Saints 1 Falkirk 1 - League Table Here
Team : Smith, Irvine, Grainger, Morris, Doobs, Mackay, Millar,
Davidson, Morais, Sheridan, Craig
Subs: Main, Connolly, Garters, Swankie, Sheerinho, Sammy, Swankie
The prospect of seeing a half-fit Saints side taking on a resurrected Bairns side on a cold midweek night isn't exactly inspiring stuff. But given the fact that Elvis' mob are still propping up the division despite clawing back a point at Accies at the weekend and Saints are still chasing a top-six slot (albeit one that's a bit further away courtesy of our weekend defeat at the TattieDome), there was more than enough for both clubs to play for. We'd only just faced one another ten days ago at the Falkirk Stadium where the Doc's sublime late chip had sealed the points after we'd gone behind. So it's not as if the sides weren't familiar with one another. Since then of course, we'd managed that win over the Sheep last week to edge a bit nearer safety but Del made no bones at the weekend that the game tonight and Saturday's trip to Hamilton were the priority games.
The Bairns' draw at Hamilton had seen them close the gap a bit as the Midden, Killie and Billy Reid's timewasting eleven seemed set to be dragged back into the relegation dogfight. Whether their result was nothing more than a blip on their inexorable slide to the First Division remained to be seen - at least if they did go down, Pressley could take some comfort in being worth a six-figure sum for mid-table obscurity - well if you want to go by the price tag slapped on Jobbie McCall by his Partick bosses. Saints were still chasing the top six and tonight was one of our games in hand over the current sixth-placed Jambos, who had managed to piss us all off by beating Yogis Wimps on Saturday. Del was wanting the win for league safety more than anything else and we'd already reached that stage of the season where it was the win that would matter, not the manner it was achieved. For most of the fans it was going to be a case of we'd take any sort of result tonight, especially given the weakened squad we were forced to put out.
In the end, Saints were forced to settle for a point in the end after a scrappy game against a battling, physical bunch of Bairns. The performance was a bit better than Parkhead but still too disjointed with a nervous Saints side again looking off the pace and lacking in the composure we've shown on the ball earlier in the season. How much of that is due to the physical nature of the games we've played and the toll that's taking, combined with the number of players less than fully fit (Jody and Muzz were both off-form again tonight). For all that we fought well and could have snatched the game at the death - and with top six looking less and less likely it's vital we don't get pulled into a relegation battle.
With three hundred and forty players now out through injury, Del didn't have too much leeway in his team selection tonight. The Doc, Savo and Muzz had all picked up knocks on Saturday, with the former the more serious as he went over on his ankle. Savo and the Doc were ruled out and on top of that Morais and Jody were doubtful with their injuries (the former picking his up at the weekend). At least Cillian Sheridan's enforced absence from the TattieDome defeat meant that he was fit and raring to go tonight giving us one striker. Elsewhere in the squad Sammy managed to make an appearance on the bench. So we started with four changes from the weekend as Sheridan and Morais started up front instead of the Doc and Savo while Sheerinho and Swanks dropped to the bench as Liam and Jody started. Falky missed out with Sammy coming onto the bench. For the Bairns they were pretty much at full strength missing Healy but with the megastars like Barr and Arfield starting from them and the man-mountain of Showaddywaddy up front.
There was a decent crowd in McDiarmid for this one and the opening stages of the game saw little real play from either side although the Bairns to their credit looked a lot more fired up. Morris tried a chip early doors but that ended in a header that Olejnik easily held. Morais had a cross cleared as we tried to threaten but Falkirk had their first real chance with Moutinho shooting over in the fourth minute. Morais lost possession in the middle of the park a minute later and a long crossfield ball was misjudged by Irvine allowing Flynn in but Smith made a good save to palm the shot out to be cleared by a blue shirt.
The Saints midfield was struggling and Chris lost the ball next in the 9th minute. Falkirk broke down the left into the box where Pedro had the sort of dive that was simply embarrassing. Thankfully the referee saw it that way as well. We went up the park and a long throw from Danny was lobbed forward by Liam for Sheridan but his header was held. Next up a Falkirk freekick was cleared and Millar released Fil down the right wing and he went on a good run before sending a brilliant cross in for Sheridan but the striker's header went wide of goal. Irvine won the break of the ball next and went on a run into the box but was crowded out. The resulting throw-in saw Fil, Muzz and Millar try to walk the ball into the next but each time they were well crowded out and the move ended with another Sheridan header going wide.
Falkirk had a couple of efforts thanks to some soft freekicks (the referee was just getting going with his ineptitude) before Saints managed to shoot themselves in the foot in the 19th minute. A poor passback wasn't well cleared by Smith landing at the feet of a Bairn in the centre circle. A simple forward pass found Flynn behind our sliding defence and through one-on-one with the keeper to beat he made no mistake. Suddenly Saints were up against it and every minor mistake was magnified a hundred times as we tried to get going.
We almost drew level within a minute after Muzz was up-ended on the edge of the box - Liam's freekick going over the bar. At least there was time for some pettiness from the away dugout with Grainger having words with Steven "The referees all hate us, honest it's not cos we're crap" Pressley as the Big Bairn held onto the ball and refused to give it back - maybe he'd be better off with a rattle. Back on the park though and too many high balls and scrappy play from Saints wasn't helping matters. Danny managed a tackle in the 25th minute and despite everyone in the ground thinking it was fair he ended up in the referee's book.
Falkirk weren't threatening too much as the half wore on seemingly happy to hit us on the break. They had one corner easily cleared but weren't causing the defence too many problems - probably just as well as Mackay and Doobs were both looking out of sorts.Showaddywaddy certainly looked a lot more threatening than the last time the teams faced one another and thanks to an overly sympathetic referee it seemed any challenge involving the Bairns striker ended in a freekick for them.
A few Falkirk freekicks made it into our box but the defence dealt with them easily enough. They did have one break ten minutes from the interval but Jody, in a rare display of skill tonight, got back to put in a great tackle in the box to win the ball.
With little expectation of Saints finding their feet, there was a bit of a shock in the 37th minute. Another build-up from the left saw Danny play the ball forward for Davidson who played a great pass into the box. He found Fil cutting in from the left and despite a tackle coming in, Morais was able to fire in a brilliant shot from about twelve yards out that beat the keeper hands down and drew us level. That was the spark we needed and suddenly Saints were knocking the ball about a bit more comfortably - amazingly enough Falkirk's timewasting ended around the same time. A decent ball into the Falkirk box found Davidson but his header was cleared.
Then Liam and Irvine saw crosses held. Back in defence Danny cleared a Flynn cross after Davidson committed another invisible foul - that was how his half ended and the Saints midfielder almost talked himself into the book as he expressed some verbal criticism of the referee's decision-making prowess.
Del obviously had words with the players at the interval and we looked a lot livelier after the break. An Irvine throw-in a minute after the restart saw him try to impersonate Danny. He found Sheridan who headed the ball on for Liam in the box. He was unable to turn and make the shot opting instead to find Doobs in support. He laid it off for Fil but the final ball was cleared. It wasn't much but it was almost a piece of flowing play and it looked like we were more intent on holding onto the ball to create something rather than just hoof it up the park.
Falkirk had a couple of freekicks (soft ones against Doobs and Fil), the first cleared but the second ending in a cross from the left which had Doobs out of position and Showaddywaddy in room to head the ball over the bar. The relegation candidates came closer in the 56th minute and a simple throw-in saw the Saints defence about as organised as an MPs expenses. Thankfully Showaddywaddy kicking was about as accurate and a miskick from him and sclaffs from Doobs and Danny eventually saw the ball cleared to the edge of the box where the final shot went just over the bar.We went up the park with a great run down the left from Millar, only ended when Barr clipped his heels (no card either). The freekick in from Fil found Doobs at the back post and he powered in a brilliant header but it was just wide of goal, much to the dismay of the East Stand who all thought it had gone in.
Scobbie, fearing another defensive blunder clattered Sheridan next. The freekick from the right found Doobs again and his header across the goal ended in a Craig chip into the box that was cleared. Liam had a cross for Sheridan and Davidson but that came to nothing. The game though was getting scrappier with both sets of players obviously nervous about making a mistake and losing a goal. We weren't helped by the entire midfield being off form and Morais losing his impact as he was crowded out on the right wing.
We were creating chances though, even if they weren't exactly what you'd call clearcut. Doobs played a good long ball for Sheridan in the 66th minute but his shot was blocked. A minute later a nice through ball found Sheridan and his header on for Liam saw Craig turn well on the edge of the box before shooting just wide of target. Falkirk were defending in numbers and we just couldn't break them down. An Irvine freekick found Davidson. A nice ball in from him was headed on for Morais but his shot was blocked. Danny, Chris and Liam linked well in the 72nd minute for the latter to cross from the left only for the arm of Moutinho to block the ball. Cue a yellow card for the Bairn and a curling Morais freekick just wide of the back post.
Showaddywaddy had another header go over the bar (well when you're 9ft tall it's hard to direct the ball down). Saints had another freekick in the 77h minute with Mackay's header out for Grainger ending in a decent cross but no takers in the box. Del made a double switch after that with Davidson and Sheridan making way for his Swankosity and Sammy. Liam fired a freekick into the box just after that but Doobs again headed wide. Grainger tried a throw-in next which a Bairn cleared only as far as His Swankiness at the edge of the box but a freak gust of wind caught the ball as His Swankosity volleyed it and spitefully carried the ball wide of goal.
A minute later a layoff from Sammy saw Swankie released through the middle like a leaping salmon only for some bad Bairns to get in the way and tackle him as he went for a one-man Archie Gemmilesque run. Falkirk saw a corner in the 83rd minute played into the box and cleared by Saints although the entire away support managed a squeal of handball (thus no doubt adding to the conspiracy theories involving referees, Pressley and the UFO triangle for the back pages tomorrow).
Two minutes later and Doobs picked up his booking. The freekick into the box saw Smithy earn his keep with a great double-save from a couple of close-range shots before Irvine cleared the ball. It was getting to shoogly sphincter time for the Saints defence as the Bairns mounted a late challenge. Liam had a long-range shot go wide of goal as we countered towards the end of normal time. A great ball down the right found His Swankiness in the box and he played a lovely ball across the goal only to find no blue shirts in support and the Bairns defence able to clear their lines.
Del put on Reynolds for the tiring Morais as we pressed forward. Grainger sent a long freekick into the box for Doobs who set up Reynolds but he had to settle for a throw-in. Gary Irvine sent that long but Doobs ended up heading behind. Morris and Sammy linked up next on the right to release Swankie in the box and another brilliant ball was played across the Falkirk goal needing the merest of touches to put it in - no blue shirts in attendance though. Falkirk went up the park and an uncharacteristic slip by Mackay allowed them in for a shot that thankfully went wide of goal. Sammy won a corner in injury time with a nice run into the box but again it was cleared with the main action reserved for the referee going over and sorting out a barney between the Falkirk dugout and the fourth official (see they're all out to get Pressley).
Overall a draw was probably a fair result and given our injury / fitness problems and general tired legs it was a decent performance from Saints once we got going. We need to improve for the weekend but hopefully a bit more sharpness will return to the side. Standouts were Doobs and Grainger in defence who both put in good shifts but Fil gets my MoM for a cracking goal and providing most of the entertainment. As for the Bairns - expect their whinging to continue for the rest of the season, and it's not going to win them any friends.
Saturday is Hamilton - we really need to go for broke.
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