Stenhousemuir 1 Saints 5
Team : McLean, Irvine, Craig, Millar, Rutkiewicz, James, Swankie,
Hardie, Jacko, Peaso, Sheerinho
Subs: Kelly, McCaffrey, Weatherston, Holmes, Savo
Ochilview has mixed memories for Saints fans these days. Recent visits when Falkirk were in stadium limbo were pretty pleasant with a couple of good wins but the cloud which has always lingered like a Dundonian smell in the background was a certain Scottish Cup game a few years back. No matter how our form has been, it serves as realistic reminder just how fine the line between success and failure in the cup can be. The CIS (or Co-operative Insurance to give it its new sexy name) Cup has been a mixed bag for us - from the semi-final against Hibs a couple of years ago to the poor exit at Firhill last season. I know plenty of folk talk about how we should be concentrating on the league but for my money, there is absolutely nothing which should prevent us from trying to progress in as many tournaments as possible. The fallout from the defeat at Dingwall had continued into the game at the weekend and defeat tonight to a lower league team didn't bear thinking about given the fragile confidence in the side just now.
As it was the second round draw will see us through comfortably although if you'd asked most of the big Saints support with ten minutes remaining I think we all expected extra-time at best. Plenty of credit goes to Stenhousemuir for having most of the early play and causing us plenty of problems in the first half and while they tired later on and Saints began to relax and dominate the play and finished the stronger with four goals in the last ten minutes to at least send us home happy. With injuries still mounting up and added to by Liam Craig's red card at the weekend, Saints, while not exactly down to the bare bones didn't leave Del much leeway in his team selection. Stenhousemuir might be a 3rd Division side but there was no way the game was going to be an easy one and as expected Del put out a fairly strong side with the artificial surface failing to influence his team selection. Collin Samuel tweaked his hamstring at the weekend and missed out but Savo returned to the fray after limping off at Dingwall to go on the bench while Liam was allowed to play so went in at left-back. That meant the only change from the weekend was Swankie coming off the bench to start.
From kick-off, we were under the cosh with the home side looking a lot sharper and faster as well as hungrier for the ball. As early as the second minute the first of several dangerous crosses came into the box and while it was ruled out for offside, the intent was there. Swankie had a run for us and set up Jacko but his effort was blocked and it was a sign that it was going to be one of those nights for the Saints striker who seems to have forgotten to hold onto the ball. But in the 4th minute the Warriors managed to get the ball in the net. A series of crosses were handled comfortably enough by Rustybitz and James before Liam conceded a corner. That was sent over to the back post and headed into the net only for the goal to be chalked off for a foul on Rustybitz - the words "lucky" and "escape" sprang to mind.
Saints were simply struggling to get going with the midfield caught napping on the ball too often and far too many long balls played for the front pairing which was just a waste of time as they failed to win anything in the air. We almost came close in the 6th minute but Swankie's cross in saw Peaso's header cleared off the line. Stenhousemuir came straight back up the park and it took a great Rustybitz tackle to prevent another shot. Our next chance came in the 10th minute when Liam set up Sheerinho on the left and his cross for James was headed down to Jacko but again the shot was cleared off the line.
Time for the warning signs to turn into full-blown crisis panic stations. Fourteen minutes into the game and Stenhousemuir's pressure and use of the width of the pitch paid off with another cross from the right (with Craig caught flat-footed) sent deep to the back post missing the Saints defence but finding a home shirt to poke the ball into the net. Unfortunately for the guy that got the goal he injured himself in the process, eventually being stretchered off. For the Saints fans behind the goal though the memories of 13 years ago were all too fresh.
I'd like to say we tried to get back into the game but it was pretty poor stuff. Liam tried a hopeful cross from the left but it was easily held by the keeper. Our midfield was having what they call an utter stinker with both Sheerin and Hardie off the pace and seemingly reluctant to push forward to support our strikers. Hardie had a long punt that was simply wasted and Jacko saw another header easily cleared. But just when we thought we were down and out the Gods decided to help us out again and in the 23rd minute a long ball from Craig again found the Mad Mental One in the box and a couple of turns later he was up-ended by some gullible masochistic home defender. The referee duly pointed to the spot and Sheerin earned his keep sending the keeper the wrong way to level the score.
Saints started to play a bit better after that and Swankie switched over to the right wing. However for all the play, we didn't do much in front of goal. A Swankie cross found Jacko in the 28th minute and he was downed in the box but unfortunately seemed more intent on trying to win a penalty rather than get on with the game - something both he and Peaso were guilty of several times throughout the game. The game was pretty even and the next chance came from a Hardie pass in the 36th minute to Swankie but his cross was headed on by Peaso only to be missed by both Millar (covering every blade of grass again) and Jacko. We had a corner cleared and then after Jacko was fouled the freekick fell neatly for Craig but his dipping volley went just over the bar. Back at the other end Stenhousemuir had a freekick that ended up with a header out and an attempt from the edge of the box that was deflected out for a corner with McLean wrong-footed. He held the corner though but was caught again just before the break with another long-range attempt which he seemed to have covered only for Kevin James to deflect it the other way - luckily the ball went just wide of goal.
There was a surprising change at half-time with Rustybitz replaced by Caff - presumably for an injury since Rusty and James had been relatively solid in the first forty-five. At least the arses seemed to have been well and truly booted at the break and we started fairly lively with a Swankie freekick for James headed out for a corner. That was played in again for James who tried to set up Hardie only for the linesman to flag for offside. We were still suffering from a lack of pace and seemed to be second to every ball. But at least there were some chances starting to come our way. Gary Irvine had a good run in from the right but sent his shot wide and then Swankie and James combined from a freekick to set up Peaso but again the wee eejit with the flag stopped us from gaining anything.
Time was wearing on and although we were getting plenty of balls into the box courtesy of Swankie and Craig there was little in the way of end product. Hardie tried to set up Liam on the hour mark but again the long-range effort went over the bar. Then Liam and Sheerin played a neat one-two before Swankie was given the ball but the keeper stopped the shot easily enough. Millar had a header held and James saw one go wide as we kept up the pressure.
With 24 minutes left Del made his second change with the ineffective Jacko being replaced by Savo. Three minutes later and a long ball from Craig almost set Savo up but the keeper beat him to the ball. The home side had a rare attack next but their cross was headed behind by Liam. Then we had possibly the best chance of the half in the 73rd minute when a long ball from Sheerin found Irvine in plenty of room on the right and he went on a great run cutting into the box. Unfortunately instead of the simple cutback he went for glory and suffice to say his shot was typical of a player usually found at right-back with the fans behind the goal in more danger than ever.
The final throw of the dice came in the 75th minute as Peaso was replaced by Sherlock. And while we had rarely been threatened, you got the feeling that a home goal would kill us off. As it was though, the substitutions managed to get into the "inspired" category. Swankie threatened with a cross in the 78th minute that the keeper did well to punch clear but a minute later we pressed down the left again and this time Swankie's cross found Savo coming in and he powered a header into the net for our second. We barely had time to get used to having the lead when within a minute we notched the third. This time some great work from Millar, Savo and Holmes kept the pressure on a now shaky home defence with the result that the ball was sent wide to Chris on the right, he crossed in and there was Holmes to header home.
We weren't finished there though and four minutes later more great play down the left ended up with a header flicked on by Hardie for Liam to get behind the defence. A quick run into the box and a simple cutback found Holmes with the easiest of finishes from a couple of yards out. Swankie had a shot held in the 88th minute but with a minute left we rounded off the scoring after Savo won a simple corner. Swankie sent the inswinger over and Hardie rose up amongst the tangle of bodies to header home for the fifth.
A good win in the end but there were still some awkward moments. Good performances from James, Rusty, Swankie and Millar but my MoM goes to Liam Craig, He still looked a bit shaky at times at left-back but covered a lot of ground tonight. We need to start playing to our strengths though and that means no more long high balls for the likes of Jacko and Peaso and the midfield need to learn to close down their opponents a lot earlier. Oh aye and a left-back would be nice.
Still, another hoodoo dealt with....
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