QoS 3 Saints 3 - League Table Here
Team : Main, Irvine, Byrne, Morris, Ruti, Garters, Millar, Craig, Homer, Samuel, Sheerinho
Subs: McLean, Caff, Swankie, Savo, Peaso
Savo It was with more than a touch of nerves that we headed down to Dumfries today. Sure the Doonhamers are lurking well down the table and we were looking to equal the record unbeaten league run today. But last week exposed Saints frailties and lack of conviction to no little extent with a nervous first half performance against Livi followed by only an average second forty-five and the solitary goal to take the three points. A win it might have been but it did little to help convince the faithful that we weren't riding our luck more and more as the season wore on. Added to that we were heading into a fixture which had ended all square in the two previous encounters this season so there wasn't too much to be overly confident about - especially given our lack of wins at Palmerston. But for all that, the "glass half-full" mentality meant that there was still the feeling that pretty soon we were going to go and give someone a real doing. We also had a side that had been relatively free of injury with the likes of Mad Mental Martin returning to the first team fray last weekend, as well as one of the best defences in the league. So there was some hope.
For the home side, a season that had started with so much promise and Euro dreams had turned into a bit of a damp squib. There's no doubt that Gordon Chisholm is a good manager but while he's built up a decent side, there is still a lack of depth to their squad. A horrendous run of form around the turn of the year didn't help matters, while Stephen Dobbie continued to wolf his way through the monthly catering budget on a daily basis. For all that though they do have some decent players and notched up a more than respectable four-nil gubbing of Jim Traynor's Wet Dreams last weekend which, despite Airdrie being reduced to ten men, was a solid result and bound to give them some confidence going into this one.
Pre-match, Rustybitz had threatened Saints fans with shredded fingernails and sleepless nights going into the run-in. Bet he wished he hadn't been so predictive given that today's draw was one of those encounters that we took the point from thanks only to sheer grit and spirit to come back from two goals down and some nightmarish defending. There were plenty of tensions in the Saints support and again the criticisms of the team were justified as it seemed we were going to end the unbeaten run in spectacular style. But praise to the boys for the way they fought back and simply didn't give up. It's that sort of fight that will win us the title and after today I honestly don't believe we will be stopped.
Del knew there was going to be at least one change in the side this week with Jacko the Jinx back suffering on the sidelines after his ankle injury last weekend - he was joined by Kevin James whose sore foot had curtailed his training. With Savo fit though, and Sammy showing some benefits from his additional sprint training, it meant there were plenty of options up front, with Sammy starting and Peaso making a rare appearance on the bench. And as for the defence suddenly, this week, out of the mists of time and straight out of the book of "ex-Pars players we'd all forgotten about" came Irishman Richie Byrne having sprinted down the A9 from Caley at the start of a month-long loan deal to see if Terry Butcher can find a use for him. He slotted into left-back which meant that the midfield saw a return for Liam Craig with Swankie dropping to the bench. The other big change though was a starting jersey for Garters as he replaced Caff to partner Rustybitz in defence.
For QoS plenty of familiar faces on show from ex-Saintees Dobbie, McCann, McQuilken and Weatherston in their side and the more ugly aspect showing through thanks to the presence of Scally and Clugger MacFarlane in midfield. Dobbie started for them alongside O'Connor up front with ex-Saints loan player Barry Wilson in midfield.
The pitch was at least a bit better than the McDiarmid surface last weekend and Saints started brightly enough although the tactics still seemed to consist of hoofing the ball forward for Homer with the striker knocking the ball down for Sammy the Lightning Boy to sprint onto - it didn't come to much but certainly opened up the home defence. The Doonhamers had their first chance thanks to a slack Rusty pass in the third minute leading to Byrne and Garters taking out O'Connor. The freekick ended in a cross from the left but Main caught it easily enough. Two minutes later our new left-back was involved at the other end sending a teasing cross in that was headed out. The resulting throw-in was played in from the right but Homer's header lacked power and was held by Robinson in goal.
Just to prove our defence was shaky though a minute later Rusty and Millar had a bit of a mix-up allowing Pieman through for a shot but again Main held the ball - it was a bit of an omen of what was to come though. Saints had plenty of good pressure early on and certainly compared with the last couple of games our general play and attack was a lot more direct. Craig had a couple of crosses in the 10th minute but again the keeper did well to hold onto the ball. At the other end O'Connor had a similar header easily held. A couple of minutes later we had our first real chance after Barr decided to try and mount Homer. The freekick was played over to the far side and Homer headed it back across goal finding Rustybitz who powered in a great header from twelve yards out only for Robinson to pull off a fantastic one-handed save. A minute later and another Saints freekick saw Liam float one in for Sammy but again the header failed to beat the keeper.
So with us looking positive and settled it was time for the Gods of Football to do a McCall and Keech on Saints from a great height. Those of a nervous disposition may want to look away now (or at least skip the paragraph). Seventeen minutes gone and a Liam passback to Main was a bit slack - not only that though the Saints keeper decided to employ his cup tie casual mode in going for the ball and didn't spot 95-yr old veteran Barry Wilson sneaking in. Next thing Main knew the ball had been slipped through his legs. Even then he tried to recover since the ball was only moving at about 2 yards an hour towards the goalline. In came a Saints defender (I think it was Irvine) to help him and when it seemed that they were going to clear the danger they somehow managed to only get in one another's way and the ball trundled into the net. Shockeroonie doesn't even begin to describe it - it was an absolute disgrace.
Still there was plenty of time to get back into it and led by Lightning Boy we were soon back in the attack. A decent run from Sammy and cutback was missed by both Millar and Homer and in the 19th minute we came closer. Millar laid the ball back to Irvine who crossed for Sammy. His downward header beat the goalie but rebounded back off the base of his left-hand post and Craig and Homer were unable to tap in the loose ball before it was cleared. The game was pretty much end-to-end and there was plenty of incident to keep the ref busy. He warned Irvine for a challenge on Wilson and then Barr picked up the first booking after another attempt to mount Homer - although the card itself was only shown once he'd decided to mouth something at the official. The freekick ended up in another Sammy header and another save for Robinson.
Samuel was certainly our most effective player going forward with the likes of Millar off form and Sheerinho seeing little of the ball - even so for all that Sammy was setting up more chances than anything else and the lack of support in the box was frustrating at times. Queens weren't out of it by any means though and a Garters and Irvine mix-up in the 26th minute let Burns cross for O'Connor to head over the bar. Just as frustrating as the Queens goalie was the linesman who must have awarded the home side about a dozen offsides in the first half - several of them very close decisions. A long Saints freekick after the half-hour mark saw Sammy beat the trap for once but he was unable to make the room for the shot. Then two minutes later Irvine decided to play Pieman onside and Dobbie broke down the right only for his cross to go across the face of the goal with Main nowhere. A minute later we were back pressing and Sammy set up Liam for a low cross but again there was no support through the middle.
Irvine saw a cross held and then there was another handbags moment as O'Connor went for the forearm smash on Byrne which did get a reaction out of the Saints player - the referee defusing the situation without resorting to a card which was to his credit. We had a half-hearted claim for a penalty eight minutes from time as another Liam cross for Homer ended with the big man on the deck after an apparent shove. Craig set up Millar next but Chris lost out to Robinson followed by Homer losing out on a one on one chase with the keeper. The half ended with Millar setting up Sammy and Sheerinho whose cross for Craig ended up in another header being held - the bad news is that the move ended up with Sammy limping holding his thigh.
Sammy failed to reappear for the second period so Savo came on as an early sub for the second game in a row. We started the half well enough and with two minutes gone a nice chip forward from Rustybitz was well knocked on by Homer but the defence cleared before we could follow-up. A minute later it was time for the defence to cock it up again. A dodgy handball was awarded against Irvine and the freekick cannoned off Gary. Main decided to come along the byeline for the ball only to lose out to a Queens player - thankfully his cutback across the goal was cleared by Irvine.
Liam had a shot go wide but the game took another nasty turn for us six minutes into the half. First of all Burns had a pathetic dive in the box under a Byrne challenge - no card was shown though which was pretty annoying. A minute later though a Queens freekick was hit low from the middle of the park through for the Pieman. Just inside the box he was allowed to turn and beat three Saints players (well I say beat but he wasn't exactly challenged) before a low shot beat Main and went into the bottom corner. It was pathetic defending and with Saints two-nil down there seemed no way back.It nearly got worse a couple of minutes later with Byrne and Irvine caught out on the break allowing the Pieman in for a shot that brought out a good save from Main.
But with all hope apparently lost the Spirit of McDiarmid suddenly began to show through. Fifty-six minutes on the clock and we won a freekick after Millar was caught late on the right. The ball was played into the box where Garters rose up and headed the ball down. He found Rusty just inside the box and the skipper rose to the occasion blasting the ball high into the net. That lifted everyone's spirits and as they players lined up for the restart you could see Ruti trying to fire them up. It began to work as well although Millar was too fired up as he clashed with Harris on the touchline, earning himself a warning, although the Queens defender escaped punishment for his gestures. Craig tried to set up Savo but he was offside and Burns had another ridiculous dive under a Garters tackle with the Saints defender looking more settled today than he did at Morton.
A long ball forward in the 63rd minute saw Savo set up Sheerinho who sent a great low shot across the goal which was deflected just wide. The resulting corner from Craig went straight out. Two minutes later though and a throw-in on the left came from Sheerinho ended up with Homer in the box and his knock down to the edge of the box landed perfectly in front of....oh shit it's Millar. Now Chris Millar had been having a poor game, he's never scored all season and it seemed like the gods were against him. But in one of those moments that can turn a season he struck a fantastic low shot that rocketed in past Robinson and into the bottom of the net. You'd have thought he'd won the title for us with his celebrations. Suddenly it seemed we were unbeatable again.
Pity we bollocksed it all up within a minute of the restart. Queens pressed down the left and a deep cross found an unmarked Paul Burns coming in down the inside right channel. No marking near him and he fired a dipping shot over Main and into the top corner. A cracking goal but again one we should have prevented.
To the credit of both players and fans our spirits didn't dip though and the game turned into a battle as Saints went for broke to try and pick up the pieces again with Rusty and Jody egging them on. With twenty minutes left a long ball from Irvine found Homer who headed the ball down for Morris inside the box but his shot went wide. Even worse was the injury Morris picked up with what appeared to be an ankle knock leading to a few minutes of treatment for him before he was stretchered off. Swankie came off the bench as a replacement to try and redeem himself. Saints were throwing everything forward and Rustybitz set up the next move in the 73rd minute with a long ball forward for Sheerinho who set up Savo in the box just in time for Savo to slip.
A minute later we broke down the left again with the ball in from the left finding Homer this time who with a sudden spurt of agility turned and shot into the keeper's arms. A Saints corner in the 77th minute saw Robinson hold the inswinger. Del made his final change ten minutes from time taking Richie off and putting Peaso on as we went for broke. A minute later Peaso saw a chip in on the keeper held as Queens started to make their changes and waste as much time as possible (and let's hear it for the laziest ballboys in Scotland).
Peaso was fouled in the 83rd minute (with the ball being kicked away by a home player) but the freekick into the box was punched clear. A minute later another freekick ended with Robinson needing treatment after being caught by a foot in a 50-50 challenge. Time was running out but suddenly with four minutes of normal time remaining Liam and Sheerinho linked up well on the left before a ball was sent into the box and headed into the path of Homer who blasted a low shot into the net. There was almost a stunned silence as the sight sank in before the large travelling fans went mental and that unbeaten record looked set to be equalled. Harris from Queen's went off injured after the goal and there was another delay before the restart - to be honest I think most of us would willingly have skipped the injury time.
There was still time for some more controversy as the game went into the extended injury time. Savo saw a run end as he was fouled by the already-booked Barr. Luckily for the defender the referee waived advantage as Swankie went on a run for half the length of the pitch, although a lack of support meant he had to settle for a corner - Robinson managing to hold the cross. Queens had a late chance after Kean set up a cross but Main showed some decent reactions to hold the ball. The final real action of the game saw a deserved booking for home sub McQuilken for a nasty challenge from behind on Irvine.
The final whistle was met by cheers and relief all round and credit to both sides for making it an entertaining game. You could see what it meant to the players and they and the manager came over to acknowledge the travelling support. Performance-wise it wasn't great and while we took a deserved point, I think in the cold light of day, there will be some disappointment that we didn't take all three with slack defending leading to all the home goals. The defence in general looked solid though and Byrne had a decent game at the back. Garters fit in well alongside my MoM Rustybitz who gave an inspirational captain's performance. In midfield Sheerin and Craig had relatively quiet games and while Millar was poor earlier on he sparked into life after scoring his goal - hopefully enough to keep his confidence up. Up front we missed Sammy in the second-half, Savo looking a bit off the pace still and Homer tiring as the game went on. But that's twice we've gone two behind and come back to take a point and that says a lot more about the fight, spirit and sheer hard work that the players are putting in than anything else. And that's what wins medals.
And it's a nice quiet game that gives us a chance to rewrite the record books next week. Another chance to show that as the song says "We are Unbeatable"!!!!!
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