Temple Of Saints - Ten Men Lose Out

Clydesdale Bank Premier League 24/01/2010

Saints 1 TFOE 4 - League Table Here

Team : Smith, Irvine, Grainger, Morris, Garters, Mackay, Millar, Davidson, Savo, Deuchar, Craig
Subs: Main, Anderson, Peaso, Morais, Moon, Jacko, Reynolds

After an extended break thanks to a covering of so much white stuff across Scotland you'd have thought George O'Boyle had been on a touring holiday, followed by a level of wetness on the pitch not seen since the days of a Harry Curran tackle, we finally had a chance to return to the sacred halls of McDiarmid and try and remember what this football lark was all about. Some folk had managed to brave the delights of a January evening in Forfar on Monday to see the boys progress in the cup but for the majority (me included) this was the first live action since the cold, dark, days of Fir Park.

Mind you, it's not like Saints on the pitch was going to be a rare sight in the weeks to come with the boys set to appear in the sports pages so often over the next month you'll think we've turned one of the Bigot Brothers. The games were going to be tough but at least we had a decent run of form going into this one and with Savo and Peaso back in action and the Doc notching up a goal midweek there were grounds for optimism amongst the home support.

And speaking of which it was Mowbray's Moaners that were in town today fresh from their midweek cup exploits and with a set of fans for whom the word "revolting" had taken on another connotation last weekend. Selling their player off like a fire sale at a shellsuited equivalent of Woolies they'd managed to piss off their fans while at the same time fail to provide any real entertainment on the pitch. Our last encounter at the Fortress of Evil had seen Saints notch up two goals only to let in five - but that was back in the days when Mowbray's Moaners still had hopes of being in Europe longer than a Willo Flood Parkhead career. Still the "greatest fans in the world" would no doubt head north in their massed hordes to follow their team through thick and thin. Aye right let's just perpetuate the myth that the OF are still a big cash incentive for the other clubs.

Still Sky were in town and had even forced us to put back the kick-off, no doubt to allow the away support a chance to finish their Buckie. The game turned on a red card for Garters in the second-half. Before that we'd been holding our own but afterwards with one striker up front we were under the cosh and with the pitch getting heavier with the constant rain and the legs tiring the goals went for the opposition. Expect plenty of praise for the bigots but Saints deserve their plaudits as well. Yes there were weaknesses in the side and we lacked the confidence to go forward when the numbers were even but there's plenty of hope going forward if we can lift up the side again.

The one good thing to have come out of the prolonged spell of snowball fights at McDiarmid was a chance for the injury list to clear up a bit - at least ahead of the inevitable suspensions and injuries which will stretch the squad to the limit over the coming months. Caff and Garters were both fully fit and the indoor sessions at Toryglen had even seen Jacko start his comeback to match fitness, while Sammy was edging closer to a return as well, although the latter was still too far away to make the squad. With the transfer window open, there had been little in the way new arrivals at McDiarmid with Craig Moore preferring his sporting activities Greek-style instead of heading to Perth although Roman the Mysterious Man From the East was set to come on trial to join the Saints defence.

The striking options had been enhanced by the signing last week of TFOE-prospect Cillian Sheridan with the 20yr old out to try and live up to the inevitable hype of being an OF-youth player. He had joined on loan until the summer but the terms of the loan deal meant he was ruled out today. Fil Morais had missed out due to a tight hamstring on Tuesday night (it didn't keep him out of the papers last weekend) but returned to the squad for this one while Caff had been suffering from a virus. The recent form though meant Del's choice of a starting eleven saw him go for the usual back four with only one change in the starting eleven as Peaso dropped to the bench as Murray Davidson was given a start in midfield to give us some height in a 4-4-2 formation. There was one other surprise on the bench with Jacko making his first appearance of the season.

TFOE had managed to bag a couple of signings with the usual media hype machine but they had plenty of "stars" missing - Maloney, Brown, McDonald and McManus were all out through injury. And with the other half of the Bigot Brothers dropping points yesterday there was plenty of pressure on Mowbray. For Saints the news that the Midden, Accies and Killie all lost meant that the pressure was off and we could afford to have a go - question was whether Del would let the boys off the leash for the afternoon.

Crowd-wise the ground wasn't full and the away allocation hadn't sold out (not that you'd guess that by the amount of Buckie bottles littering the place), with the away support allowed to bring in flags as well although the stewards at least confiscated one. The game kicked off at a cracking pace with the first freekick coming against Garters within 15 seconds as Fortune decided he didn't like the challenge. The freekick didn't cause us any worry and while the Forces of Evil were all over us they weren't exactly threatening us with only a Zheng low shot going wide of goal. in the second minute. But otherwise it was a couple of crosses that amounted to hee-haw.

For Saints the front pairing of the Doc and Savo paid off a bit with the Doc winning plenty in the air despite the attentions of Loovens who seemed intent on giving our Kenny some sort of homosexual hug at every opportunity. With five minutes gone Doc got onto the end of an Irvine ball and beat Loovens to flick it on for Savo only for referee Collum to decide it was a foul against the Saints striker. A minute later and Grainger turned provider on the other wing and again the Doc flicked the ball on for Savo only for Boruc to come out and beat him to the ball. Millar set up the Doc next and he beat his man before squaring for Savo but again the Evil defence came out to clear the danger as the Saints midfield failed to get forward in the middle to provide the needed support.

We were taking too long on the ball and it seemed we just needed to show a bit more impetus in getting forward against an Evil defence that looked shaky at best. Gradually we got more and more into the game although we couldn't get that final ball into the box. Millar had a cross for the Doc but his header on was blocked by a defender. Then a throw- in up the right found Davidson who performed some great keepie- uppy before firing a cross that went behind.

But with 12 minutes gone a great short passing move involving Millar, Davidson and Jody ended with a through ball for Savo in the box and he was caught by Loovens and O'Dea and sent to the deck. Full credit to the referee who didn't hesitate in pointing to the spot. Up stepped Liam and sent Shagger Boruc the wrong way to give us the lead and silence the Buckie Bevviers.

The pace of the game intensified but the goal gave us a real lift and we began to play the ball on the deck (and to our strengths) more. Still it was TFOE creating the chances and they won their first corner in the 14th minute off Mackay. Smiffy managed to half- punch it clear but the inscrutable Zheng was loitering about like a Sellik fan begging for a giro and he fired in a shot that Jody and Grainger combined to clear the ball off the line. It was going to be a long afternoon and that was typified a minute later with another corner for the visitors after Samaras tried his luck. Again the ball broke out to Zheng but this time Danny blocked the shot from 12 yards out to buy us some breathing space.

Saints won a freekick in the 18th minute after Thompson fouled the Doc but Danny's long-range effort was blocked. McGeady was obviously feeling the pressure and a couple of minutes later was up to his old diving antics against Irvine. Then in the 22nd minute Loovens once more went up to try and shag the Doc only to be left flattened after an accidental clash of heads. That meant a delay of about five minutes as the Evil defender received treatment before eventually being stretchered off with blood pouring from a head wound, forcing Mowbray into his first change of the day.

With the Evil Ones defence in disarray we should have capitalised more but Saints lacked that bit of pace and luck on the ball. Millar and Irvine were certainly getting forward on the right and Liam was doing well on the other flank but both Davidson and Morris seemed to be holding back in the middle - whether or not it was to try and protect the slender lead was unclear. Anyway Jody did manage one great run into the opposition box in the 26th minute, getting onto a through ball before sending a low cutback that went out for a corner. Liam took it but like so many of his efforts, the ball was too low and easily cleared at the near post. Davidson got in on the act next in the middle of the park robbing Sulky Samaras of the ball and setting up Millar who tried to find Savo only for Thompson to get in and clear. Irvine saw a cross cleared as we began to grow in confidence.

Unfortunately the lead was a slender one and we seemed unable to match the Evil ones physically (mind you if any of our players ever looked like Sulky Samaras I think he'd be humanely shot). Millar, who had a pretty decent game, was guilty of taking too long on the ball in the 31st minute and allowed an Evil break. Despite McGinn looking a mile offside he broke down the right and when it seemed easier to square to an unmarked Sulky he went for glory and blootered the ball into the stand.

That signalled another spell of pressure on the Saints defence. McGinn won a freekick a few minutes later but a Davidson tackle and clearance dealt with that. McGreedy had a dive to no avail and another Evil freekick in the 38th minute saw Mackay and Millar combine to clear the danger. With five minutes to go to the break, McGreedy had another run through the middle only to run into the immovable object that is Garters. A booking for the Saints defender was the result but the freekick was easily dealt with ending in a corner that saw Fortune head over the bar. As the half drew to a close there were chances for both sides.

Millar skinned McGreedy to set up a cross and Samaras failed to latch onto a long pass. Mackay won the ball fairly on the edge of his box in the 44th minute but the referee didn't agree giving a freekick to them. That came into the box and despite Samaras fouling Garters the whistle remained silent allowing McGinn to shoot over - it didn't stop Samaras and Garters sharing some verbals afterwards. Up the other end Danny turned provider with a long cross finding Davidson on the edge of the box but his header went just wide. The Evil ones countered with another dive against Danny. The freekick was headed clear by Mackay but came back into the box only for Liam to miss it as Samaras had a shot but Smith was there to provide the block. The half ended with Mackay conceding another freekick as McGreedy took a tumble but again the defence held solid.

Saints had been holding their own in the first half and looked a reasonable bet as the pitch grew heavier. But within 15 seconds of the restart the game had turned against us. Fortune was allowed to go on and run and on the edge of the box and just as he had lost control of the ball, Garters put in a clumsy challenge. Out came the card and the Saints defender walked. The freekick at least was well blocked by the Saints wall. Savo was the surprising sacrifice as he was replaced by Ando as Del tried to shore up the defence, leaving the Doc as the lone striker.

So it began and Saints mounted a defence worthy of Rumpole of the Bailey at the Alamo. It was backs to the wall stuff to say the least. We did manage a chance in the 50th minute as a good Millar cross from the right found the Doc but his header went wide. We kept trying to press the opposition and keep them in their own half but the challenges were clumsy and too many soft freekicks were being conceded. The Forces of Evil had a run into the Saints box in the 54th minute with Fortune playing a low cutback that ended in a shot over the bar.

Two minutes later and McGinn tried a cutback that was put over the bar by a Saints defender. The corner ended in another cutback for Sulky Samaras but he provided some Paddy Connolly type skills blasting the ball wide from about four yards out. If Graeme Smith was a cat he'd be down to eight lives. Mowbray obviously scented blood (well with that hooter he couldn't miss it) and another wonderkid in McCourt came off the bench for them to replace Hinkel as they upped the pressure. Samaras tried a run down the wing but was blocked by Mackay. Ando conceded a corner but we cleared that. Liam conceded another and this time O'Dea tried a shot that Smithy brilliantly tipped over the bar. The resulting corner ended up in another shot from the edge of the box that went over the bar.

We were trying to clear our lines but the midfield was being too easily crowded off the ball and we were struggling for pace. We had some pressure in the 61st minute but that ended in a counterattack although credit to the Doc for getting back to make a blocking tackle. Another Evil shot was blocked in the 63rd minute then Smith had to look sharp to get down and hold a low drive. Peaso came on in the 65th minute to replace the Doc but within a minute the defence cracked with a break down the right from Fortune ending in a cracking angled shot high past Smith into the roof of the net - little the keeper could do about it but it still hurt.

Saints tried to get back with Millar seeing a cross go out but the legs were tiring and the heads had gone down a bit. All the pressure was coming from the Evil ones, with Smithy blocking another shot in the 69th minute. Still the Evil ones were getting desperate with a laughable dive from McCourt in the 71st minute being ignored by the referee. The Sellik sub got into the box again a couple of minutes later and brought out a great block from Smithy. The resulting corner saw Smith stating on his line as the ball was headed over the bar. We were limited to long punts though and Ando found Peaso in the 75th minute but he went to ground too easily. A minute later McGreedy tried a low curling effort that was blocked by Smithy with O'Dea sticking the rebound wide. Another cross in saw Mackay head the ball behind. Then McCourt had a run and cut inside with a low shot that Smith tipped wide.

It seemed like the Gods were on our side so it was obviously time for them to piss on us from the heavens and with eleven minutes remaining another ball into the box saw several headed attempts to clear the danger fail and the ball eventually fell for Sulky Samaras who fired a low shot past Smith to make it two-one. Still at least he got a booking, possibly for leaving the pitch during the celebration but more likely for being ugly.

Mooner came on for Davidson as we tried to get back into the game. Peaso managed to chase down a ball to win a corner in the 80th minute but it was too easily cleared. A minute later Mooner had a jinky run to the edge of the Evil Ones box but his low effort went just wide of goal. Then with seven minutes left the Evil Ones once more transgressed into Saintly territory and a break of four against two was only stopped thanks to a brilliant tackle from Irvine although he conceded another corner. That went deep and a shot from the far side was blocked by Smith only for that git Fortune to get in for the rebound for their third. Game over.

The legs had gone from most of the players and the likes of Jody and Liam were struggling as the game entered its closing stages. We almost pulled one back after Boruc decided to show off with some dribbling in his own box. Peaso was there and robbed him but couldn't make the room to turn and his final shot was blocked. McCourt tried his luck from the left side with a shot that beat Smith but was cleared by Ando. But the final stab in the back came in the 88th minute with McCourt breaking down their left cutting in and blasting the ball into the net from the edge of the box for their fourth. Cue celebrations as he left the pitch to celebrate with their unwashed behind the goals. No card this time though so I reckon Samaras got his for being ugly.

That was it really with the Saints fans left to be regaled with a rendition of "Go home ya Huns" from the tinks behind the goals, demonstrating not only a total lack of geographical knowledge but an innate illiteracy when it comes to reading the name of their opponents. Best fans in the world - aye right.

There was applause for the Saints players as they left the park but the heads were down. For what its worth I believe if we hadn't conceded the red card at a crucial time in the game we might have held on. But the heavy pitch and rustiness didn't help and while there were some standout performances (Smith getting my MoM award) we need to learn to capitalise more on our strengths. Millar, Mackay and Irvine all played well while Danny, Jody and Grainger faded and Murray lacked match sharpness. Still there's nothing lost in today's game and the important thing is to pick up the players for Wednesday night.


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LEAGUE TABLE

Team P W D L F A Pts
Rangers 21 14 6 1 49 14 48
Celtic 20 12 5 3 42 21 41
Hibs 20 10 6 4 31 17 36
Dundee Utd 20 9 7 4 23 22 34
Hearts 21 7 7 7 20 20 28
Motherwell 20 6 8 6 26 29 26
Aberdeen 19 6 6 7 14 19 24
St Mirren 20 5 5 10 20 28 20
Saints 18 5 4 9 25 34 19
Hamilton 19 4 4 11 16 33 16
Kilmarnock 20 3 5 12 12 27 14
Falkirk 18 2 7 9 15 28 13

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