13 13 4 42 29 52
Partick Thistle 31 14 7 10 36 31 49
Livingston 31 13 6 12 52 50 45
Morton 31 11 11 9 36 32 44
Scumdee 31 11 11 9 28 28 44
Ross Co 31 12 6 13 37 40 42
Dunfermline 30 11 7 12 42 38 40
Queen of the South 31 9 10 12 43 42 37
Airdrie United 31 7 12 12 26 36 33
Clyde 31 8 7 16 34 50 31

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