Saints 2 United 1
Team : Smith, Mackay, Grainger, Millar, Rustybitz, Garters,
Davidson, Craig, Deuchar, Johansson, Sheerinho
Subs: Main, Ando, Mooner, Morais, Peaso
For about the first time this season Saints fans approached a game with a bit of trepidation. We've not won many games this campaign outwith the cup but there has been plenty of entertainment on show and more importantly we've not looked second-best. Saturday's debacle at Rugby Park changed that as a lacklustre performance missing the hunger and passion we've seen earlier in the season, combined with a horrendous display from our keeper and a strikeforce firing so many blanks they'd never get near the front door of a sperm donor clinic, all meant that we had more and enough on our plates. Added to that there was the one-off nature of the cup and we all know how often that kicks us in the teeth. Finally and the icing on this slab of poisonous cake was tonight's opponents. Okay so it's not exactly Scumdee we're playing but they share the same sewage tunnel between the grounds so the smell is just the same.
The Arabs came into this one fresh from a two-goal win at Pittodrie (perhaps nothing to boast about) and in Craig Levein a manager so beloved by the SPL fans that even the knuckle- draggers of The Forces of Darkness are talking about him as a replacement for Walter. For Saints it was a quick chance to make amends for the weekend and show that our faith has not been misplaced. At least against United we have a bit of recent history to pick from with a win over the soon-to-depart Craig Brewster three years ago, on top of Del's use of the cup finalist sides in the past as part of his team talk before the game - most of us tonight would have settled for one goal though.
As it was we didn't quite get the most exciting game ever but given the number of changes in the Saints side the boys did us proud even if we were almost riding our luck a bit towards the end. The Saints players might have been knackered but the defence was solid and midfield did well to contain any vague threat that United could muster. Of course we also had our secret weapon in Agent Dods to come off the bench and provide the coup de grace. It doesn't get much better than that. Eleven years on from the semi victory over Hearts were into the last four again and plenty of credit tonight goes to the management and players to turning things round from the weekend.
Going into this one Del had some hard decisions to make. The weekend performance had highlighted how poor some areas of the squad were and the need to beef up the defence and provide more support for Sammy up front. Ideally, that meant dumping the 4-4-2. There was also a decision to be made about Alan Main - the consensus from the supporters after Saturday was that it was time to give Smiffy a run out and see if he's capable of challenging. There was also other alternatives with Rustybitz and Peaso back in contention while Morais had recovered from his shoulder injury. On the downside, Savo was still out while Mad Mental Martin has aggravated his calf injury at Kilmarnock (God knows how unless it was running up the tunnel) and was rated doubtful.
The starting lineup saw six changes from the weekend. Main made way for Graeme Smith, Jody and Sammy missed out along with Hardie and Swankie while Ando was dropped to the bench to make way for the returning Rustybitz. Sheerinho and Craig were handed starts in midfield while up front the strike pairing was Kenny Deuchar and new signing Jonatan Johansson, who put pen to paper today on a deal until the end of the year. Mind you it's not as if he's an unfamiliar face having been training here for the last couple of months. For the Arabs Casalinuovo was kept on the bench but Badfanny started up front with Cadamarteri. No Agent Dods in the starting side, instead he worked his mysterious magic from the dugout.
There was a decent enough crowd in McD and with the sexy new floodlights casting a modern-day halo around the boys, Saints started well winning their first freekick as Dillon clobbered Deuchar in the first minute. That was well blocked but within a minute there was another flashpoint as Liam and Mark Fotheringham clashed with the latter kicking Liam in the head as he tried to get up - the East Stand linesman showed his objectivity by keeping his flag down. Saints were looking lively with Johansson set up by Grainger in the third minute only to be ruled offside. Next up was a long freekick from Smith (oh the joy of having a keeper that can both kick the ball over the halfway line and keep it on the bloody pitch), cleared into the path of Deuchar who set up Liam on the left. He took the ball forward and played a great cross in for the Doc but somehow the big striker headed wide of the goal.
We kept up the pressure with another ball forward from Liam which reached Davidson in the box but Banks in the away goal managed to punch clear. We got our first corner in the seventh minute thanks to a Grainger through ball for JJ who managed to keep his balance despite being held in he box. The corner was easily cleared though as the Arabs used their height advantage at the back with the likes of Webster and Kenneth dealing with the high balls. A minute later the referee began to piss us off as well ruling for a foul by Davidson as he and Banks went for a 50-50 ball from Grainger. It seemed like a matter of time before the cards were being dished out especially given the persistent fouling of Cadamarteri.
Saints though were dominating the game with the next chance in the ninth minute coming from JJ after he latched onto a through ball from Millar but he hooked his angled shot well wide. The next freekick (after Davidson took a kick in the head) was cleared and then Mackay and JJ linked to set up Millar in the box but the defence managed to clear.
It wasn't until there were fifteen minutes on the clock before the Arabs dared to venture near the Saints area with Badfanny trying a shot from the right that was blocked allowing Smith time to gather. United seemed intent on impersonating Arsenal with their constant playing of the offside trap and we badly missed Sammy's pace as JJ and the Doc lacked the understanding from playing together often. For all that though the midfield were pressing forward with Davidson seemingly let off the leash and Millar and Mackay given free reign on the right. Defensively we weren't really bothered as both Rusty and Garters were solid while Grainger was playing out of his skin on the left.
Even when the Arabs threatened they hadn't mastered the knack of fair play - a Badfanny cross was headed out by Grainger but the ball back in saw Cadamarteri try to play the Saints player rather than the ball (five fouls in and still no card). Liam had a shot wide after JJ turned provider and then Badfanny was given room to shoot over the bar. The cup-tie grudges were coming through and Davidson was penalised for a clash with Bauben - the freekick was wasted. United forced a corner in the 23rd minute but Deuchar was there to head the ball clear - the ball was played back in and Swanson shot just over the bar. Saints weren't exactly under pressure but we were letting the opposition back into the game more and more - not helped by the midfield seeming to drop further and further back, and the early pace easing up a bit.
We seemed to be getting the better chances though and Davidson headed a Craig cross wide on the half-hour mark. Grainger tried to set up JJ next but the referee decided that he'd fouled Kenneth (it looked the other way). As the first-half drew to a close it seemed both sides were looking nervous about making a mistake with the game on a knife-edge. United saw a couple of crosses cleared while a Mackay run to set up the Doc was well cleared. Liam played a brilliant cross in from the left with six minutes to play and found the Doc who headed the ball down for Millar but his first-time shot wasn't powerful enough and the keeper gathered the ball comfortably.
More good play from JJ ended in a cross for Deuchar that the keeper punched clear. Then a long freekick from defence saw the Doc head the ball on for Mackay who played the ball back in to an off-balance Deuchar and the final shot went over the bar. We just lacked that final touch and you got the feeling that if we pressed a bit harder we'd get the breakthrough.
Still half-time saw the secret coded tap on the away dressing- room door and sure enough Agent Dods appeared to replace Webster. For Saints, Liam switched to the right wing and moved forward while JJ switched to the left side. We pressed well in the opening stages of the half but the Arabs offside trap was sprung again and again. If anything it seemed that one goal might settle what was becoming a close game and more and more it seemed that it would be a set-piece that would break the deadlock as both sides struggled in open play. We should have opened the scoring in the 51st minute when Grainger did one of his speciality long- throws into the Arabs box. He found Deuchar who headed the ball on perfectly finding JJ but somehow he managed to stick his header just over the bar. Another Grainger cross a minute later saw JJ's header cleared, leaving the striker needing treatment.
Obviously in the face of such domination Levein's mob had to resort to more traditional Coagey methods. Cue Cadamarteri dropping to the deck quicker than a Hulltoon Whore's knickers when offered a Bacardi Breezer in a simply embarrassing attempt to win a penalty - why on earth he wasn't cautioned for diving beats me. Saints started another attack a couple of minutes later as Deuchar won the ball in the middle and went on a run up the left sending a good cross in for JJ but the defence managed to clear the danger. The Arabs almost threatened when Cadamarteri released Swanson a minute later but his cross from the right was easily held by Smith and turned into another long kick to clear the danger.
Millar tried his luck just before the hour mark with a shot from the edge of the box that went just over the bar. The game was pretty much end-to-end as both sides looked for the breakthrough and to avoid extra-time. Swanson had a dive against Davidson but justice was served as his freekick went straight over and was missed by everyone in the box.
Del made his first change on the hour with Rustybitz (who looked as good as ever) replaced by Ando. Both sides were still making chances - Deuchar had a good run but managed to slip in the box as he struggled for pace. A nice one-two between him and JJ was cleared and then Grainger released Deuchar down the left only for the striker to be downed. The freekick from Liam was a decent one but nobody in the box seemed to want to touch the ball.
Saints second change in the 67th minute saw the knackered Sheerinho replaced by Morais allowing Millar to switch to the middle of the park. Five minutes later and a nice long ball to Morais saw the winger force a corner. Time for Ando to repeat his Accies moment of inspiration and the inswinger met his majestic head at the near post which beautifully diverted the ball into the net leaving the Arabs looking like dumbfounded statues.
Suddenly the game sparked to life and there was a greater sense of urgency from both sides. Deuchar won another freekick that was cleared and then Deuchar broke down the left in the 74th minute only to be barged to the deck - no penalty said the referee who seemed intent on keeping his cards clean for the weekend. Two minutes later it didn't matter as the secret weapon was deployed. Morais had a break down the right, skinning Dillon at right-back before being up-ended. Morais dummied the freekick allowing Liam to curl it in where Garters seemed to have just whispered the code word to Agent Dods who duly turned the ball into his own net. Two-nil up and the chants of "Darren Dods Dods Dods" rang out in the East Stand.
United threw on Casalinuovo and Conway in an attempt to take something from the game and they piled on the pressure. Saints were struggling for fitness with Davidson carrying a knock and Deuchar and JJ struggling for pace. With nine minutes remaining they got a consolation as a long ball in was half-cleared by Garters header but chipped back in where Bauben got up to loop a header over Smith and into the net - the Saints keeper earning a booking for kicking the ball away.
That signalled the final charge from the Arabs as it was backs to the wall for us. A United corner a couple of minutes later saw Smith nowhere. The ball came back in and Smith came out to narrow the angle but the cross went across the goal. Back it came again and again Smith was unable to hold the cross before it was eventually cleared by Grainger. United tried a cross off Grainger next with an accompanying plea for handball but the referee ignored it. We couldn't clear our lines properly though and Del made his final change in the 87th minute as Mooner replaced JJ.
The closing stages saw us just happy to clear our lines and with four minutes of time added on the game suddenly dragged. We did manage one attack after Deuchar was held at the corner of the United box. Grainger hit a low effort that the wall took the power from allowing Banks to gather. The final chances from the Arabs saw a Garters header cleared to Kovacevic who tried a chip over the bar and then a Conway run and cross that Smith held, proving he's not just about kicking.
The result was a deserved win for Saints. The game was never really pretty and again it seemed that sexy football has to be discarded to get the desired outcome. MoM for me was Danny Grainger who just edged out Liam. There were no other real standouts although at the same time there were no real failures with every blue-shirted God working for their teammates. Smith's kicking will be a boon if we can take advantage of it with some pacy strikers and while he was never really challenged tonight he did well. Rustybitz and Garters linked well while Ando came in to add his own trademark to the game. In the middle we tired a lot more with Sheerin and Davidson both knackered for most of the second-half. Up front Deuchar did ok but badly needs a goal while JJ had a good debut and looks like he'll provide an alternative up front.
So which bunch of bigots do you think we'll get in the semi?
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