Saints 1 Aberdeen 0 - League Table Here
Team : Smith, Irvine, Grainger, Morris, Doobs, Mackay, Millar, Moon, Sheridan, Deuchar, Craig
Subs: Main, Connolly, Morais, Swankie, May, Sheerinho, Reynolds
If its the middle of the week it must be McDiarmid for thrills. The games are coming thick and fast now as we attempt to play catch- up ahead of the split. Saturday's are reserved for trips on the road but the two games per week schedule means that we still get a weekly trip to the Sacred Turf - even if it is to moan about how bad the pitch looks under the floodlights. Tonight's visitors were the Sheep who if anything had more reason to whinge this season as the return of their prodigal son (well Sellik didn't want him) had turned into a bit of a disaster with McGhee now hanging on by the skin of his teeth and seemingly blaming everyone else associated with the Pittodrie club for their problems - not something that goes down well with the fans. Their form was typified with a dismal exit to Raith in the cup followed by a collapse against Falkirk a few weeks ago. Their apparent inability to pick up points means that they were now sitting one point behind us and looking more and more odds-on for a bottom six finish. A win for us tonight would open that game and could arguably see the knives being dragged out from behind the unplugged toaster in Sheepland.
To do that though we'd need to perform a lot better than at Falkirk. We'd taken the three points at the weekend but only the most deluded would have said it was a convincing performance against the league's whipping boys. From the mad keeper antics of Graeme Smith (and given his predecessor's tendency to indulge in such suicidal play, you have to wonder if it's something they're coaching our keepers to do) to the disjointed midfield and shot- shy strikers, there was more than a few areas for Del to cover in the pre-match build-up. However, on the plus side we did get the win at the weekend and there was some real dig about the players to come back from losing a daft goal to win the game.
The previous encounter at Pittodrie had ended in a narrow home win with the game turning on a dodgy penalty, the likes of which would have Pressley ranting from the rooftops. But for all that we did well up north and there was plenty of reason to hope that we'd take something from the game tonight. Of course we could look back to certain historic wins over the Sheep where legends such as Roddy contributed to a 5-0 thrashing of Aberdeen but that would just be petty and rose-tinted. Personally I was more than willing to settle for a scrappy one-nil last-minute bounced-off-the- arse-of-Morris affair but a wee bit of entertainment with the ball on the deck a bit more would be an added bonus.
What we got was an excellent win for Saints against one of the poorest flocks of sheep in living memory. There might not have been five goals in the winning margin but the clean sheet shows how well the defence performed and the fact that Langfield was the busier of the keepers tells it's own story. All this with several players carrying niggling injuries and on a pitch, that while it looks a bit better still isn't exactly a bowling green. We thoroughly deserved the three points tonight and the confidence that this win will give means that a top six place isn't beyond the realms of possibility now.
The punishing schedule that awaits us was also going to have an impact on team selection with the minor knocks and stamina of the players playing a bigger part in Del's choices - Sammy and Ando were still on the sidelines but Garters was back in the squad. After his mistakes in the last couple of games, there were plenty calling for the reinstatement of Alan Main but Del stuck by Smith. In defence, Gary Irvine had been pretty poor at Falkirk, while Ando and Garters both missed out through injury. But the back four remained unaltered. Murray Davidson had limped off on Saturday and with Jody and Mooner both less than fully they were given the nod as Davidson dropped out along with Savo. The Doc's goal meant he was a certain started and he was partnered up front by Sheridan. His Serene Swankosity moved up to the bench along with Stephen Reynolds.
For the Sheep wonderkids Fyvie started but Pawlett (the latter a major thorn in our side in the last encounter) was missing. No Lee Miller as McLean and Paton started up front for them. There wasn't a big travelling support with the Dons fans apparently electing to act more and more like OF ones in staying at home if they're not winning.
The game started with Saints making some early pressure but that was soon ended with a Gary Irvine cross that ended up going straight out. The Dons got an early freekick but Mackay and Doobs dealt with it easily enough. Doobs had a touch of the Irvine's as well with a 3rd minute kick that went straight out. A minute later Paton had his first dive of the evening as Doobs looked at him in a funny way. The freekick cannoned back off Jody's belly (probably exacerbating his injury) to clear the danger. Apart from that the opening stages were fairly even although the lack of height in the Saints midfield was causing some trouble. Sheridan managed to press Langfield in the 7th minute and the keeper's clearance went out the park. Grainger took a long throw and found the Doc in the box. His header on reached Mooner but he had no room for the shot.
A minute later and Irvine sent a high cross over from the right that fooled everyone and forced Langfield into some acrobatics as he reached up to tip the ball over the bar. Grainger's corner though caused no problem to the Sheep defence. Grainger had another throw-in from the left in the 10th minute that found the Doc on the edge of the box - who was subsequently hauled to the deck. Liam took the freekick but failed to breach the wall. Mooner turned provider next threading the ball through for Sheridan but his cross went behind.
Another freekick for us in the 15th minute saw the Doc head the ball back across the goal. No arm to impede the ball this time and it reached Doobs who laid it back for Grainger but his shot was blocked. Aberdeen broke straight up the park with Paton in acres of space. The massed prayers from the East Stand were answered as Smithy reigned in his desire to rush out of his box. He managed to narrow the angle enough that Paton's eventual shot went wide. Aberdeen kept up the pressure though winning a corner off Millar next. That ended up with a shot for Mark Kerr but we blocked it easily enough and the attack broke down as the Sheep couldn't resist fouling the innocent soul that is Danny Grainger.
Another cross in the 18th minute was cleared by Mackay. It came back in but Smith got down well to hold the ball. We were still giving the ball away too much in the middle of the park and while the strikers were full of running they lacked support at crucial times. But with 20 minutes gone Millar set up the Doc down the right and he settled for a throw-in. The ball into the box was headed clear to Morris who set up Sheridan and he won a corner. This time the ball came over and broke for Grainger at the edge of the box. His low shot was stopped on the line but the keeper failed to hold onto the ball and Sheridan was there to prod it home. One-nil us and you could see the Sheep heads dip (sheep dip geddit?).
The goal gave us as much of a lift though and three minutes later we had another good break down the right with Irvine playing a one-two with the Doc but the Saints defender was caught late. No card for the Sheep defender and Liam's freekick in from the right was cleared for a throw-in. Irvine sent that one over and reached Sheridan in the box but his header was well over the bar. We were still guilty of sitting back too deep and Aberdeen almost caused us some problems with a couple of long balls forcing Smith into action once or twice. But the Saints defence was looking a lot more solid that against Falkirk and both full-backs were a lot sharper.
The boys were creating plenty of chances as well with a freekick in the 28th minute finding Millar and his cross for Liam ended in a well-directed header that Langfield managed to hold. Millar tried another cross a minute later finding Mooner this time but his header was deflected out for a corner. That found Mackay and he bulleted a header in that Langfield did well to palm out. The ball fell for Mooner but his shot was blocked. Liam tried his luck from distance but sent the ball a mile wide, and to add to the keystone Kops antics a long throw from Danny found Millar in space but all he could do was impersonate a Falkirk striker and hit the perfect fresh-air shot. Sheridan and Millar saw crosses cleared as we continued to press and Aberdeen's problems mounted in the 34th minute as a rare foray beyond the halfway line ended in McDonald being taken off with a hamstring injury.
Our next chance came three minutes later with a Millar break out of defence. He played the ball long for Sheridan who outpaced his marker but with the Doc in space he elected to shoot instead and sent the ball curling just over the bar. Aberdeen tried their luck with a freekick five minutes from the break but it sent straight to Smith's hands. We finished the half strongly but there were still some nerves showing typified by the final attack which ended with Irvine, Craig and Millar all on the right wing and none of them willing to take a risk to get a decent cross in.
The second-half got off to a good start and it was only two minutes old when we almost doubled our lead. Mackay sent the ball forward for Sheridan who laid it back to Millar on the right. He took it into the box and cut the ball back for Liam who tried a neat flick that just failed to beat the keeper. The ball broke though to an unmarked Deuchar at the back post but his shot was also well blocked by Langfield. Millar tried again in the 50th minute setting up Mooner but Kev decided to shove a Sheep (sounds like an Aberdeen party game) and conceded a daft foul.
Another Grainger long throw in the 52nd minute found the head of the Doc but his header was well saved. Then a Millar break in the 54th minute was broken up as he somehow managed to fire a cross off a defender and back into his face. Mooner and Kerr clashed just after that. The referee gave a freekick to the Dons but Mooner seemed to have twisted himself when he went down and didn't move for a while. He ended up being stretchered off with Morais coming on in his stead as Millar moved to a more central role.
The game had livened up quite a bit now and Aberdeen pressed again. Doobs saw a clearance go out for a corner. That ended in a shot blocked by Liam in the box and Saints managed to break up the park through Fil. With a four-on-two break and plenty of pace it looked good until he elected to square the ball. It landed between Liam and Jody and they left it to one another - one broken up attack and a lot of frustrated fans. Liam did manage to set up the Doc with a crossfield ball in the 59th minute but his angled shot was a weak trundler and easily held.
There were several offsides as both teams tried to open up the game but to little real effect. Saints were causing the Sheep defence plenty of problems but we lacked the killer instinct we'd shown against Hibs. Defensively we looked solid enough although the one-goal margin didn't seem like it was going to be enough, especially given our mistakes in recent games. Millar and Morris linked up to set up Liam in the box in the 64th minute but his header was well held. Craig had another cross cleared.
Doobs picked up a warning for persistent "fouling" in the 65th minute and a nothing challenge on Mulgrew a minute later saw the Dons player hit the deck and the Saints defender yellow carded. The freekick bounced off the wall for a corner and Diamond headed that just wide. Smith had to look sharp to hold a Dons cross a minute later while up the other end Morais managed a cross for the Doc that was headed over.
With fifteen minutes remaining, Morais linked up with Millar who cut the ball back for Sheridan in the box. A neat lay-off found Morais coming into the box but his shot was deflected over. Grainger's corner found Doobs but he headed over the bar. Aberdeen were throwing everything at us now including a cynical foul from Mackie on Danny that earned the Dons sub a booking. Mulgrew got into the act next bringing an illegal end to a Fil break. Liam's freekick though was easily cleared and the Sheep broke up the park with Foster's cross cleared and Kerr's follow-up being deflected out for a corner. That was easily dealt with and ended up with Fyvie clashing with Chris (more a case of a tantrum from the teenager really).
With 9 minutes remaining Sheridan went off as Del brought on Stephen Reynolds up front. He almost set up Morais straight away but Fil's lay-off to Irvine ended in a cross that was easily held. Liam had a cross saved next before the Sheep split the Saints defence open in the 85th minute and sent a low angled shot in that Smith did well to get down and hold - even when being kicked in the aftermath by an advancing Sheep. Foster had a run and shot over the bar as Saints began to defend in numbers and the Sheep threw everything forward. It wasn't pretty but it was effective as we held out. Morais and Reynolds tried to break free but lost out. Aberdeen won a last-minute corner off Doobs. That was cleared but not far enough and in the third minute of injury time another dangerous cross from the right into a crowded Saints area was spilled by Smith (not totally his fault though given the six yard box was busier than the Pittodrie complaints hotline). Jody cleared the danger. Even then we had time for one last assault with a long freekick headed behind by the Doc, who must have covered every non-blade of grass tonight.
The win meant a lot to the players and fans tonight, almost us much as the air of defeat hung about the red shirts. As with Falkirk there were no outstanding individuals - it was a good team performance. All the players made mistakes at some point and we looked pretty tired towards the end. However we did enough to win the game and that's what counts. MoM for me was Danny Grainger who was excellent at left-back and caused plenty of problems up front with his long throws. The midfield hung together well in the end with Liam looking sharper and Sheridan took his goal well - pity he won't be eligible at the weekend.
So top six anyone?
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