Saints 0 Ross County 0 - League Table Here
Team : Main, Irvine, Craig, Mooner, Rutkiewicz, Caff, Millar, Sammy, Holmes, Barrett, Sheerin
Subs: McLean, Swankie, Savo, Byrne, Hardie
After the snorefest of last weekend's derby took us another point closer to the title, today was a chance to notch up a win over a team we've had a decent record against this season. The burden, though the team would deny it, of trying to match and beat the unbeaten league record eased a bit with the twentieth game last weekend and while we didn't want to lose this one, it was possibly more important that we won it - hopefully leading to a bit more adventure in Saints play. Today's encounter also marked the start of a three-game run against some of the lower teams (well they're all lower than us but you know what I mean), before the big game with the Pars a week on Tuesday. This was a chance to stretch the lead especially with the Pars involvement in the cup meaning their game against Scumdee today has been put back to the end of the month.
For the men from Dingwall, they'd struggled to find any real form this year but notched up a good win in Fife on their last trip down the A9. Games between the sides had been close this season with a couple of draws in Dingwall (and that cup defeat) along with a win in Perth. Derek Adams had been strengthening his side by raiding nursing homes all across the Highlands to get the likes of Craig Brewster on board to take a strip off a younger player. Their league position points to mid-table security although with only seventeen points separating first from tenth going into today's game they still need all the points they can get. But despite the quality of the opposition, this was still a game that Saints had a reasonable amount of confidence as kick-off approached. The pitch had had another week to recover from the after effects of the rugger buggers and we'd come through the battle with the coags without the squad needing even an extra tetanus jab.
As it was, Saints ended up with another poor performance, more dull long-ball play and some half-hearted individual performances that ended in another boring goalless encounter. Yet another two points dropped and with barely a shot on target, it seems that all the clean sheets in the world are going to count for sod all if the guys at the other end of the park are totally unable to stick the ball in the net. There is a total lack of responsibility in the team - we're looking for players to stand up and be counted and take the game to the opposition but instead we seem to have too many guys who are unwilling or unable to do any more than the minimal amount of grafting required - that doesn't win games. And more importantly it doesn't win titles - and more and more that seems to sum up Saints attitude.
With the injury worries easing, Del had Sammy back in the squad after his hamstring tear while some Martin Hardie had been given Mary Poppins-style sugar injections (there's a mental image!!) to fix his pelvis. A good win for the reserves at Arbroath had also seen new boy Graham Barrett stake a claim for a move up from the bench to the starting eleven with the player himself expressing a desire to be played as an out and out striker. Elsewhere the manager had a dilemma over his midfield with Swankie's less than impressive performances in recent week's possibly seeing him move down the pecking order although on the plus side Kevin Moon had looked solid replacing Jody in the centre of midfield last week. We'd even been able to afford to loan out Kevin James for a month.
Del ended up going with a side that showed three changes from last week. Richie Byrne dropped to the bench with Craig coming back to left-back. Also in the dugout was Gavin Swankie allowing Sheerinho and Sammy to start in the middle of the park while we had the beautifully named team of Barrett Holmes up front. Whinging moaner Derek Adams had Dyron "Bombscare" Daal back from injury to strike fear into opposition (and his own) players while Alex Keddie was back from suspension. They were on the bench as the Brewster partnered Craig up front.
From kick-off Saints looked a bit livelier on a playing surface that looked like it hadn't seen a roller since we'd last lost a game. Millar had a couple of early crosses but ended up with nothing more than a Sheerin shot going wide of target. The only real chance of the opening stages came in the sixth minute for Saints when another ball in from the right was knocked down by Derek Holmes for Sammy but his header was easily held by Soutar. The game itself seemed to lack urgency with Saint all too casual on the ball. And we were nearly punished for that in the tenth minute when Caff and Ruti screwed up allowing Brewster to nick in and take the ball. He squared it but the final shot with only Main to beat took a nice bounce off a divot to go wide. While that's the sort of luck that we need to keep the record going, the problem is that all too often we're relying on it now to keep us going.
The Adams coaching influence showed its studs a couple of minutes later with Golabek's late challenge leaving Chris flattened and earning a warning from the referee (don't worry his ineptitude at applying the rules was still to show). A minute later we managed another rare shot after Sammy won a corner. The inswinger was headed out for Sheerinho but his effort went miles wide - it was going to be that sort of an afternoon. Next up was another long kick-out from Main which found Barrett breaking down the right. He managed to cut in but his angled shot went across the goal and wide. Saints seemed to be making the most of the chances and possession (not that it was really mounting to much). With twenty minutes gone Sammy managed to run about half the pitch before he was crowded out in the box and his shot went into the side netting - although the lack of support from his teammates was a concern.
Barrett forced a save from Soutar before the referee managed to anger the home fans with some strange decisions as persistent fouls on Holmes and Sammy went unpunished while County seemed to earn a freekick for every soft dive. Mind you, even when we won a freekick it didn't amount to much, one in the 25th minute ending up with a Caff cross back across goal that found no blue shirts willing to throw themselves at the ball. Higgins was the next player that the referee warned after he went in late on Rustybitz although I reckoned it should have been a booking. Saints meanwhile continued to demonstrate a lack of urgency in their play. The midfield didn't help matters as they sat back far too deeply. Sheerin and Mooner were being crowded off the ball too easily and Homer, despite winning balls in the air, showed a remarkable consistency in being unable to find a teammate. We won a couple of corners but again failed to take advantage of the situation while when we did get the ball into the box, we were unable to make room for a shot.
As the half drew to a close the referee finally lost patience and Higgins picked up a yellow card for using an elbow on Liam. Craig managed a shot for County that Main easily saved five minutes from the break while at the other end Irvine's cross from the right was headed back by Homer and found Mooner but his volley was just over the bar. But that was about as good as it got.
So after watching the kids show how to put the ball in the net at half-time, there was some hope that Del might have put a rocket up some arses during the break. Some hope - it took about thirty seconds before the first hopeful punt up the park to Homer was knocked out. But there was a miracle four minutes into the half when Barrett and Millar linked up well on the right. His ball over for Sammy saw a shot blocked and when the ball came back to Millar whose shot held by Soutar - but at least it was on fecking target!!!! That seemed to fire Saints up and for a few moments we glimpsed signs of what Saints are capable of. Millar had a great run in the 53rd minute into a box but his shot was blocked and Irvine's follow-up cross went straight out. Mooner set up Barrett but his low shot went wide when it seemed he could take the ball in further.
Saints aren't a bad team and you get the feeling that once the first goal is scored the confidence will return but right now there is a real obstacle to overcome psychologically as we seem to be struggling with the pressure of expecting to score first. On the park we were making some chances with Sheerin setting up Barrett for a one-two with Millar whose shot was blocked and then Sammy and Millar linking again to cross for Homer. But the combination of Homer, Barrett and Sheerin in the box were unable to really put Soutar and the County defence under any real pressure and the referee ended up giving the keeper the benefit of the doubt.
Daal replaced Higgins for the Dingwall side after an hour but even with that advantage we couldn't do much. He did win a corner two minutes later but Saints cleared it easily ending up with Mooner breaking up the park on his own as his teammates struggled to get moving. Unfortunately the move broke down as ex-Saint Paul Lawson scythed Mooner down earning Lawson a yellow card. That was soon followed by Steven Craig for the opposition as he went in the book for a late foul on Sammy near the goal line - Liam's freekick was totally wasted. Saints were getting worse as the game wore on and Del made a double switch with twenty-five minutes to go. Barrett and Millar (the latter had improved so was a bit of a surprise) went off as Savo and Swankie came on. Sammy dropped back to the right side of midfield as Savo pushed forward.
It made hee-haw difference to the game as Saints more and more struggled to put a couple of passes together - in fact it was noticable that the more constructive moves came when we kept the ball on the deck but unfortunately had happened far too rarely. The rain and the pitch weren't helping and the East Stand was more and more subdued but Saints weren't helping their case with too many stray balls and too many players unwilling to commit to a challenge or try and run a couple of yards with the ball. We had a half-hearted claim for a penalty with eighteen minutes remaining (yup the game was that action-packed) after Rustybitz won us a corner. Liam sent a low inswinger over which was headed on and seemingly handled by a County defender but the referee and linesman both decided against giving us the decision. Homer played the ball out to Swankie a minute later and his ball in found an unmarked Sammy at the back post but he headed the ball down so it was cleared when it seemed a lot simpler to try and loop the header past the keeper. Homer had a header held next while County were limited to a couple of counters that didn't come close to threatening Saints goal.
Hardie came on to replace Mooner for the last ten minutes and two minutes later there was finally some action. Pity it happened in the dugout. An Irvine cross had seen Homer pulled to the ground. No penalty and when the ball was cleared out towards the dugouts Whiney Adams came out and was halfway across the pitch throwing a tantrum before the referee even saw him. So he got told to piss off to the stand only to throw another tantrum and end up in the tunnel before a member of Tayside's finest moved him to the stand. He then decided to rattle the gate like a wee kid not getting out to play and one of the stewards then made him clear the gangway - pity he didn't kick him out the ground for standing up though. Still as a timewasting tactic is seemed to work for County.
The closing stages saw us throw everything at the away goal. Irvine had a good run before being upended (no freekick though) while in defence Main and Rusty managed another cockup as they went to clear a ball with the skipper finally showing the alertness to clear the danger ahead of Daal - shades of the Palmerston nightmare there. Sammy had a run into the box but wasted his shot before in injury time constant pressure from us saw Swankie play a freekick in that was cleared and despite all the chasing from Savo, Sheerin, Hardie and Sammy we couldn't make room for a shot.
Boos at half-time and the sight of Rustybitz heading over seemingly intent on arguing a point with one of the Saints fans - not like him at all but perhaps a good example of how the pressure is maybe starting to get to the players. We're drawing far too many games and more and more you get the feeling that this might cost us dear in the run-in. MoM is hard to pick out again but I'll go with Sammy who was one of the few to put in a decent shift. But we need to get the scoring boots on and perhaps look at resting one or two players who aren't doing the business for us.
The pressure is now on.....
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