Temple Of Saints - Hardie to the Rescue

Clydesdale Bank Premier League 30/08/2009

Saints 2 Europa League Rejects 2 - League Table Here

Team : Main, Mackay, Grainger, Morris, Garters, Caff, Millar, Davidson, Deuchar, Sammy, Morais
Subs: McLean, Irvine, Savo, Hardie, Liam, Reynolds, May

The first real test of the season for us today saw Saints face up to the permanent bridesmaids of Scottish football in the team of Eastern European rejects who seem perpetually doomed to deliver more expectation than substance when they play. The Jambos haven't had a great start to the season and when you actually manage to get one of the soldiers of the Forces of Darkness sent off and still blow the lead to lose the game it just seems like nothing will go right. Still at least they had a token European jaunt to Zagreb to remind them that it's not just domestically where they're failing - although their performance in the second leg on Thursday hinted that they might still have some fight left in them. For Saints, we'd rebounded from the moral victory at the Evil Empire with a convincing win against Arbroath to take the tally to fifteen goals in four games and given the state of the Jambos defence these days there was no reason to suspect that we wouldn't add to that today.

The game though was an absolute cracker and with the sort of drama you'd associate with an Arsenal penalty decision, there was plenty for the Saints fans to be happy about. We dominated the first half but as in the Well opener, we didn't take our chances and with tiring legs in the second-half, we ended up a goal behind after having one chalked off. Still at least we know we can't write off the spirit and fight of Del's players and right at the death we got the least we deserved. There are loads of positives to take from the game for the coming matches but at the same time the lesson is still there that we have to take our chances when they come up.

After being rested in midweek Del had Jody and Murray available for the midfield again. We'd come through the cup tie relatively unscathed although Danny and Mackay along with Savo had picked up minor knocks at one point or another but all were fit and raring to go. The manager opted for four changes to the side with Morris, Davidson, Deuchar and Millar back in the side as Liam, MMM and Savo dropped to the bench and Sheerinho missed out altogether. Dave Mackay kept the right-back slot ahead of Gary Irvine while Reynolds and May made up the youth quota. For the Jambos there were a few Scots in the lineup along with the Weightwatchers "before" advert that is Christian Nade.

Saints kicked off and as is the norm these days we went for the jugular from the start. Within a minute though the Hearts tactics were showing through as Obua took the first of their dives trying to clear from some Saints pressure. Jody and Mackay linked up well for the latter to have a run into the opposition box but again he was too easily bundled off the ball. The Edinburgh side won their first corner in the third minute thanks to a Mackay deflection but the Saints defender was on hand to head the set piece clear of danger. Mackay set up our next move a couple of minutes later with a long throw-in. He got the ball back and set up a cross which saw the Crouchesque figure of Murray Davidson diving to head in the box with his header going just wide of goal. Sammy had a run next only to be upended by Bouzid when he seemed set to break through on goal. The referee refrained from showing a card on this occasion and the freekick was easily held by Balogh.

We were enjoying the majority of the play and thanks to the ineptitude of the Jambos up front Main was practically a spectator - Arbroath were probably tougher in that respect. The next chance to be missed came after nine minutes with a long header out from Caff finding the Doc who headed down for Sammy. His run down the right side of the pitch ended in a low cutback into the Hearts six-yard box where both Doc and Morais managed to miss the ball. The ball still bounced round the box thanks to a poor clearance and fell for Davidson but he couldn't conjure up the room for a shot. He had a better chance a minute later when Morris and Mackay again linked on the right with the latter's deep cross finding the Doc who headed back across goal for Murray but his header went just wide of the goal. Morais tried a chip from distance that was also wide of the target as Saints continued to press.

The Jambos managed a shot from new boy Thomson in the 15th minute and thanks to a lucky deflection got a corner. That led to the first real controversy as the ball was headed out to Filipe and his long pass found Sammy on a run down the right wing only to be hacked down by Lee Wallace with the Hearts man possibly lucky to escape with just a booking. Grainger took the freekick and sent it well wide. We were creating plenty of chances in the box but lacked the final touch with the Doc and Sammy partnership showing a lack of understanding while in midfield neither Morais or Millar were in the game much. Millar saw a drive blocked in the 19th minute and then sixty seconds after that Nade plummeted to earth under a challenge from Garters although Main comfortably dealt with the freekick. We still lacked the courage to take our chances typified by a move in the 23rd minute where Davidson released Sammy. His effort was blocked but the Doc was there to follow-up and set up Millar but again the midfielder hesitated over his shot allowing the defence to clear.

Sammy had a run next and set up Millar for the cross but that ended up with a foul against the Doc. If that annoyed the home support, there was plenty to cheer about in the 25th minute as we took the lead in some style. Another good run from Sammy saw him held. No advantage from the referee but Saints still managed to get the ball back out to Mackay and this time his cross was met by Davidson leaping up to power a header down and past the keeper to give us the lead.

Even when they'd gone behind, it seemed that the Jambos still couldn't be bothered and a minute later Sammy had the ball in the box only to find himself unable to set up the Doc. We were playing as well as we've done all season but it was always going to be the case that one goal would never be enough. The defence and midfield were creating enough chances but the strikers lacked that little bit of luck in front of goal to take advantage of them. A long header from Caff found Morais who set up the Doc but again his first touch was poor. Hearts best chances of the half came from a series of corners ten minutes before the interval but even then Danny and Murray were there to clear the danger.

Their tactics began to reek of desperation with Wallace taking a dive although thankfully the referee saw right through it. A long punt seven minutes before the break found Sammy in space and he took a run into the box but possibly rushed his shot with the result that his low angled shot was held by the keeper. Play was going end-to-end and Glen almost caused us some difficulties when he got behind Grainger but his cutback went across the goal. Five minutes before the break we had another good chance when a poor kickout from Balogh landed at Sammy's feet but his goalwards run ended in Gonclaves bringing him down earning a booking but one that could arguably have been a red. Grainger's freekick was blocked by the wall.

Morris and Mackay teamed up to cross for the Doc and his ball found Millar before the referee showed the defence some sympathy (the Doc seemed to have pissed the referee off in some past life given the lack of decisions in his favour today). The half ended with a handball from Black on the halfway line. Mackay sent the freekick deep and a header on reached Morais but his back post header went across the goal and out.

There were no changes at the break but Saints started well enough with Millar finding space but again hesitating over a shot before Mackay sent the ball over for Murray but his header went wide. Morris and Mackay linked next with a low cross for Sammy but he lost out in a race with the Jambos keeper. Hearts looked more fired up though and a foul on Nade led to a freekick that saw the Doc head behind spectacularly for a corner - Murray and Sammy linking to clear that danger.

The cards weren't long in coming either and five minutes into the half Thomson became the next Hearts player in the book for a late foul on Murray. That was quickly followed by a daft booking for Mackay for a tug on Wallace as he broke up the wing. There were just little niggly fouls but at least showed that the referee was showing some consistency. A Grainger throw went long for Sammy but his header just missed the ball. Ten minutes into the half and Irvine came on for Mackay who looked to have picked up a knock.

Almost immediately there was more controversy as a long ball found Nade. He got into the box and despite Main getting a hand to the ball Nade decided to go down faster than the Jambos bank balance. The referee checked with his linesman though and didn't hesitate in showing the Hearts player a yellow card. Two minutes later though and it went sour. Garters fouled Stewart on the wing and picked up a booking for his trouble (with Stewart almost losing the plot despite getting the freekick). The ball into the box though found Gonclaves and he headed past Main to make is one apiece.

That goal lifted the Edinburgh side while at the same time we began to look a bit more tired - Davidson and Grainger especially seemed to have lost a bit of pace. Up front we weren't having the luck either - a Doc break and cutback for Sammy saw him fail to control the ball. Hearts pressed back and a cross found Main missing but Caff was there to head behind for a corner. That was held by Main and he set up Sammy and Filipe but their counter attack ended in a shot held by the keeper. Millar played a great ball through for Sammy next and he got into the box only for the keeper to block his angled shot.

Davidson, who'd been limping and carrying a head knock went off in the 68th minute to be replaced by the Mad Mental One. Saints were under pressure almost immediately though with Hardie eventually clearing the danger from a crowded box. That went straight up the park where Morais won us a corner. A nice deep cross found Hardie but his header was blocked by the keeper. Cue a counter from the Jambos forcing a corner that Garters headed clear.

The game was being played at a fair pace given how both sets of players looked tired from their midweek exertions. Morris tried a long ball for the Doc and his header found Sammy but again the Saints striker was crowded out as he tried to make room for the shot. With 15 minutes to go Grainger was skinned on the wing but thankfully Caff was there to come over and clear the danger. We were still fighting but lacked the pace needed to support playing the ball on the deck so more and more it seemed like the long ball was the way to play.

Hearts best chance came with ten minutes remaining as Obua again broke down the right. Grainger tracked him back all the way only to slip near the byeline and allow the Jambo in to cur the ball back. Garters was there to cover though and settle for a corner. That was cleared by Millar to Thomson but he won a freekick. With everyone back, the ball was squared to an unmarked Black who tried his luck from about 25 yards out with a rising shot that just dipped over the bar.

Savo replaced Sammy for the closing stages which seemed a bit of a surprise since the Doc, in my opinion, was struggling more. He added some impetus to the attack though as both sides went in chase of a winner. Then the real drama began.

With five minutes of normal time remaining we won a freekick on the right-wing thanks to a handball. The ball was played into the box and the keeper missed it with a header from the Doc sticking the ball into the net. Unfortunately as the East Stand rose to celebrate, the referee decided the keeper had been impeded (at least I assume that was the decision) and while we got back to try and rearrange things the Jambos played a quick long ball forward and up the park. A break down the left wing and a cutback saw a decent shot played in that Main did well to block but when it broke clear there were two maroon shirts there and Obua got in to slot the ball inside Main's left-hand post. He picked up a booking for over- celebrating but it wasn't much consolation.

Suddenly it felt like we'd been kicked in the teeth and from having dominated the game we might end up with nothing.But the spirit in the Saints side that won us the cup is still there and we threw everything into the attack. A quick counter and corner in the 86th minute saw the keeper spill the ball but no blue shirt was there to capitalise on the loose ball. Hearts countered with Thomson shooting over but Saints were back up the park as Savo and Filipe tried to create something. The defence cleared that but we weren't finished and with four minutes of additional time about to start Grainger fired in a cross for Morais and his shot was well blocked. The ball broke to Savo who turned and tried a low effort that the keeper tipped clear - even the it didn't go out for a corner, although with Hearts just content to clear their lines it wasn't long before it came back in with a header blocked by a defender this time.

It's at times like these that the Messiah-like miracle can come from an unexpected quarter. Paul Sheerin might not have been on the park but I'm convinced he'd done the Wizard duty of sprinkling the magic pixie dust into the boots of a Saints player. So it was that three minutes into added on time one final throw of the dice saw the ball sent forward to the charging figure of Mad Mental Martin. Showing the grace and beauty of Nuryev in his prime Hardie took the ball to the edge of the box riding a couple of challenges before being caught needlessly as he tried to move in for a shot.

A freekick, 18 yards out and no Sheerinho in the squad. No matter as the Mad Mental One took on the responsibility himself and faced with a wall of maroon cast his mind back to November last year at East End Park. The finesse and style from that afternoon came back and he ran up and sent a glorious curving ball over the wall and past the despairing yellow streak of Balogh into the top-left corner of the net to send the fans, manager and his teammates wild, and possibly show that the spirit of this side might just be enough to see us through the coming season. Mind you he still got booked for celebrating although I don't think he even left the pitch.

That was it for the referee and the game finished all-square, although I think Del will be the more aggrieved of the managers. We should have won this one but like the Well game, we paid the price for not taking our chances early on. There were a lot of tired players out there today and our fitness possibly needs to improve. On the plus side, the defence played well and Mackay deserved his start on merit, while Garters and Caff (the latter my MoM) were rock solid. Grainger struggled late on but still played his part. In the middle Davidson is looking like the find of the season and up front Sammy and the Doc did well although the Doc still needs to develop the sort of understanding and partnership that he had with Jacko a couple of years ago. Del can be happy with the performance and fight though and once we get that first win under our belts I don't doubt we'll be comfortable enough in this league - there is nothing to fear.

Still, I could do without the dramatic finishes though....

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Team P W D L F A Pts
Rangers 3 3 0 0 10 3 9
Celtic 3 3 0 0 9 3 9
Dundee Utd 3 2 1 0 4 1 7
Hibs 3 2 0 1 5 3 6
Motherwell 3 1 2 0 5 3 5
Aberdeen 3 1 1 1 4 3 4
St Mirren 3 1 1 1 3 3 4
Kilmarnock 3 1 0 2 5 5 3
Saints 3 0 2 1 6 9 2
Hearts 3 0 1 2 3 6 1
Falkirk 3 0 0 3 3 9 0
Hamilton 3 0 0 3 1 10 0

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