Saints 1 Sheep 1 - League Table Here
Team : Smith, Irvine, Danny, Morris, Rustybitz, Mackay, Millar,
Davidson, Sammy, Sheridan, Morais
Subs: Main, Ando, Garters, Sheerinho, Craig, Doc, Jacko
So to the first of the pretty much meaningless post-split fixtures. Saints are looking more and more comfortable while Aberdeen's chances of still going down are about on a par with Scumdee getting the rules changed to ban teams from up the A9 from winning the First Division title. So with little to play for, it's no surprise that the TV cameras decided to muck us about with a midday kick-off - I mean it's not as if we wanted to get used to Saturday 3pm kick-offs at McDiarmid again. The club had cut the prices but with the Dons fans showing as much loyalty as the green half of the Bigot Brothers ("Greatest Fans in the World" my arse!), it was going to take a real optimist to put a bet on a decent crowd turning up.
At least the earlier kick-off might get the Saints players looking a bit more alert than they did last weekend. The draw against the Midden was disappointing in so many ways - never mind the performance or soft goals we lost, we also allowed Gurning Gus to have another dig at the Scottish Referees and improved the Junkies chances of staying in the SPL to whinge for another season. There have been a few faces appearing in the papers this week talking about their futures and with only three games left after today time was running out to win the backing of the fans and the confidence of their manager. Of course to do that some of the fringe players would have to take any opportunity granted to them but with several grand riding on each place up the table that Saints can finish, it wasn't hard to see that Del wouldn't be taking things easy.
For the Sheep, it looked like Mark "Blameless" McGhee was set to survive another season at Pittodrie, mainly thanks to their single- goal victory over the Bairns last Saturday. But after his comments a couple of weeks after we horsed them on their own turf, where he was blaming the players, referee and anyone not called "Mark" or "McGhee" it could be argued that his coat was definitely hanging on the sort of peg that was as shoogly as an SFA President's reputation in the media.
As a television spectacle, the game wasn't the best and a crowd of just over three thousand didn't make for a brilliant atmosphere but again Saints came back from losing a soft goal to take a point and arguably did enough over the ninety in terms of chances to deserve all three. There's no doubt that the players have switched to automatic with dreams of beaches and summer holidays after a hard season. We're safely going to finish near the top of the bottom six and other than new contracts there's nothing urgent to play for - obviously the manager sees things differently but meaningless games are going to be the only entertainment we'll get for the rest of the season. That shouldn't detract from some good individual performances today topped by a great comeback poach from Jacko.
Saints squad for this one saw one big change to defence as cult hero Doobs spend a weekend in the stands after picking up one too many dodgy yellow cards. But there had been an added boost to the defence with Ando and Garters putting pen to paper on new two year deals on Thursday. The change meant that the defence shaped up with Ando also missing out as Rustybitz returned to the side with Mackay partnering him in the middle as he returned from his calf injury. There were still other injuries to concern Del with Peaso and Savo again missing but Jacko was available after coming through 90 minutes in a midweek closed doors game. He and the Doc were on the bench with Sammy and Sheridan the starting pair up front. The manager wasn't finished there with Liam Craig having to settle for a place in the dugout as Murray Davidson took over on the park.
The Dons had some changes of their own with Diamond missing through injury and Langfield dropped to the bench. Wonderkid Fyvie was also in the dugout watching CBeebies.
The opening stages of the encounter were excellent for Saints and enough to hint that the lethargy of the Midden game was consigned to the past. The first minute saw us break forward with Sammy and Sheridan linking up well in the Sheep box. Sheridan saw his shot well blocked but the ball broke to Millar cutting in from the right but his effort was tipped round the corner. With Liam in the dugout Danny sent the corner over for Mackay to have an effort blocked. That was followed up by a shot blocked on the line and even then when it broke to the edge of the box there was Jody to fire in a low drive that went just wide.
With five minutes gone Danny set up another effort with a long throw from the left that was well headed on by Davidson for Sammy but his volley was blocked. That was followed by another freekick into the Sheep box where Sammy laid a Davidson header off for Sheridan but his fresh air shot came to nothing. Millar set up Sheridan next on the right and he played in Sammy who cut in from the right wing before trying his luck but his shot also went wide of target.
Generally we were playing pretty well with the Sheep defence kept on the back foot.So you can get a pretty good idea what's coming next. With 15 minutes on the clock they forced a corner off Irvine and Rusty. The ball in ended in a good header which Smithy reacted well to block and tip the ball up. But when it came down the keeper was crowded out too easily and despite Rustybitz and Irvine's best endeavours MacLean got his head in and forced the ball into the net. As scrappy a goal as we'll ever concede and the sort of thing that would have Del reaching for the "Manager's Guide To Anger Management" to avoid murdering someone at the break.
The goal knocked us a bit and while we were soon back on the attack, a combination of nerves creeping into the play and some poor movement off the ball meant it came to nothing. Morris set up Morais for a run in the 21st minute but the latter overran the ball (again!). A freekick four minutes later after Duff went in on Danny was cleared too easily but Sheridan managed to force a corner. That was played deep for Mackay who played a one-two with Jody before chipping the ball across the goal for Sammy who chested the ball down and fired in a volley that was blocked by another bloody red shirt.
There was more controversy a couple of minutes later after Davidson tackled Aluko. The Sheep dropped to the deck quicker than McGhee's reputation at Pittodrie. The referee waved play on but didn't book the Aberdeen player - despite Aluko's continual whinging and remonstration with Murray. As for the game the chances were becoming more infrequent for us with a Sammy run and Sheridan cross about as good as it got. Grainger had a freekick in the 29th minute but when it came back to him his low shot was easily held. Two minutes after that Sheridan released Morais down the left and for a change Fil got a cross in today but Nelson in the away goal just beat Davidson to the ball.
We had a half-hearted claim for a penalty in the 36th minute as a Grainger chip in from the left was met by Sammy only for him to clash with the keeper - it would have been soft if it had been given. For their part, niggling tackles and timewasting to rival Accies aside, Aberdeen didn't offer much until the 38th minute. A long- range effort went wide and then a minute later the Saints defence failed to clear their lines allowing Aberdeen in for an attempt that came off the bar before Smith eventually gathered the ball. MacLean had an attempt next from distance but thanks to a Grainger deflection he had to settle for a corner. That ended in a free header that went wide of goal.
MacLean and Grainger clashed again a couple of minutes later with the Sheep kicking Danny in the chest. The resulting freekick was played long into the Aberdeen box and found Rustybitz but his header went over the bar. Another freekick to Saints after that (with Young escaping a booking for throwing the ball away) ended in a half-clearance which landed at Sammy's feet but he shot over the bar.
The second-half started in much the same way with Saints still pretty scrappy. The midfield saw both Morris and Morais off-form with the ball being given away all too easily and Saints struggling to cope with the Sheep when they broke up the park. Millar managed a run in the 47th minute and his cross went out for a corner. That ended with a great header from Rustybitz that was cleared off the line. Morais took the ball for a run and set up Sammy who tried to play Davidson on in the box but again the Sheep defence was able to clear the danger. Sammy won us a freekick on the right next. Danny's ball in was cleared but Davidson and Millar played it back in to win us a couple of corners but again the final ball was missing with Sammy especially looking off the pace (and that was with the TV cameras in town) - the Sheep ended up having a rare break up the park which was only ended by a great blocking tackle from Irvine.
With 53 minutes gone, Morais was released down the left but again instead of playing the early cross or going to the byeline he cut inside and played a fairly weak shot that went wide of the Sheep goal. Grainger had a run next setting up Sammy who played the ball out to Millar cutting in from the right. He fired a good effort that went across the goal and was only just missed by Sheridan at the back post for what would have been a tap-in.
Morais' miss was his last involvement as the Doc came on to replace him with Sammy moving to the left of a 4-3-3 formation. The opposition's timewasting was becoming more and more blatant as Saints chased the equaliser. We did have one nervy moment in the 57th minute when a Rustybitz passback to Smithy bobbled on the pitch and ended up in a poor clearance - thankfully Irvine was there to provide cover. Back up the other end of the park and Grainger set up Sammy whose cross for the Doc was headed across the goal for Davidson but his effort was cleared.
Marshall picked up the first booking for the Sheep in the 62nd minute for a late foul on Danny. It didn't make much difference to our play as we continued to chase the game - a few crosses came to nothing. One long ball in the 64th minute for Sheridan saw him force a corner out of nothing. That was headed out as far as Jody and he laid the ball off for Millar who fired in a good curling shot from the edge of the box that was just the wrong height and ended up in a good save by Nelson. McGhee had seen enough for his side as Paton and Wonderkid came on for them.
We weren't going anywhere and as Sheridan began to fade, Del made his second change in the 69th minute as Sheridan was replaced by Jacko who came on to make his home comeback to great applause. Almost immediately the front three looked a bit sharper and the understanding between the Doc and Jacko was great to see once more. We kept up the pressure on the Sheep goal - a Grainger freekick found the Doc but his header went wide of goal. Then a minute later a long ball found Jacko breaking through and he was one on one with the keeper but Nelson managed to just take the ball at the second attempt - it was good to see the pace that Jacko was playing at though. MacLean became the second booking for them in the 75th after cutting down Millar in a nasty challenge. The freekick into the box was headed on by Davidson for the Doc but he was ruled offside. The Sheep had a corner of their own cleared but as the game wore on we looked more and more in control. Mind you a Smithy header from the edge of his box caused a few utterings in the East Stand!!
Liam came on for Sammy (who had been pretty ineffective on the left wing) for the last nine minutes. Two minutes after he came on a ball into the Sheep box was headed on by the Doc for Liam but he went for an overhead effort that went well wide of the goal. More pressure after that saw a great first time cross from Irvine find the Doc in the box but his looping header was well saved. That was repeated quickly with a Millar lay-off to Irvine sent over for Jacko this time but again the header was held by the keeper. But with two minutes remaining some high feet aimed in the direction of Murray Davidson won us a freekick about 25 yards out. The Sheep had everyone back defending and Liam sent the freekick low round the wall. Nelson in the goal got down to it but failed to hold onto the ball and Jacko was there to bundle the ball over the line courtesy of the hapless keeper. The goal was thoroughly deserved and capped off a good afternoon's performance from Jacko.
With four minutes injury time added on as the referee showed some rare common sense in dealing with McGhee's timewasters. Saints were on top now but Aberdeen's defence managed to hold out. Our other chance came in the final minute after an offside decision went in our favour. The freekick was played long into the box for Rustybitz but his header was deflected behind for a corner. That was met by a diving blue streak in Murray Davidson and there's no doubt that if his header had been on target we'd have taken three points - pity the ball went wide.
There's no doubt that if the game had gone on much longer we'd have won it. But as it was a draw was a decent result given the poor performances from the likes of Fil and Jody. We had the better chances throughout the game but suffered from a lack of composure or responsibility when we pressed forward. There were some good individual performances. Rusty had a good game back in the side while the rest of the defence played well. Sheridan worked hard up front and the Doc 'n' Jacko show off the bench linked well. In midfield Millar had a good game but my MoM goes to Murray Davidson who won plenty of balls in the air and grafted all afternoon.
At least Del has an idea of his shopping list for the summer now....
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