Temple Of Saints - So Bloody Close

Homecoming Scottish Cup 4th Round 13/01/2009

Saints 0 The Forces of Darkness 2

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

It was a belated start to the new year for Saints as following the postponement of the trip to Dingwall last weekend, we finally got our 2009 fixtures underway with a visit from Walter's Wimps. Like an embarrassing first-foot visit from the black sheep of the family, the blue half of the Bigot Brothers turned up to soil the Ormond and North Stands as in front of Dougie Donnelly et al as Saints went out to try and get some justice for the penalty shootout defeat at Hampden last April. Bitter? Us? Never! The week's break should have allowed us to recharge our batteries and for the faithful to detox properly ahead of some hopeful champagne celebrations tonight. Of course the downside was that we hadn't played in over two weeks and for new signing Garters, it also meant his competitive debut had been put on ice. Still in that ancient Scottish Cup tradition, these sort of games fall into the category marked one-off and anything can usually happen. Saints had nothing to lose and with the backing of the home fans were looking to get the sort of win that would act as an impetus when we returned to the bread and butter of the league campaign - not to mention the joy of a trip to experience the possibility of some Forfar bridies in the next round.

For Wally - well, as usual with the Old Firm, it seems that one or other (or on those really enjoyable moments, both) are only one game away from a major crisis. There was never going to be any danger of the big boys being rested for this one (well those of them that Murray wasn't trying to punt in the Ibrox January Sale) - it's not as if they had any European games to worry about. And we were fully expecting the usual plethora of sneaky snide SPL-ish tricks that seem to dominate all the so-called elite games. The Bigots turned up with their usual repertoire of quaint folk tunes. Their squad hadn't been depleted that much by the transfer window with Burke the only one deemed a medically sound enough non-greedy git to get his exit visa stamped while the rest of the media coverage depended on whether or not you believed the TFOD PR system or some football agents (a difficult choice at the best of times) as to how much the Govan side were out to become the SPL answer to Woolies with their clearout.

For those of us that had videoed the game, its safe to say that the performance turned into the sort that will have you in tears - yet again we ran our arses off and worked hard against a bunch of cheats only to be undone by one act of utter stupidity although Main might possibly be forgiven given that he'd had bugger all to do for the first half other than watch Boyd trip over his own wallet. Plenty of Saints players put in excellent performances tonight and if it hadn't been for some decent antics from a Saintees reject in the TFOD goal, we might have managed to pull off the sort of shock to make Chic Young really cry. Still at least we won the song battle with "Top of the League and you're no", "Broxi Bear He's Up for Sale" and other such ditties easily drowning out the bigoted pish from either end of the ground. No doubt we'll get the plaudits albeit grudgingly in the papers but at least we know we can give as good as we get and a wee bit of match sharpness and we'll have nothing to worry from the bargain basement of the SPL. And at least we can console ourselves that a cup exit means the old cliché about concentrating on the league can act as a fall back - we've still got something to play for this season.

With two weeks to recover from injuries, there had been some vague hope that the squad would be close to full strength. But Mad Mental Martin was suffering from a hamstring tear and was already ruled out. A pity really, especially as he'd done nothing more than sit on his arse for the last week "resting" (and no doubt planning which of Wally's Wonderkids he'd target for the boot up the keecher). Peaso also missed out with Savo's thigh strain making him a major doubt in the pre-match build-up, while Liam had managed to strain his groin and was also a potential absentee. Sammy and Mooner had recovered while Sherlock had recovered from an ankle twist in training last week (no doubt practicing his Cruyff turns with which to dazzle Bambi Broadfoot). A cup exit for the Hibees meant that Paul Hanlon's loan had been extended to the cup tie and he took over at left-back. Elsewhere in defence and Garters was on the bench with Caff and Ruti at the middle with the midfield seeing Swankie on the left and Craig partnering Jody through the middle and Chris on the right. Jacko and Sherlock made up the front pairing. Savo had to settle for a place on the bench alongside Sammy and the Wizard. For the Dark Ones, it was a strong side with all their stars in the shop window for the telly cameras, with Bambi Broadfoot and Miss Miller their to make up the comic value.

With the bigots flashing their anti-Murray banners (how fickle some folk are), Saints got the game underway attacking the Ormond end. Unfortunately it looked like we were going to be punished early as a slack pass led to a second minute corner for the Evil Empire. Caff did his job to clear the ball and Millar helped it on his way. He passed the ball forward for Sherlock who laid it off for Swankie on the left. A nice wee run from our favourite ex- Coag and he was clobbered on the corner of the Rangers box. While we are no doubt grateful the referee deigned to give us the freekick, the lack of card was a bit galling especially since Swankie was almost right through on goal. Still he picked himself up to take the freekick sending a curling effort round the wall and forcing Shagger McGregor into a diving save to tip the ball out for a corner. Things were almost looking up especially when the corner came in and we saw a header and a Craig shot both well blocked.

Of course with Saints almost threatening, the referee had to even things up so a simple nudge from Millar a couple of minutes later saw Mendes put on the dying swan act the Bolshoi Ballet would have been proud of and earned the Saints midfielder the first booking of the game especially annoying given the way the Swankie foul went unpunished. The freekick into the box saw Boyd make the first of several trips over his wallet and Main easily gathered. Swankie had another cross held before The Forces had their first real chance of the game with Mendes letting his hippy haircut get out of his way long enough to try a long-range attempt which almost came close to stinging Main's hands without causing the Saints keeper any real grief. They were making the most of the counter-attacking game they'd seemed to have adopted aided and abetted by an East Stand linesman who obviously hailed from Dudley or some other Midlands slum giving the way he was trying to make Boyd look good despite him being constantly offside. Still the flag continued to stay down but luckily Saints always had his inept shooting to fall back on - maybe Burley was right after all.

We were showing plenty of fight though and Jacko was causing Weir problems on the far side and his persistence paid off in the ninth minute as he forced a corner. That went deep for Hanlon who had a nice wee run into the box before seeing a decent cross held. Hanlon looked impressive throughout and showed plenty of confidence when up against so-called superstar opposition. Saints were holding their own in midfield as well with Jody showing his experience in holding the play up and Liam getting stuck in at every opportunity with no sign that he was carrying an injury. Jacko had our next attempt on goal in the 15th minute after some good play from Hanlon on the left led to a neat ball through for him but his effort from just inside the box was sclaffed wide.

At the other end the Bargain Boyd managed to fool the officials with some more wacky offside antics before shooting well over. But we came even closer in the 18th minute. More good play from Hanlon saw him find Jacko again and he squared for Liam on the edge of the box who fired in a sweet volley that McGregor managed to just tip over the bar. The corner ended with a powerful Rustybitz header going wide. More and more the away fans were learning to shut their gobs as the East Stand began to believe. Of course it meant we were getting to Wally's mob and a minute after his attempt on goal Liam was the victim of a nasty wee ned assault from behind as Ferguson took him out. Handbags at dawn ensued but yet again the referee kept the cards in his pocket. Bargain Boyd decided to foul Rustybitz next in the 22nd minute. Main took the freekick and played it long for Holmes who had a simple header down into the path of Liam who tried another volley from the edge of the box, the ball going inches wide this time.

The Evil Empire were trying to make some mark in the game (and not just stud ones) and somehow we took pity on them allowing Bambi Broadfoot to win a corner in the 27th minute. Jacko didn't hang about though easily clearing the ball. Saints meanwhile continued to press lacking only the little bit of luck that wins these games. Swankie, Hanlon and Jacko all had decent crosses come to nothing while the only response from the Daily Record pinups was a nasty challenge from Mendes on Jody. What? You were expecting a card or something? The next chance for Saints came in the 34th minute with Caff playing a great ball out of defence for Holmes to head on for Jacko. The striker hit a cracking shot but McGregor managed to spread his legs wide enough to block it (wonder how he learnt that trick eh?). Homer tried for the Savo-esque overhead kick on the rebound but the keeper had recovered to easily hold his attempt. Still at least we were trying to hit the target. Boyd had another couple of dives but for once the referee correctly awarded them a foul in the 37th minute as Rusty mistimed a challenge on Naismith earning himself a booking as well. The freekick into the box found Weir almost unmarked but he headed wide of goal.

It seemed we were holding our own and the interval loomed with the game still goalless. The home support were giving their all in their backing of the team and the spirits were high. So time for the usual Scottish Cup kick in the teeth. A long ball towards Main's goal was going well wide and being the alert keeper he is Main decided to go with it to try and help it out. Out of his box on the near touchline he misjudged things completely and decided to try and clear it up the park but only ended in finding Davis. He played a short ball to the Bargain Basement Offer of the Week who tried a low cutback across goal. Main had just got back to cover but with a wicked twist of the knife the fates weren't finished and the ball cannoned off Caff and into the net. The word sickening doesn't even begin to describe it. Of course there will be plenty of debate and post-mortem but why on earth Main didn't just punt it out the park will be one of life's great mysteries (along with who the fuck would consider paying £2.5m for a wee ned like Ferguson).

There was a real cloud of gloom over the home fans at the interval. Del resisted temptation in making any changes for the start of the second-half. Within a minute of the restart though we were back on the attack and a Papist handball gave us a freekick. Liam blasted it but the wall did its job and suddenly we were on the back foot with TFOD breaking out like a nasty Govan VD outbreak. Davis broke down the right but thankfully decided to be a typical OF mercenary and shoot himself sending the ball wide of goal. Liam had obviously been picked out for special treatment and five minutes later it was Miss Miller who went in on him (freekicks 1 cards 0). We seemed to be tiring more quickly though this half and were struggling to get the midfield linking at all. Millar (who had been a shadow since his earlier booking) and Irvine linked to play in some crosses but too often Weir and Buggerer were there to beat Sherlock to the ball.

We did have one chance in the 56th minute as we tried the slow build up. Caff played the ball out wide for Irvine and this time he cut inside Papic but his shot was well held by McGregor although he almost dived over the line. TFOD hit back with a good break but their final shot went across Main's goal and out for a corner.

With the hour mark looming Del made his first switch introducing Sammy for Jacko the latter having had a decent game but still lacking on the goals front. Two minutes later the home fans were up in anger once more as a blatant elbow on Ruti from Boyd again saw referee MacDonald keep the cards in his pocket. One law for the OF eh? Mind you even when we got a freekick as when Holmes was fouled for the umpteenth time we failed to capitalise - Swankie hitting the ball off the wall on this occasion. Sammy had a great turn in the 65th minute though and set up a beautiful cross finding Sherlock at the back post but somehow his header was tipped over the bar. Liam took the corner and Millar headed it on finding Ruti but he couldn't direct his header sending it over the bar instead.

Then two minutes later there was more controversy as a forward Saints ball found Sherlock and he flicked it on for Sammy to rush onto only for Samuel to be upended by Buggereher. At least this time the Evil One picked up a booking. Liam did a Swankie with the freekick though as it smashed off the wall (mind you faced with 5 TFOD players in front of you, it's perhaps possible to understand the temptation in Liam's way). A couple of substitutions followed with Naismith leaving the pitch to be replaced by that well-known smoother of turf, Nacho Novo (so good he's apparently not even part of the Govan Fire Sale). For Saints Hanlon went off to be replaced by Sheerinho as Craig dropped back to defence although Liam did seem to be tiring quite a bit.

With 18 minutes remaining there was at least some justice on the park as Mendes finally picked up a booking after fouling then aiming a kick at Jody, the Saints midfielder doing well to keep his temper. We were continuing to press and chase the equaliser but the legs were starting to tire and we lacked that wee bit of luck or creativity with the final ball. And so it was with just over ten minutes remaining that the kick in the teeth happened once more. A good run out of midfield from Davis down the wing left Liam for dead (Craig looking like his injury might have been getting the better of him). Davis broke into the box and with Main trying to narrow the angle squared for that wee shite Novo who had an easy finish to make it two-nil to them.

Suddenly the atmosphere in the ground changed. The OF fans woke up and started their 17th century pish and unfortunately one or two idiots in the Saints support decided to have a go leading to plenty of polis activity at one end of the ground - something the club might suffer from in the cold light of day. On the park and the second goal knocked the proverbial stuffing out of Saints. TFOD looked like extending their lead but were too inept in front of goal. Swankie was replaced by Savo as Del looked for a talisman for the last five minutes but the only real chance in the closing stages fell for Millar, getting on the end of a cross from the left. But despite having room in the box, the Saints player hesitated and went for a cutback instead of trying for a shot himself - perhaps the sign of a lack of confidence.

By the time the final whistle came the stands behind the goals had emptied a fair bit but the Saints support stayed to applaud the team. We lacked that wee bit of luck you need in these sort of games but it was a good performance, especially in the first half against Wally's best. Other than that, there's not much to take from the game. Main had little to do but in my mind was to blame for the first goal. The rest of the defence were solid enough with Hanlon looking excellent again. In midfield the two contenders for MoM were Morris and Liam but the latter just edges it for me. Millar struggled after his early booking and needs to regain his form while Swankie again only showed in patches what he is capable of. Holmes played his usual up front and Jacko did better than I expected but lacks sharpness. No doubt over the next 24 hours or so this result will hurt more than a bit. Thankfully we have a relatively big game ahead of us at the weekend and that's the perfect opportunity to get tonight out of our system. After all we've still got a league title to go for and that's the big one.

Still going to miss that bridie though.....

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