Arabs 3 Saints 3 - League Table Here
Team : Smith, Irvine, Grainger, Morris, Ando, Mackay, Millar, Mooner, Sheridan, Peaso, Craig
Subs: Main, Caff, Morais, Savo, Deuchar, Reynolds, Hemsley
January isn't a great time for football. Midweek nights in January are possibly even worse. Add to that a trip to the stinking hole that is the home of our inbred Tayside neighbours and listening to a Jim Spence interview suddenly seems appealing. But to top it all off tonight also saw us make the trip to face an Arabs side that were hitting some form under their temporary management team, while for Saints we were trying to pick up the pieces after being pretty much gubbed (and outnumbered for the second half anyway) by the Forces of Evil. Luckily the weekend hadn't really done much damage to our league position (although several shrapnel wounds were inflicted on the goal difference stats) and tonight was a chance to get back on track. There's no doubt that Sunday's defeat would have sapped the strength from the players both physically and mentally but this was the sort of "lively" local derby was perhaps just the pick-me-up we needed. There was going to be a healthy travelling support (unlike the rickets-ridden home fans) and the players had a point to prove after the Arabs had won the previous league encounter between the sides.
For the Tannadump "Terrors", their early form had dipped a bit and with the loss of Craig "Murray Davidson's No. 1 Fan" Levein to the role of SFA scapegoat, they had been in a fair bit of trouble - not helped by the rumoured financial strife and debt hitting their club. But Houston had done reasonably well in the caretaker role (especially since he didn't want the job) and a crushing defeat of the Bairns at the weekend kept their form going. Of course they also had to rely on a Thierry Henry-esque judicious use of the hands to progress in the cup at the expense of Partick and tonight would also give us an idea of what's in store when the Arabs come to Perth in the next round in 10 days time.
If tonight's encounter was a foretaste of the cup-tie then get your money on a red card at McDiarmid. You can be certain there will be more than a few grudges to be settled after a game tonight that for all the entertaining football threatened to turn into a bloodbath with some of the challenges going in. Despite throwing away a two-goal lead and coming back to battle for a point, there were a lot more positives for Saints tonight with only some tired legs at the end putting us on the back foot. Sheridan made a decent debut although he picked up a knock early on and the midfield was outstanding with all fighting and battling qualities that were missing at the weekend.
With Garters paying the price for having to touch McGreedy and Fortune at the weekend, Del had some shuffling to do with the Saints back four with Caff and Ando the main contenders to partner Cup-tie. Elsewhere in the side and it was more a case of who would be fit enough and have the stamina to start with Mooner and Peaso both pressing for starting jerseys and Cillian Sheridan coming into the frame (and seemingly the Doc's preference for a striking partner going by the pre-match comments), although Jacko's wee rest at the seaside for the next month ruled him out of contention. The manager opted to go for a defence of Irvine and Grainger with Cup-tie and Ando as the centre-backs. In midfield there was only one change from the weekend with Davidson dropping out through injury and Mooner coming in to replace him while up front tonight's Dream Duo were Peaso and Sheridan with the Doc and Savo relegated to the bench.
United had some problems of their own in defence with Webster, Kenneth and Dods all doubtful - most Saints fans of course wanting to see big Darren at the back for them to give us at least one of his traditional own goals. Elsewhere Casilcheato was on the bench while Badfanny started up front.
There was a good crowd through for Saints and the game got off to a flying start and the pace never really let up. The home side had the first opportunity when Mooner lost the ball on the left and a quick switch from the Arabs saw Conway run up their left to show all his international skill by sticking a cross behind Smithy's goal. We had our first chance a minute later with some good play from Mooner and Liam linking up to release Sheridan but his cross was held by Penis in the home goal. Our play looked a lot sharper and we were controlling the midfield well with a lot more mobility in the centre and Peaso and Sheridan harassing the home defence.
And the Keystone Kops antics of Kenneth and Dods set us up in the 4th minute when a slip let Liam through. The linesman flagged for offside but the referee rightly waived play on but in the end it didn't matter when Craig's cross was held by Penis. But it didn't matter a minute later with our persistence paid off as Millar chased a ball down the right. Beating his man he played the ball back to Irvine who linked with Jody to set up Mooner with a lovely chip behind a static defence. Peaso sprang forward like a cheetah and slotted the ball past the Penis to give us the lead. The home fans went quiet.
United tried to get back in with a soft freekick from the right wing which Morris cleared. But we were making the more clearcut chances and in the 10th minute Millar managed to get the ball on the right wing again and sent it forward for Sheridan who laid it off for Peaso but his angled drive went across the goal and just wide. Sheridan had a run next in the 12th minute setting up Millar who released Grainger and his lay off found Peaso but the cross went behind. The midfield though seemed to be playing a more free role with Millar, Moon and Morris all switching as the play dictated leaving Buaben and Gomis in a daze.
The Arabs next chance came in the 15th minute after a poor Irvine cross was cleared (memo to Del - get Liam and Irvine working on their crossing and corners, starting with a tutorial on how to keep the ball above knee height). They broke up the park through Swanson who eventually took a tumble after Gary got back to make a covering tackle. The freekick took a nice deflection off the wall and was easily held by Smithy. For all their bluster the United attack was pretty ineffective with Badfanny more intent on throwing tantrums and their general play settling for a long punt for man- mountain Daly which we dealt with comfortably.
We won our first corner in the 19th minute but Liam's effort was woeful and easily cleared. Swanson took the ball on a long run and for some reason the covering Saints players stood off him. Thankfully he couldn't do anything other than square to Daly but his effort from the edge of the box was tipped clear by Smithy and hoofed out of danger by Irvine. So time for Saints to pile on the pressure and in the 20th minute a simple throw-in on the left from Grainger found its way through the Arabs defence and Liam was in behind them in the box and one low angled shot later the ball was in the net and we were two up.
Obviously the pressure began to tell on the home players with a Goodwillie foul on Millar a couple of minutes after the restart turning into a major tantrum from the United player when he realised it was a Saints freekick. A minute later there was even more reason for the home fans to be pissed off with the referee. Liam won a freekick on the left wing but again his delivery was poor and the ball easily cleared. That led to a Swanson break down the touchline and Liam's backtracking ended in a foul on the Arabs player at the halfway line. Yellow card for him although the home fans seemed to disagree with that looking for the Gartland interpretation of the offence. Still it ensured Liam was a marked man for the rest of the night.
Swanson didn't do much to endear himself to us either a minute later when another Arabs freekick into the Saints box ended in him taking a blatant dive as he looked for a penalty. The referee was having none of it though (quite correctly) but again a diver escaped punishment. Saints meanwhile took the play up the park and Millar went on a good run before shooting over the bar when he perhaps could have released Peaso to his right.
The impressive Mooner linked up with Danny and Liam next for the latter to send a low cross into the box where Mooner at the near post flicked it on for Peaso coming in at the other side but his shot went across the goal and out. We were fighting for everything. That was typified by the sight of Mooner pressing the Arabs defence on the edge of their box and when they had a break through Conway on the left and he beat Irvine and Millar it was Peaso who got back to make a brilliant tackle. There was more controversy in the 33rd minute when an Arabs throw-in into the box ended with Dods shoving Grainger to the ground. No freekick for us but thankfully the defence got the ball cleared. Back up the other end we had a couple of corners which at least caused the Penis some problems while the Arabs next attack saw Badfanny come in from the right but Smithy got in there to block the shot.
Dods decided to get into the act with his usual antics five minutes from the break with the ball going to Sheridan who set up Peaso. He found Mooner in the box but his effort was blocked and when it broke to Liam he sent the ball well over the bar. Still just to show we could match that sort of defensive cock-up Ando came up with a headed passback that Smithy had to leap to catch. Generally we were starting to play too many high balls and the 4-5-1 formation was struggling as Sheridan playing the lone striker seemed to be carrying a knock. Swanson had an effort go wide for them before the break while Millar and Liam tried to find room for a shot at the other end.
No changes at the break and the second-half started fairly quietly. United had shuffled their midfield about a bit to greater effect but they were lucky in the 48th minute to escape punishment when Buaben had a sneaky stamp on Irvine. The referee saw it but settled for dishing out a warning. The resulting freekick though ended in Liam being caught offside. Daly had a shot for them while Sheridan and Peaso had efforts for us. But a break for the Arabs in the 53rd minute ended in Irvine conceding a foul on the byeline at the edge of the box - although the Saints defender protested that the ball had gone out of play for a goal kick. Anyway the freekick into the box was headed on by Daly past Smithy into the net. The nerves began to fray.
As you'd expect the goal gave the tinks the sort of morale boost they haven't seen since methadone was put on prescription. Daly did break through a minute after the goal to stick the ball in the net but was ruled offside. The cracks and tired legs seemed to be showing in the Saints defence. Still a foul on Jody 30 yards out gave Grainger a chance to show what he could do but his effort ended up with Millar settling for a corner and the Liam Special was easily held. Smithy held a United lob while for us Sheridan saw a low cross taken by the keeper before the play was back up in our goal with Buaben taking too long and running a shot wide.
The Arabs made their first change just before the hour mark bringing on Myrtle- Williams for Conway and he went to the right wing allowing Swanson to move to a more central role. Suddenly we seemed to be getting pulled all over the place. Myrtle showed how much he's adapted to the Arabs style of play with a blatant dive on the wing. The freekick was headed across the goal before being cleared to the Mooner who went for a great run up the park only to find he had hee-haw by way of support. Saints next chance came in the 63rd minute with a long throw-in from Irvine breaking to Millar but his shot went just wide of goal. United were getting desperate so on came Casilcheato for Badfanny. An Arabs freekick into our box next saw Danny clear from the 6yd box and then another one just after that saw Smith fouled but Ando clear off the line.
But with twenty minutes remaining the scores were levelled with the sort of goal that gives Jim Spence Wet Dreams. Swanson got the ball 25 yards out and let loose with a dipping shot that beat Smithy and went into the net. A cracking goal to be sure but it showed how much the midfield were struggling to close the Arabs down. We tried to get back with Sheridan sending a shot wide but he was really struggling and Del made a double change with the Doc and Fil coming on for Sheridan and Liam. Unfortunately within a couple of minutes we were behind when a Williams run down the right saw a long-range effort take a deflection off Danny and beat Smith.
However, we don't give up that easily and almost straight from the restart we were back up the park and Mackay sent the ball long down the right wing for Morais. He got to the byeline and sent a deep cross for the Doc at the back post. A header down into the box and there was Mooner with his back to goal to turn and squeeze a shot into the bottom corner. It was game on again.
The closing stages though saw the pressure start to get to the players. First up Dods was booked for climbing all over the Doc. Irvine had the ball into the Arabs box next but Peaso was caught as he went for it. No penalty said the ref and the Arabs broke up the park, only to find themselves offside when they tried to walk the ball into the net. The game seemed to be anyone's and mistakes were starting to creep into the game. Millar conceded a soft corner when it seemed easier to clear the danger but that just ended with a header over the bar. He made amends a couple of minutes afterwards though as the Doc and Mooner wont he ball in midfield and set up Chrissy for a run to the edge of the United box but his effort was well held by the keeper.
Buaben became the next booking as he decided to argue with the referee over a throw-in of all things. Williams had another run down the right against Danny (whose confidence was suffering since the deflection for their third goal) and he set up Gomis but his effort was well tipped wide by Smithy in great form. That gave United a couple of corners but that just ended with a foul on Irvine in the box to ease the pressure a bit. Next up in Mr O'Reilly's wee black book was Danny after a Williams run in the 83rd minute saw the United player lose the ball so decide to run into Grainger. The freekick went straight into the box, through a crowd of players and out the other end. That meant a goalkick to us but that was delayed after Smithy seemed to have something launched at him from the home support. Hopefully the referee will take some action - it was bad enough having to be in the same ground as the tinks without them throwing their germ-ridden junk at us.
The game was set for a nervy end for us and you felt that with the tired legs and the way our luck is going that we'd end up with nothing again. But at the same time United were running out of ideas themselves - Swanson and Williams tried to link up but only succeeded in running the ball out. Mooner was caught late by Dixon as the game entered a fiery finish. Morais took the freekick and found the Doc (who had been very effective at holding the ball up since he came on) but his header was held. Then to top that off he picked up a booking for blocking the keeper taking the freekick. United had a cutback for Daly in the 91st minute but he shot over the bar.
Then the Doc broke down the left a minute later chasing a loose ball in a 50-50 with the United keeper. They clashed but seemed set to go on except that Kenneth and Dods took offence and squared up to and shoved the Doc. In came Dixon to join in and he was followed by Jody and Morris and Dixon ended up exchanging handbags. It threatened to boil over but credit to the Saints players for keeping their head and walking away. Morris and Dixon were both booked for their part in the skirmish. And that was it for the referee who decided even a Tannadump changing room was preferable to staying on the pitch a minute longer.
While a draw was probably a fair result for the neutral, it still grates that we threw away a two-goal lead and seemed unable to keep the good midfield play in the second-half or adapt to the pace of Williams. However there were plenty of positives with the defence looking ok conceding a wonder goal and a flukey deflection. Mackay especially was on top form. In midfield Mooner gets my MoM for a solid performance in the middle of the park, setting up one goal and scoring one. Elsewhere Millar faded and while Liam played well his set-piece delivery was a problem. Up front Peaso is back to his best and didn't let up for the 90 minutes. Sheridan is big and able to hold the ball up well but his heading skills leave a bit to be desired and it's hard to tell how the knock affected his play. As for the Arabs, we know we can beat them and the cup-tie looks like being a cracking game.
Just as long as the referee remembers his cards.
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