Sheep 2 Saints 1 - League Table Here
Team : Smith, Mackay, Grainger, Morris, Rustybitz, Garters, Millar,
Davidson, JJ, Sammy, Craig
Subs: Main, Anderson, Hardie, Deuchar, Morais, Reynolds, Durnan
After a couple of wins on the bounds, it was off to Pittodrie today with a fair bit of confidence on board as Saints looked to round off the first quarter of the season with a wee climb up the table - a win today would guarantee at least a one-spot move. The CIS win had been followed by a more than convincing drubbing of Falkirk last Saturday and it seems that the problems of Rugby Park a fortnight ago were all but forgotten as the boys headed to the northern wastes in search of the third league win. The preparation for the match hadn't exactly been helped by the injuries in midweek and the knocks from last Saturday but given the apparent return to form that the midfield and defence had shown against the Bairns there were plenty of grounds for optimism. For the Sheep, the employment of Mercenary Mark McGhee as manager in the summer had soured somewhat with a quick exit from the cup and Europe and a late defeat against the Hibs last weekend. They'd even managed to resort to publicly whinging about the referee after that game which saw them finish with just nine players on the park - whether or not that meant added pressure on today's officials remained to be seen. It certainly didn't do the club's reputation any good - moaning like that is usually reserved for the Bigot Brothers.
The game was a mixed bag for Saints with a poor start turning into a great performance. Unfortunately the McGhee propaganda machine had done its job and a referee that capitulated to practically every home decision accompanied by a linesman who was only consistent in his degree of pishiness combined to ensure the points stayed at Pittodrie. It may have been the second defeat in a row on the road for Saints but this was a much better performance over the one at Rugby Park and while the result will stick in the throat for a long time (it wasn't like we were beaten by skill but more the extra thuggery in the home ranks), there was still plenty of positives for Saints to take away from the game.
On the downside we need to be a lot more clinical in our finishing and the lack of training for some of the players this week showed as they were missing that bit of sharpness. For all that, we weren't disgraced by any means and deserved at least a point from the game.
In terms of squad availability things weren't too bad for Saints. Savo was still out and Mooner still on the comeback trail but Sammy had recovered from his knock and JJ was fit despite picking up his first Saints scar last weekend. Caff missed out but Ando had managed some light training so he could return to the squad and put the to bed the idiotic conspiracies and rumour that had been doing the rounds. So Del went for a side with Smiffy in goal behind the usual back four of Mackay, Rusty, Garters and Danny Grainger, with the skipper making his first return to Pittodrie since leaving the sheep for the Utopian lifestyle of being a Saints player. In midfield there was a dilemma for him with Chris Millar's performance off the bench last weekend getting plenty of plaudits and of course Murray Davidson was on the warpath to prove that the international selectors were a bunch of numpties. In came Miller though as Fil dropped to the bench as Liam started on the left. Up front Sammy started alongside JJ who appeared minus any protective bandage, meaning the Doc was on the bench.
Aberdeen were without Ross and Maguire who had been the bad boys of Easter Road while teenage wonderkid Fyvie was ruled out through injury. As for the rest of their starting lineup it seemed to have plenty of regular starters so McGhee's midweek moaning wasn't exactly evident in a depleted side.
There was a big support up from Perth but it was the home side that made the early running as they piled on the pressure from the start and left us standing for pace. As early as the first minute, a low cross from the right had Grainger forced into a sclaff of a clearance - it did the job but wasn't exactly inspiring. The Saints left-back was forced into conceding the first corner of the game a minute later but it was cleared as far as Sammy and he eased the pressure on the defence by taking the ball for a run. Our first real attack came in the third minute but Liam's cross was way too high to cause the Sheep rearguard any problems. But we did create the first shot of the game in the sixth minute as a break out of defence up the right flank saw the ball played on to Chrissy who laid it forward where JJ made a run behind the defence. He managed to cut into the Dons box and curled a shot across the goal that went just past Langfield's right-hand post.
A minute later though the first problem hit us as a long kickout saw Garters go up for a challenge - he landed awkwardly and was flat out. He had some treatment but was soon off to be replaced by And - the only consolation for the Saints fans was that Garters at least walked off the park. The reshaping of the defence didn't help our cause much as the Dons kept the pressure up on us. They won a corner in the 7th minute. Ando managed to clear the danger but the ball was soon back in the box and found Lee Miller but he could only shoot over the bar.
Saints saw their chances kept to a minimum as the game wore on. Chris set up Liam in the 11th minute but his chip from the edge of a crowded box went just wide. By now we'd switched to a 4-3-3 with JJ on the left and Liam on the right wing, which meant he had to cut in too often. With 14 minutes gone Mackay released Sammy up the wing and he broke up the park only to be upended by Ifil - no card. The freekick from Liam was curled into the box only for Langfield to make a good save and tip the ball clear. It broke to Ando on the other wing but he hesitated and his cross was blocked. That let the Sheep break up the park and the ball was sent forward for Aluko who managed to skin two defenders en route to the box before putting the ball past Smiffy to make it one-nil to the hosts.
The goal was a bit of a kick in the teeth but at the same time Saints weren't making things easy for themselves as the midfield struggled to get going and we lacked pace and control up front. Murray and Morris were being out bossed in the middle, Danny was struggling on the left and Liam on the right (mainly because he's left-footed). It wasn't helped by the continued poor performance as every time we got forward, it seemed the referee was unable to give a decision our way - JJ and Sammy the main victims. Morris tried a ball in the box but found no takers then a sweet nutmeg by Sammy on Mulgrew won us a corner but the referee managed to find a foul in the box in favour of the defence. Considine managed a snide kick from behind as Sammy broke but the referee opted for an offside against the Saints striker.
There was precious little football being played by either side as the game got scrappier and scrappier. Aberdeen tried a few crosses but Smith looked comfortable enough dealing with them. The next chance for us came in the 25th minute after Millar was sent to the deck. Liam too the freekick and sent it deep into the box. Cup-tie Mackay picked it up at the far side, and had a shot from just inside the box that went wide of target. The sheep hit back to intercept a poor pass to Miller. Pawlett broke up the park and managed to beat Rustybitz before trying a shot that brought out a good block from Smith with the follow-up sent wide of target.
Back up the other end JJ saw a shot blocked and then a Sammy run tried to set up Morris but he was crowded out. A foul against Jody (no we didn't know why either) after half-an-hour was easily cleared and a long ball broke to Sammy who found himself on a one-on-five break. Still he must have scared the sheep defence a bit as Considine scythed him down from behind earning the first booking of the game - also leaving Sammy limping a bit. The freekick into the box was headed in by Davidson but half-cleared to the edge of the box and Millar took it forward again only to be barged by Mulgrew - surprise, surprise the flag stayed down.
Aberdeen had a low shot and Sammy saw a cross held as chances were at a premium.
Saints were struggling for pace a bit although it has to be said that we looked comfortable on the ball with Millar and Morris doing a lot of creative work. Liam on the right wing wasn't working though as he struggled to get forward due to his one-footedness. As the half drew to a close we were creating more chances and the Saints fans were giving their all in backing the boys. Morris tried to set up Liam in the 40th minute but the winger slipped at the crucial moment. Aluko had another run but Mackay ended that clinically and linked with Morris who set up Sammy for a decent run ending with a good shot deflected for a corner. Liam took it but it was cleared back to him. This time he laid it off to Jody but his low shot went wide.
Sammy and JJ linked next with Sammy knocked to the deck. JJ took the ball forward but Langfield came out for a panicky clearance - unfortunately the referee stopped play so he could justify it as some warped form of sportsmanship. Grainger tried a cross for Liam but he couldn't control the ball and knocked it behind. Mackay got into the act next setting up Millar who had to settle for a throw-in. That was taken long and the ball reached Murray in the middle but his headr was held. Smithy had to hold a freekick after some wacky decision went against Danny and the half ended with a decent Mackay cross going too near the keeper.
Both sides made changes at the break. Mackie replaced Aluko to add extra diving abilities to the home side while for Saints JJ, who didn't look fully fit, made way for the Doc. We switched back to a 4-4-2 with Liam resuming wing duties on the left flank. We looked a lot hungrier in the opening stages and three minutes after the restart there was some optimism for the travelling support. Morris laid the ball out to Mackay on the right and his cross broke out to Davidson but his shot was blocked. It came back out to Rustybitz and this time the ball into the area found Deuchar only for his header to go wide. Aberdeen hit back with a run up their left and with Mackay covering in the area they managed to get a cross in along the byeline that came off the post - Murray and Liam cleared the danger.
Another break from them saw Mackie through and beat Ando but with only Smithy to beat he managed to do nothing more than send the ball wide. For Saints Liam played a rare freekick into the box in the 51st minute but after giving us the decision the referee thought better of things and gave a foul against Deuchar. Ando made a rare mistake a minute later with a rank rotten pass out of defence allowing the sheep to flock forward again and win a corner off Millar. Rustybits headed the ball well clear but a chip shot back in from the edge of the box brought out a great save from Smithy as he tipped the ball over the bar. He punched the resulting corner clear and the defence mopped it up.
For all their early pressure Saints were looking a lot brighter as the half wore on. Millar had a good run up the right in the 54th minute only to be brought down by Mulgrew. The freekick was cleared only as far as Grainger and he managed to get caught on the ball allowing another flocking forward for the sheep but a weak shot caused Smithy about as much concern as your average Aberdeen refereeing whinge. Sammy had a run and a shot that went wide then a good ball forward from Morris found Liam and his inch-perfect cross found Deuchar rising up at the back post but his header went just wide of target although it has to be said it looked easier to score. He was winning a lot more in the air though and certainly causing the sheep defence a lot of problems. A minute after that Sammy tried a cross in for the Doc that forced Langfield into a punched clearance. That reached Mackay who sent the ball back in again for the Doc but this time the header went wide.
Mackie became the second home player to go into the book on the hour mark after a nasty challenge on Davidson that left the Saints midfielder needing treatment. The freekick forward was headed out for a throw-in. Danny took that one long and when it broke out Millar was there to play it in finding the Doc. He headed it down for Liam but Craig ended up putting the ball wide. Aberdeen decided to use a lot more in the way of their usual tactics with a Lee Miller collapse fooling Mr Incompetent in the middle in the 65th minute - the freekick went wide. Saints though, were making a lot of the running and with all four midfielders getting forward more in support we were creating more problems for the home defence with the Sheep supporters plainly getting more and more nervous as they failed to increase their margin. Morris and Millar linked well in the 66th minute with a cross from the right finding the Doc again. He laid it off for Liam but this time his shot was blocked.
Aberdeen tried another run through Mackie and provided another demonstration of refereeing incompetence as a blatant foul on Danny was turned into a corner for the sheep. Didn't cause us any problems though.
With twenty minute remaining Saints pressed forward again with a good break from Millar. He set up Liam and when his shot was blocked the ball broke to Sammy but his cutback was held by the keeper. Two minutes later another Saints freekick was sent long by Danny for the Doc and his header was cleared to the edge of the box where Rustybitz struck a sweet volley against his old club. If the Gods had been with us it would have rocketed into the back of the net but instead it rebounded off a sheep defender on the line. Even then if fell back to the Saints skipper but his follow-up shot, though well-struck, was held by the keeper.
Still for the singing Saints fans there wasn't long to wait for some reward. With fifteen minutes left some more pressure on the right ended with a great cross from Mackay. Aimed at Deuchar he went up for it along with Langfield with the Dons keeper fumbling the ball. It fell for Liam and he blasted it into the net. That gave us a massive lift and suddenly there was a lot more belief between both the fans and the players that we would get something out of the game. With the Doc winning plenty in the air, he was the target for most of the balls forward. Smithy sent one up in the 79th minute and that saw the Doc clobbered from behind. Liam's freekick into the box found Ando at the back post but he headed the ball wide - mind you Langfield's challenge on him was easily as much a penalty as the one they got. Ando was involved a minute later with a foul on Miller. The freekick didn't cause any trouble though with Murray Davidson back for a clearance to Sammy who was taken down.
But with eight minutes to go there was more controversy. Aberdeen broke up the park and a cross from the left was headed well clear by Davidson. Danny Grainger had been pulled back by Lee Miller as well but when the referee blew his whistle he pointed to the spot and booked the Saints defender. The decision was an absolute joke and Miller's spot kick beat Smithy to add the kick in the teeth we didn't deserve.
Credit to Saints though and the closing stages saw us go for broke. Sammy went off to be replaced by Morais and although a flukey long-range effort from the home side came back off the bar they rarely troubled us. The game had turned scrappy though and there's no doubt that the Saints players well were fired up, we lacked that wee bit of luck up front. Still the Sheep defence were in trouble and two minutes from the end a run from Filipe saw him downed for another freekick. As usual it was played into the box for a header that was cleared to Ando. He passed to Mackay and the ball back in went out for a corner. That ended up with Deuchar but his header across goal found no takers. The clearance came to Ando and he passed to Liam who set up Morais on a run. The ball went to Jody in a one-two before coming back to Fil in the box but Langfield managed to come out to gather.
Aberdeen tried a break but a great tackle from Millar ended that and he set up Morais for another run. This time the cross missed the Doc but went out for a corner. That was cleared but with plenty of injury-time we kept piling on the pressure and as usual saved the best chance to the end. Mackay to Jody on the right side saw the ball crossed in for the Doc but his header was blocked on the line and broke to Morais just inside the box but his well-struck shot went just wide of the goal.
Like so many games this season today was a kick in the teeth. We started poorly against a pacy side but given the way we fought back into the game and the chances and crappy decisions, we should have taken more from the game - certainly we deserved it and while some players can be criticised for a lack of skill, there can be no faulting the effort they put into the game and when it comes down to it, that will possibly count for more in this league than anything else. MoM for me was a tough one but Chris Millar's dogged determination and ability to control the play in the midfield edges out Sammy, Craig, Mackay and Rustybitz. Ando did well when he came on but hopefully the fortnight's break to the next game will give us time to get that bit of fitness and sharpness back into the squad and give us an edge next time out.
Wonder if we can have a whinge about the referee and get all the decisions our way next time?
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