Saints 0 Arabs 1 - League Table Here
Team : Smith, Mackay, Grainger, Morris, Doobs, Ando, Millar,
Morais, Deuchar, Sheridan, Craig
Subs: Main, Irvine, Rustybitz, Reynolds, Swankie, Falkingham, Sammy
The drama of last week's slaughtering of the Blue Bigots hasn't really faded but after a deserved rest, it was time to face up to one of the other big rivals of the season as the Arabs came calling. Thanks to the unwritten SPL rule that states that a Saints home game cannot be played on a Saturday afternoon, it was a Monday evening that set the tone for this encounter. A win tonight would see us move, on goal difference, into that top six slot after the Jambos only took a single point from their weekend trip to Paisley.
We've already had four games against the Arabs this season with one win and a draw countered by two defeats, the most recent of which was the poor showing in the Scottish Cup earlier in the year. Even so, last Tuesday's hounding of the Huns meant that confidence was pretty high amongst the fans and players. If we turned up and hit the opposition from the start like last week, there was no doubt that the end result could be the sort of upset to get the Courier journos dusting down the black borders for the back page. Alternatively anything less than a win would mean relying on results at Tynecastle at the weekend as well as a win at Pittodrie to ensure top six football to round off the campaign.
United had plenty to play for as well. Their impressive win at Easter Road last Wednesday had put them in the driving seat for third place and they'd also sneaked a win to knock TFOD out of the cup a fortnight ago. Under Peter Houston they'd managed to keep their early season form going and were turning in some entertaining displays. All of which meant that we'd have to be at our best to take anything from tonight's game. At least it meant it should be a reasonably entertaining game with plenty of goals flying in.
What we actually got was a night of inconsistent refereeing, enough niggles during the game to ensure the Tannadump contingent at Danny Grainger's nuptials is likely to be curtailed and in the end, a Saints performance that fell short of the glories of last week. So a sucker punch near the end after we missed a penalty and the boys can feel hard done by as we deserved at least a point from this one. But when a referee won't punish the divers (aside from ignoring their tantrums), there's not a lot you can do. Top six looks unlikely but the boys can be proud of what we've achieved this season - no matter what the weekend brings.
No real new injuries from the Wasting of Walter last weekend but Murray Davidson's drip feed of bookings had caught up with him and he was out for this one while Danny Grainger played his last game before sitting out at Pittodrie. Elsewhere in the side and the weather had put paid to the closed doors game last week but Saints were still fairly strong going into this one - Sheerinho's turned ankle in training on Saturday the only public concern before the game. The starting eleven saw no changes and on the bench, Rustybitz came in for Davidson and Josh Falkingham was there in place of the injured Sheerinho. The Arabs had Danny Cadamarteri back in their squad but he was on the bench as the combined U-Boat fleet of Daly and Badfanny started up front.
There was a good turnout at McDiarmid for this one despite the rotten kick-off time and the windy conditions. Saints started the game the way they did last week. An early cross from Badfanny was headed clear by Liam. He found Fil who played a ball long for Sheridan to tear up the left wing but his final shot from just inside the box was just over the bar. A minute later and Mackay and the Doc linked for a cross but the Arabs defence cleared the danger - only as far as Millar and his cross went out for a corner. Liam ended up sending the ball in and won another corner - this time Morais' inswinger was held by the Penis in the away goal. Swanson got his first dive in after five minutes taking a spectacular tumble after colliding with Ando - the freekick was easily cleared by the Saints defence.
Two minutes later and Chris and the Doc forced another corner. That was sent up the park for Badfanny to take a dive but with referee taking no action, Jody laid the ball off for Liam on the left and his long-range attempt from all of thirty yards was just tipped over by Penis. The corner was cleared but soon played back in by Morais and the lumbering ox that is Gary Kenneth had to head the ball over for another corner - pity that came to nothing.
United managed a decent break in the 12th minute but a Grainger tackle on Badfanny stopped that. Well until Badfanny threw a tantrum and in an effort to get him to shut his puss referee Conroy gave the Arabs the freekick. That was played into the box and the header on found Webster unmarked about twelve yards out but his shot was well blocked by Smith and the keeper looked confident coming out to take the resulting corner.
After another Swanson dive went unpunished, Millar and Mackay managed to link up to play in Liam and his chip was headed on by Kenneth in the six-yard box. The ball fell for Chris Millar but his shot was saved by the Penis. A minute later we had an even better chance after a foul on the Doc. The freekick from Fil into the box was headed down by Doobs for the unmarked Jody but his shot went wide of goal when it seemed easier to score. We were playing pretty well but lacked the killer touch in front of goal that we had against the Dark Ones last week. Another Grainger cross in the 23rd minute was headed on for Sheridan but his shot was well held with the Saints striker picking up a knock in the process.
There was more controversy a minute later with a Conway dive conning the referee into booking Doobs. Even so we were enjoying most of the play. A deep cross from Fil found Millar but his shot was ruled offside. The game was getting more and more niggly as the game wore on with some heavy challenges going unpunished and several off the ball shoves and battles developing. Ando avoided a nosebleed on the half hour mark despite a run the length of the park to try and get on the end of a Liam cross to round off a move he started with his own clearance.
Daly tried to get a penalty for the Arabs in the 32nd minute taking a belly-flop at the end of a long throw. No dice said the referee although the cards once again stayed in the pocket. As the half drew to a close the Arabs got more and more into the game. Saints didn't help their cause by some slack passing across the defence as we lacked any urgency in clearing our lines (we'd be punished even more for that in the second period). Doobs had a clash with Badfanny after being held by the Arab but the referee gave them a throw-in.
Another good Grainger cross in the 38th minute was missed by the Doc. The Arabs broke up the park and Saints only just cleared their lines. The half ended with us on the attack again as Millar set up Fil but again his cross went behind for a goal kick.
United started the second-half a lot sharper with a quick break down the left in the first minute finding Daly in the box but his sclaff went over the bar. For Saints Fil countered with a decent run but that was ended as Swanson tried to rip the shirt from his back - no freekick said Mr Conroy.The game was still a niggly affair and as it wore on you expected one mistake or piece of brilliance was going to perhaps settle things. The Arabs forced a couple of corners at the start of the half but Fil and Sheridan cleared the danger. The last one though ended with the ball coming back into the box but the tangerine shirts were well offside before they shot over the bar.
With 53 minutes gone the Doc managed a decent run down the right channel into the box but he hesitated and ended up setting up Fil. His cross in was headed down to Doobs but his shot went wide of goal. At least it showed we were a bit fired up again and that was typified by Liam's reaction after Dillon went in on him from behind (again no cards were flashed). Millar tried a throw-in into the box in the 62nd minute but it was cleared from Liam and the Arabs broke up the park like a nasty bout of scabies - Ando was there to put in a great tackle but again the Saints defence hesitated in clearing their lines.
Two minutes later and Conway took a tumble in the vicinity of Chris Millar - enough to win him a freekick on the left touchline. The ball into the box saw Smith get up to beat Kenneth to the ball - he tried to start a break with a quick throw out to Sheridan and Fil but we were just too slow getting forward. United's next chance came from a handball-intercepted pass from Jody - they got up the park while we were still complaining but Smith held the final shot comfortably. Backup the park and Chris managed to win a corner in the 66th minute. Penis punched the ball clear but it came for Liam and his volley went just over the bar.
Both sides made changes with Sammy on for Sheridan and Cadamarteri on for Badfanny. Two minutes later though and we had our best chance. A Grainger freekick from halfway was played long and down the right wing for Millar who linked up to eventually set up Dave Mackay for a run into the box. In came Dods (on for Webster) and with his usual style upended Dave. Conroy, in a rare unaccustomed burst of common sense managed to point to the spot. Up stepped Liam only to be told to reposition the ball several times. Eventually he ran up and played what had to be one of the weakest, softest penalties ever which Penis easily got down to tip round the post. The corner was cleared only as far as Jody and his ball back in found Sammy and Dods racing in with the latter eventually hoofing the ball over his own bar. Another corner for us but this one eventually fell to Fil and with his crossing boots at the cobblers, his effort again went behind.
The wind wasn't helping matters - both Mackay and Doobs had rare sclaffs within seconds of one another as we tried to clear the danger. We kept pressing and in the 75th minute Millar released Mackay for a cross but his effort just missed both Sammy and the Doc's head but at least we got a corner. Liam's effort was cleared back to him but he ended up clashing with Gomis. It was a blatant case of handbags but the referee decided to book the pair of them - given what he'd let go before this was almost ridiculous, especially a minute later when Daly, in a blatant attempt to get Liam to react stamped on the Saints player. He wasn't even booked. The freekick into the Arabs box was headed out to Millar. His ball in found Mackay unmarked on the left and Dave went for a cracking volley that went just over the bar.
Both sides were getting wound up now. Saints had another break before Sammy was clobbered. The freekick into the box was headed behind by the Doc. Danny saw a long shy cleared and then ten minutes from time Kenneth clobbered the Doc again. Fil's freekick from the left came back to him but yet again he hit the ball out the park. Three minutes later some more hesitation in the Saints defence from Danny, Doobs and Ando saw us fail to clear out lines. The Arabs broke down the right through Gomis who rode out a sliding Liam. In space he fired in a cross from the right and there was Daly to head the ball into the net. We didn't deserve it but you can't help but feel that the hesitation and slack play in the defence cost us the goal.
Del put Swankie on for Liam to no avail. The players' heads were down and with Doobs moved up the park we began to throw everything forward. The best chance came from a Mackay ball into the box but Doobs missed the ball. The Doc picked up a booking for a shove on Conway (file it under the "worth it" pile). Daly had another break and dive at the edge of the box - again play was waived on and again he escaped a card. The final throw of the dice came in the 93rd minute with another freekick with even Smithy forward for it. The ball into the box was headed down and found Sammy but his shot went wide of goal.
We didn't deserve to lose and a draw might have been a fairer result. It was a decent performance from the boys and with a bit more luck in front of goal and a bit more concentration and pace we might have nicked it. A lot of players were off-form tonight. The Doc won little in the air, our delivery from the flanks was poor and our play in defence was far too casual. MoM for me goes to Danny Grainger - plenty of hard tackles and plenty of support for the players in front of him.
Top six isn't over yet - we just need to find that spark again before Sunday.
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