Falkirk 1 Saints 2 - League Table Here
Team : Smith, Irvine, Grainger, Morris, Doobs, Mackay, Millar,
Davidson, Savo, Deuchar, Craig
Subs: Main, Connolly, Moon, Sheerinho, Sheridan, Morais, Reynolds
Another Saturday and one of the bigger games of the season as Saints finally headed to the Falkirk stadium in the hope that this time the game would go ahead. Attempts at recreating the January 2nd party atmosphere had been put on hold a bit with the disappointing showing last Saturday at home to Motherwell, but with Falkirk still just shoring up the league, there was every hope we'd get back to winning ways today and open up a gap with the bottom-placed side. An earlier humping of the Bairns in Perth showed that we had the beating of them and with the boys still creating loads of chances (as witnessed last weekend even if we couldn't put most of them away), it looked like we were in for an entertaining afternoon. Del had put out a plea for the fans to make the journey to back the players, especially after the boos last Saturday - he's made no bones during the week that he believed this was one of the biggest games of the season for Saints, although the pressure had been eased a bit on Saturday morning as the media attention switched to Doobs online nappy range and Liam as an ex-Bairn.
Falkirk's generous three-for-two offer still stood as well and so there was a decent crowd in the away end. Falkirk were still surfing the tail end of the wave of optimism after switching managers last month as Elvis rose from the dead to replace Eddie May. However, despite that they had struggled to get going with only a couple of wins over the Dons to boost their points tally in 2010. They'd lost "veterans" in the likes of McNamara etc but there was still plenty of talent at the club, and a manager who seemed almost hysterical in his confidence that they'd be safe come the end of the season.
The result today was a bit of a smash and grab job with a poor performance overall from Saints. Thankfully it was a case of not being as bad as the opposition and despite some strange refereeing decisions from O'Reilly (you wonder if the officials have anything to do with Pressley's apparent certainty that Falkirk will stay up) and the clobbering nature of Elvis' side, combined with some more suicidal antics from a Saints keeper, we probably just shaded the win thanks to a second-half performance that might not have been thrilling, but was enough to do the job. Del's relief at the win showed at the end as he urged the players down to take the applause but the key thing is to make sure we keep this going into the remaining games.
Ando was the main injury worry for today after straining knee ligaments last Saturday. Jody Morris had suffered no reaction to his muscle tear, although he was being a brave wee soldier and playing through the pain barrier. Meanwhile Murray Davidson, who had played on through a groin strain for most of the game was also fit, although again he was being carefully watched given the heavy match load that Saints have in the next few weeks. Sammy, who it seems has been set for a starting jersey for weeks now had failed a late fitness test last weekend thanks to a calf injury and faced the same again, along with 2 unnamed players.
The starting lineup saw Ando, Garters and Sammy out as Irvine and Danny game in to the full-back roles and Morris replaced Mooner in midfield. Savo and the Doc started up front. For the Bairns Scott Arfield was suspended and the strangely- named Pele was out through injury, so they didn't have their problems to seek. Never mind though their manager was fairly categorical in his insistence they'd be an SPL team next year, although how he's been privy to the league reconstruction plans I don't know.
The plan back in early January had been to make this a Blue and White Army day and try to repeat the massed Saints travelling support that had made the trip to East End Park last season. With the rearranged game moved from last Wednesday to a lovely Saturday afternoon, that was still the plan with the added boost of Falkirk keeping their three for two offer on pre-bought match tickets. That meant a cracking atmosphere before kick-off with a big Saints support in the ground. It's just a pity that the players weren't able to contribute to that by providing some entertainment on the park. The Falkirk pitch isn't a poor surface but neither team looked comfortable on the ball and it seemed that high balls were going to be the name of the game. The home side had some early pressure but Mackay and the Doobs looked solid at the back. For us, the only real chances came from a bit of pressure from some throw-ins on the right but Millar and Irvine were unable to get any decent crosses in, and the one they did ended up with Savo taking a knock as he challenged for the ball.
It wasn't until the eighth minute that we saw anything close to a chance on goal. Liam conceded a freekick and from that the ball in the box was only half-cleared by Doobs to Lima but his shot went well wide. Up the other end Savo saw a cross headed down. Grainger tried a long throw-in and found the Doc but his header went straight to the keeper. That led to a series of freekicks for the home side as the referee was suckered in by every Bairn dropping to the deck and throwing a tantrum. One against Doobs was blocked by the Saints wall while back up the park an Irvine shy found the Doc in the box but as he was fouled by Scobie, the referee ruled against the Saints striker - to say the least it was more than a bit annoying.
In the 17th minute Grainger had another throw and found the Doc who despite being held in the box managed to head it into the middle of the area and found Davidson who tried a snap shot that was well held. Mackay conceded the first corner of the game but that was easily cleared. The Doc won us another freekick on the left and Liam sent it into the box where a header on found Mackay at the far post. He took the ball down but was unable to make room for a cutback and his pass was cleared. That at least found Jody but he was really poor in the first-half and lost the ball easily allowing Falkirk to break up the park though thankfully they could only pass to Lima and a nice fresh air shot saw the ball go wide.
Another Liam freekick in the 20th minute found Mackay who headed across the box for Doobs but his challenge for a header was a foul according to the Laws of the Game (O'Reilly edition). There was more to annoy the Saints support a minute later as a Millar ball forward for the Doc saw Scobie dive again and win a freekick.
Despite getting more questionable decisions than an OF home game, Falkirk were unable to really capitalise on their advantage with a 25th minute header from Showunmi cleared. From that a throw-in saw a good cross into the Saints box but Mackay headed behind for a corner and that was cleared. Unfortunately it was time to give Falkirk another hand and this time Smithy turned into the benevolent one. A break down the Falkirk left saw Irvine outpaced. There was little danger but Smith still came out of his box (remember last week?). He was skinned but tried to recover with a challenge on the Bairn, earning a yellow card for his trouble. Worst was to come though with a freekick into the box missed by everyone except for Twaddle who shot home to give the Bairns the lead.
At least the goal served up as a bit of a wake-up call for Saints. A minute later a Millar cross for the Doc ended up with Save having a header saved. But it wasn't plain sailing and Grainger and Doobs combined to lose the ball in the 33rd minute allowing Showunmi to get through just onside but Mackay came over to make an excellent blocking tackle. Two minutes later we had our best chance of the game with a Liam cross ending in the Doc being fouled again. Despite that he managed to head the ball out and found Grainger . His deep cross in from the left was headed on but found an unmarked Chris Millar at the back post and he fired in a great header that Olejnik in the goal could only tip wide. The resulting corner saw Mackay try his luck but his header went straight at the keeper.
That gave us a bit of a boost and we came closer a couple of minutes later when the Doc and Millar linked up well with Jody to set up Irvine and his deep cross found Davidson whose looping header went just wide of the post. Grainger tried a freekick next finding Doobs but his header went straight behind. Still we were finishing the half strongly and Falkirk picked up their first booking two minutes from the break as Scobie scythed down Millar in the middle of the park.
From the freekick Grainger sent a ball in from the left and found an unmarked Doc at the back post. His header back across goal was stopped by Brian McLean's hand and the referee thankfully got the call right and pointed at the spot in spite of the ridiculous level of protests from the likes of Barr and co. Liam stepped up and sent the keeper the wrong way to calmly finish from the spot and stay at the top of the goals table, and more importantly bring us level. It was a decent way to end the half and perhaps gave us a slight edge going into the second period.
After the break we saw the same level of entertainment as the first with the game fairly evenly poised but at least we looked a little bit sharper going forward. Davidson earned Saints their first freekick after a couple of minutes but Liam's effort ended in a tame header that was easily saved. Falkirk went up the park and won a soft corner off Mackay. That broke out for a low shot that was well blocked before Doobs panicked into putting the ball out for another corner. That saw a typical Falkirk style of attack that had about twenty players in the six yard box with Smith crowded out and forced to punch the ball out a few times before Liam eventually hoofed it clear.
Our first real chance of the half came when we had a good break from Davidson in the 54th minute. He rode a couple of tackles before sending the ball right for Millar. A lay-off back to Irvine and a ball across the goal found Davidson who fired in a low shot that clipped the post and went wide. Falkirk went up the park and entertained us all with Healy having one of the most blatant dives of the season against a Millar challenge. The Falkirk freekick from the edge of the box went well over. Danny had a run next and set up Savo whose flick on for Millar saw him crowded out. He still managed to lay the ball to Deuchar on the right and his curling shot went just wide of goal.
The game was pretty much end-to-end and Barr had a good run skinning Liam in the 59th minute but his cutback was blocked by Doobs for a corner. That was cleared and we went up the park where Irvine saw a decent cross headed just wide. But the cockups hadn't stopped for Saints and a poor kickout from Smith in the 64th minute ended in a break for Showunmi. Doobs was back covering but when he was shoved to the deck by he Falkirk striker, the referee gave them the freekick. The freekick ended in a cross but the ball went out for a corner that ended in a Showunmi climbing expedition to head the ball over but somehow the referee gave them another corner - Millar cleared that one nicely.
Del made his first change in the 66th minute with Fil replacing Savo. It didn't have that much of an impact and while defensively we only looked shaky at set pieces, and the midfield were improving, we still looked disjointed and conceded possession all too easily. A Craig freekick in the 68th minute went way too deep and was easily held by the keeper, while a Flynn run that was well offside was well managed by Dave Mackay although he was forced into conceding a corner. Grainger had a cross held in the 74th minute and a minute later a Millar long ball for the Doc was headed on for Fil but the referee gave the freekick against the Doc and dished out a warning to the Saints striker.
Morais had a decent run in the 76th minute but was caught late by Twaddle. The referee decided to play advantage but there was little for Saints to take advantage of - still when the ball eventually went out the referee did dish a card out to the Bairns defender. The throw-in though ended up being punched clear by the keeper but only as far as Jody but his shot was punched out. Grainger played it back in and found Doobs who headed the ball down for Morais and he tried a shot that went just over the bar.
It was better stuff now and Falkirk were starting to look shaky as we began to dominate the midfield. Liam tried to find Fil in the 81st minute but Morais was offside. Then a long freekick into the Falkirk box saw Mackay and Doobs have headers cleared. But with five minutes of normal time remaining, a Grainger long ball out of defence found Deuchar after Scobie misjudged the bounce. The Doc took the ball inside the box and played a neat lob over the advancing keeper - it took an age but the ball dipped below the crossbar to give us the lead, send the Saints support daft and start the sort of mass exodus of the home fans you normally only experience at the Death Star.
Falkirk threw everything at us after that with Flynn their main threat breaking into the box at one point but fouling Mackay put an end to that.. Barr managed to get the ball into the Saints box towards the end but Doobs cleared easily enough. Mooner came on for Davidson in the last minute but the final chance fell to the home side. Craig only half-cleared the ball and it broke to Lima but true to form he sclaffed his shot a mile wide - at least it was entertaining.
Plenty of cheers for Saints at the final whistle and Del did well to get the players to come down and take the plaudits. It was a fairly poor performance at times but we did enough to take the three points. There weren't too many standout showings. Doobs and Mackay did well while Morris had a better second-half and Millar a decent first. Deuchar took his goal well but my MoM goes to Davidson who ran his arse off all afternoon and showed some neat touches. Falkirk looked down and beat once we scored and its hard to see how they'll manage to live up to their manager's expectations come the end of the season.
At least it's a bit closer to safety.
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