Temple Of Saints - Another Hard Luck Story

Bells League Division One 20/09/2008

Queen of the South 2 Saints 2- League Table Here

Team : Main, Irvine, Anderson, Millar, Ruti, Caff, Jacko, Hardie, Sammy, Craig, Sheerinho
Subs: McLean, Morgan, McKoy, Holmes, Moon

After last week's heroics saw Saints return to some sort of winning ways, today was the second in the series of "difficult" away trips as we headed way out west to the wilds of Dumfries and the Doonhamers, another side that have been showing good form of late. There was at least a bit more faith for the fans making the journey after Del's tactical switcheroonies last weekend saw our "negative" style (c. Mr D "Whinging Git" Adams) win through. It might not be pretty and it might not be sexy but given our form in recent weeks and the time of the season, the priority has to be getting points on the board in as painless a manner as possible. Del and the Doc were by no means out of the woods but a win today would go a long way to helping things and set us up nicely for the visit by our plague-ridden neighbours from along the Tay next weekend.

Our visits to Palmerston haven't exactly borne much in the way of fruit with the red cards tally more likely to be counted ahead of the goals for column and today was always going to be a tough match. There's no doubt that for a so-called diddy team, the Doonhamers have had a good time of it lately with cup final appearances, UEFA cup trips and a resurgence in home support, aided no doubt by the loss of the not-really-missed-much Gr£tna neighbours. They've strengthened a fair bit over the summer and even managed to expand their squad to the extent that Pieman Dobbie wasn't used for the full ninety minutes allowing for some extra Desperate Dan-esque impersonations involving cow pies and eating contests. They were also missing Steve Tosh this week after he was red-carded last weekend and Neil Scally was doubtful - well at least it reduced the chances of broken limbs on our side.

Games between the two sides usually turn into fairly entertaining affairs and today saw little change although Saints will feel hard done by tonight after being denied a last-minute penalty which brought a whole new meaning to the word stonewaller. But the decision was typical of referee Conroy's who was so much a Homer you can expect his match report to take on Grecian epic proportions. The Saints performance overall was a fairly solid one but yet again individual errors cost us and the team still lacked the pace and hunger needed when the odds are against us. On the plus side though there was some fight and, shite decisions aside, the defence looked a lot more solid.

After last weekend, the injury list hadn't received any additions but unfortunately there was reduced room on the naughty step as both Savo and Peaso had to give this one a miss following their red cards on Monday night in the reserve game. Kevin James wasn't going to be rushed back and the same was true for Jody Morris although at least the latter's spell on the sidelines was eased a little by being able to make use of the Chelsea medical facilities. That limited Del's options for freshening things up although it could be argued that this week was a similar scenario to Dingwall with a tough away game looking for one of these "negative" performances that piss off the media and opposition managers. The gaffer opted to go for a starting lineup which saw Jacko on the right wing with Craig on the left and Hardie, Millar and Sheerin through the middle with Sammy on his own up front. There was the welcome sight of Kevin Moon returning to the bench but for some reason Gavin Swankie was left out completely.

The game started badly for Saints and inside the first minute Hardie managed to lose possession allowing the new Diet Dobbie (obviously being starved nowadays) to break through. Ruti kept up with him but hesitated making a potential red card tackle and Dobbie managed a shot from just inside the box which went wide enough of the goal to make the home striker look like more of an arse than ever. Queens won their first freekick just after that after Liam went in late but the defence comfortably cleared the danger. The problem for Saints was that there was no real link up play and the Queens defence were not really tested - mind you they were also getting away with any 50-50 decision including a blatant tug on Sammy when he had a good run early on. Caff seemed to have drawn the Lehmann Brothers luck in his early challenges and Kean and Dobbie were quick to drop to the deck when he was near - not that they caused any real problems with the closest effort a freekick headed over the bar. For Saints Jacko and Hardie put crosses in but again there were no takers. Sammy released Craig in the 6th minute but his cross went behind.

Still at least after the early panicky play it seemed we'd begun to settle a bit. Irvine played another good cross into the box in the 10th minute but Craig's header went wide of target. A minute later and Ruti played a cross over that Hardie saw headed out for a corner. Irvine took the kick with a lovely inswinger that Bell in the home goal did well to punch clear. We saw another corner cleared and then Ando played a deep ball forward behind the defence but somehow Bell got out to gather the ball. The confidence was growing and after another soft Queens freekick was played about the defence a bit, the Saints players went for the casual approach with the sort of fate-tempting square balls across the box that would have a City Stockbroker reaching for the panic button.

Most of the chances were falling to us as well. Sammy was fouled in the 20th minute and Irvine's freekick found Ando at the back post but he headed wide of goal. Irvine had a run and a shot that went wide of target and then in the 25th minute Sammy slipped. In came Mad Mental Martin on the ball rob the Queens defender and run into the box. He played a quick dummy before trying a low shot that was easily held. But it's changed days when the Mad Mental One is trying to play sexy football. The next good move came a minute later. Craig was fouled but we, as usual, didn't get the freekick. Ando did well to win the ball and in a good move with Millar and Irvine the ball was sent to the right wing where the latter crossed it in for Liam to head just wide of goal. Two minutes later and the action was at the other end with a long throw-in by Queens (and Christ did we have trouble dealing with them all afternoon) finding Kean. For a change he decided to stay on his feet and have a shot but Main did well to get down and save.

Back up the park and the first controversy of the afternoon on the half-hour mark came when Liam played a deep cross in from the left and found and unmarked Jacko. He rose up to head the ball cleanly only for Harris to come flying in with a late challenge which left both players flattened and the referee suffering the wrath of the Saints fans. Jacko was on the end of the next attack a couple of minutes later when Millar and Samuel linked up well to set up Liam for another cross but despite the free header Jacko failed to find the target.

Our best chance of the half came in the 36th minute when Irvine played a quick pass inside to Millar. He made a brilliant turn to leave his marker for dead and when the ball fell fired in a cracking dipping volley from the edge of the box that Bell got across to just tip round the post. We kept the pressure up for the rest of the half without creating too much. A couple of corners gave about as much return as a share in HBOS while Hardie tried to play more sexy football with a long- range effort that went wide of target. The half ended with Millar playing another cross in for Jacko to head wide of target. It was almost as if we were crying out for a target man in the box.

Del didn't hang about though and made a quick change at half time with Morgan introduced to replace Pamela. Chisholm made a change for Queens as well bringing on ex-Saintee Davie Weatherston. Queens got off to a strong start though and two minutes after the start, Hardie was robbed of the ball although thankfully the attack broke up courtesy of the linesman's offside flag. The physical nature of the came continued though with Sammy being mounted by Thomson who escaped punishment although four minutes after the restart, Sammy had a good break ended when Sives caught him although at least the Doonhamer was booked for his trouble. The freekick into the box found Hardie but his header down wasn't followed up.

Time for the kick in the teeth that always seems to happen these days and in the 53rd minute it happened. A Saints attack was broken up and Queens broke up the park through Davie Weatherston (you just knew that was going to happen). Millar kept up with him but for some reason held back on the tackle. Weatherston got into the box and over came Rustybitz for the tackle which ended up with the referee pointing to the spot. It wasn't a dirty challenge and while it might have been a penalty, given some of the challenges over the afternoon on Saints players in the box it definitely fell into the harsh category. Dobbie stepped up to take the kick and with Main amazed at the anorexic look on the striker the ball went past him into the net to give them the lead.

The heads went down after that and we lost our shape a bit - not helped when we were still on the end of some nasty challenges including one which left Sheerin flattened. Caff was suckered into another Kean dive but the freekick went over. But with the game getting stuck in a midfield battle, Del made his next change sticking Holmes on for Jacko who had been fairly ineffectual in the second-half. A minute later the tactical wizardry paid off as a ball into the Queens box found the cranium of Holmes. He headed it towards goal only to see the Lurchesque figure of Thomson get in the way and try and head the ball clear. Unfortunately his header instead of going behind the goal went over the keeper, skimmed the underside of the bar and dropped beautifully into the net. Not pretty but we'll take it. The goal seemed to infuriate Harris though as he first of all argued with Thomson and then followed it up by holding the ball off Mad Mental Martin as the Saints midfielder demonstrated his keenness to get on with the game - luckily he got the ball and away from Harris before the referee took action against both players.

Queens hit back as the game livened up again with a quick corner which found Main doing his Invisible Man impression although Irvine was there to clear the danger. That was followed up by a Caff panic clearance behind for a corner. That was played over to the back post with Main missing again but again Irvine was there to clear the danger. We were under the cosh quite a bit and struggling to clear our lines with not enough midfielders getting forward to help the front men. Things weren't helped by Hardie continuing his feud with Harris and a needless late challenge ended with another freekick fired in from the left. Main came out and punched the ball clear, well partly anyway but the follow-up effort went wide. Up the other end of the park we managed a neat move with Holmes setting up Sammy but his long-range effort went wide of the goal. Queens had a claim for a penalty turned down in the 70th minute when a freekick in was allegedly handled by Rustybitz although if anything it was ball to hand. Irvine tried to ease the pressure and won a throw-in. Unfortunately the referee picked that moment to turn all petty and managed to decide Irvine's throw was a foul one and award it back to Queens who were more than happy to resume nicking 5-10 yards every time.

As the game wore on though we were managing to look more and more comfortable soaking up the pressure, and began to move the play up the park. In the 73rd minute a good passing move ended with Craig managing to win a corner after some good link-up play with Sheerin and Morgan. That fell at the back post for Holmes but his shot was deflected over the bar. Craig tried an inswinger with the corner but Bell again held the ball. Sives cleared a Holmes effort next but with fourteen minutes remaining we finally sparkled into life. Morgan laid the ball back for Sheerin who played a great cross into the box where in came the flying missile that is Mad Mental Martin with a bullet of a header that cannoned back off Bell (not sure he was really aware of it) only to land at the feet of Derek Holmes and he made no mistake to give us the lead.

Queens tried to get back and within a minute Ruti had been booked for a soft foul followed just after that by Hardie after Sheerin allegedly fouled a home player. Millar charged down the freekick though. Queens introduced Simmons and Arbuckle to the fray as they kept up the pressure with Harris' long throw-ins causing us plenty of problems. We struggled to get forward with Sammy having one good run but a lack of support and a bit of bad luck meant the ball was lost. Then with eight minutes remaining Queens won another throw on the right after a harsh freekick had been put out by Caff. The throw-in into the box found Main out of position and when he missed the ball a typical Scottish stramash ensued in the six-yard box before Thomson somehow managed to edge the ball over the line. It was a harsh scoreline given how we'd played but even worse was it was the sort of goal we shouldn't be conceding these days.

It set up a cracking last ten minutes of the game though as both teams went for broke. Sammy and Holmes linked to set up Hardie for a shot from the edge of the box but his perfectly struck effort went just wide of target with the keeper stranded. With five minutes remaining we finally managed to persuade the referee to give us a decision as Thomson tried to mount Holmes. Hardie's freekick came off the wall before we sent the ball back into the box courtesy of Sheerin and Craig but Holmes' header was held. Morgan had an effort into the box held by the keeper before the final change saw Crispy come on for Hardie. The Saints sub put in several good tackles as we began to break up the Queens attacks in the midfield. The game finished with chances for us as well. Barr fouled Holmes but Irvine's freekick was held before the final controversy as Millar fed the ball to Craig whose shot was blatantly handled by Thomson just inside the box. No penalty and then the ball broke to Holmes he set up Sammy who shot over. It was still enough for the chants of "Cheat" at the match officials as they left the park.

It wasn't the best performance Saints will put on but a few mistakes aside, the draw was the least we deserved on what will be one of the toughest away trips of the season. The defence looks better and Sammy up front is much improved as his match sharpness returns. MoM for me was probably Gary Irvine who had a good solid game at right back and linked well with the front men as well as contributing some nice corners. If there was a criticism its that we still lack any real pace throughout the team and that means that we're forced to play more a holding game rather than a running one which means the strikers can be left without support up front. Things weren't helped by a spoiling referee who was one of the most inconsistent I've ever seen in the SFL.

Still on the plus side it means he won't be there to help the Scum against us in the big one next weekend.


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LEAGUE TABLE

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

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