Jambos 1 Saints 2 - League Table Here
Team : Smith, Mackay, Grainger, Morris, Rustybitz, Caff, Millar,
Davidson, Deuchar, Sammy, Morais
Subs: Main, Irvine, Mooner, JJ, Craig, May, Durnan
It was back to normal today after the cheery interlude of seeing Scotland destroyed by a bunch of Welsh schoolkids. It seems like an age ago that we stood shivering in the beachfront surroundings of Pittodrie watching a plucky Saints side lose out thanks to a dodgy refereeing decision. Today was always going to be along the same lines as the Jambos had turned Tynecastle into a fairly threatening place for the opposition players and fans. Still for all the wonderful culture one could absorb heading up past the delights of the Dalry Road, at least the view once you're in the ground is a good one with Saints ensconced in the upper tier and out to recreate the party atmosphere the last time we headed through for an ill-fated CIS semi-final against the other Edinburgh mob. This marked the start of the second quarter of the season and a chance for the boys to show that we don't need to show the rest of the league any respect - they've barely deserved it so far.
After an all-square encounter at McDiarmid earlier in the season when Mad Mental Martin did his best Beckham impression in the final minute to get us the least we deserved, neither side has found any consistency this season. The Jambos last match saw a goalless derby with Hibs and that almost summed up their season so far with a lack of action in front of goal a major worry for the Gorgie team. For Saints it's been the defence that has come in for criticism lately although the strikers didn't get away with avoiding the flak either after failing to score more than one from a sackload of chances against the Sheep - that's one record that needed to improve today and given our previous record against the Gorgie side, it looked like there was going to be a reasonable chance of some goals.
As it was, the game saw a real Jekyll and Hyde performance with one of the worst first-half performances this season seeing us lucky to only be trailing by a single goal. However the second forty- five was a different matter as we pressed and harried and battled our way back into the game and then with the home side reduced to ten men clinch a winner. Nobody can grudge us the result given the hard-luck tales that have typified the Saints match reports so far this season and while Del has to address the problems in the first-half, the whole team can be satisfied with a job well done tonight. All we have to do is keep that going.
Despite a fortnight's break, broken up only by a scary picture of a squad lazer quest game at Crieff Hydro in today's Sun, the game saw some changes in the Saints side as the injuries began to bite. Mad Mental Martin was out with knee ligament damage and the Doc and Garters were both doubts with a groin strain and shoulder injury and they were joined by Ando and Grainger. We were boosted by the return of Mooner and Peaso to the squad after the pair managed to score against Falkirk midweek (using their feet rather than any sort of Thierry Henryesque dodgy qualification methods) and were in contention to take some part in the game today. Elsewhere Caff had also been given an injection as he returned to the side. Del opted for a starting eleven with Caff replacing Garters at the back and Grainger passed fit for the left-back role. The midfield consisted of Millar on the right and Morais preferred to Craig on the left while Murray and Jody occupied the middle. Deuchar was passed fit and he partnered Sammy up front with JJ the striker on the bench, meaning no place again for Peaso. Mooner did make the bench along with Craig and Gary Irvine as Ando was also ruled out.
For the Jambos it seemed that their main concern was whether Csaba Lazlo would take his media manipulation skills (i.e. talk so much during a post-match interview that even Chic the Pric can't get his trademark chuckle in) to a new level after he touted himself for the Scotland job - which possibly shows just how bad life must be at Tynecastle, although at least he seems to have his get-out clause organised. The had some injury problems of their own though with Mole and Andy Driver ruled out - which was nice and went for the man-mountain shapes of Nade and Ebua up front.
After the torrential rain midweek, the pitch was in good condition but despite a good backing from the Saints support, it was the Jambos that made the early running. Saints simply looked rusty from the start and within the first couple of minutes Glen had seen a snap shot held and a Nade cutback was only just intercepted by Danny Grainger. The home side though looked faster and both Danny and Cup-Tie were having a rotten time on the wings while neither Caff nor Rusty looked mobile enough or sharp enough to handle low balls in the middle. Smith was called into action again in the 4th minute after Danny slipped on the wing allowing Nade to get another cross over but Smiffy was there to punch the ball clear.
Grainger tried to set up Sammy for a rare chance but when the Saints striker was up-ended the referee just carried on. The next chance fell for the home side as Ebua skinned Mackay and sent another good cutback across the goal but Black could only put the ball wide. We were trying to get into the game with a Grainger throw-in a minute later but Sammy and Chris couldn't find any room. It wasn't until there were ten minutes gone that we managed to get something on target as Morris set up Millar on the right and his cross was headed on for Morais at the back post but the final shot from the winger was held by the big banana in the home goal.
Generally though we looked lethargic. The midfield were struggling to make any room and the balls forward were targeted at the Doc who was getting no joy from the likes of Goncalves. The defence weren't helping themselves with a Smiffy sclaffed clearance almost cut out by Glen while a 19th minute long ball from us saw Sammy lose out in a race to reach the ball with the Jambo Banana. The Doc picked up a head knock a minute later but it failed to knock any sense into him or his teammates as both sides seemed unable to get a shot in never mind on target. The only slight positive for us was that Hearts seemed to be just as bad and for all their pressure they weren't causing us too many worries, while it seemed that our main problem is that too many players were taking too long on the ball with the defence the biggest culprits.
A foul on Sammy in the 25th minute led to a Grainger freekick but that was cleared too easily. But Hearts had most of the pressure. In the 29th minute we dawdled in clearing the danger and allowed a shot in which Smith held. Then with eleven minutes to go to the break, another meandering run (actually more a wander) from Nade saw him almost unchallenged get midway into the Saints half. Nobody closed him down, although given his scoring record that's perhaps not a surprise. But as usual for Saints we were punished and Nade let rip with a cracking drive from about 25 yards out that rocketed into the net with Smith given no chance. It was enough to waken up the home side as Saints looked like their heads went down.
Still we almost managed to hit back immediately with a simple long ball finding Davidson making a run in the box. He was downed but the referee waived away the penalty claims and Hearts were back up the park and forced a corner. That was headed towards goal but thankfully blocked and the follow-up from a Jambo was one of the best clearances I've seen (Rule no1 - face the direction of goal when taking your shot). Thomson managed a shot wide and then in the 39th minute Rustybitz, who was having a nightmare of a game, managed to slip in midfield and let Ebua in. With only the keeper to beat, he decided to go for the pass, squaring the ball to Nade but the defence got back to clear the danger. Not our skipper's proudest moment.
The half drew to a close with Saints trying to get back into the game. Morais sent a freekick wide and then four minutes from time a long ball forward broke to him in the box but his shot went across the goal before being cleared with neither Saints striker able to follow up. Sammy had the last chance of the half but again he was outnumbered and crowded out in the box.
The second-half started with pouring rain and more importantly, a tactical switch from Del that was to pay dividends. Millar hadn't had his worst game for us but was below average so the second period saw him replaced by Mooner on the right wing. The boys in blue also seemed to have been give a rocket up the arse and we certainly started the second-half looking a lot more determined and focussed. Pressure in the first minute saw Davidson and Morais link up but the winger's cross was held by the keeper as Sammy was just too slow to get into the box. Next up in the 50th minute a good move from Jody and Mackay set up Sammy who was up-ended. Grainger's freekick was a good one but blocked by the defence.
Davidson tried his luck with a run down the right before he was downed next but again the freekick was easily cleared. We were looking a lot better but somehow it still didn't feel like it was going to be enough. Mooner, who was looking as sharp as ever and certainly not shirking any challenges picked up the first booking of the game in the 59th minute for a fairly soft challenge on Wallace which the Scotland international made the most of. But if we were a bit disappointed from that, a minute later it was all smiles from Saints. A lovely ball spread out to the wide left found Morais and for the first time this afternoon he skinned Thomson and broke to the byeline before sending a cracking cross into the box where Sammy rose up to beat the defence and keeper and head the ball into the net.
Suddenly it was game on and the home side and support looked a bit worried - certainly it's the quietest I can remember a Jambos crowd being. They managed to carve out a chance three minutes after the goal with Ebua making a good run on the left and playing a cutback across the goal. Smiffy got down to the ball but he managed to spill it, the Saints defence managing to finally clear the danger. Hearts next chance was restricted to a long-range effort deflected by Rustybitz for a corner. That was delivered to the near post with Smith struggling to reach the ball but thankfully the defence cleared.
We were looking more solid at the back and it seemed that as the half wore on, the home players were running out of ideas. There was more trouble for Saints in the 65th minute as Morais went down injured leaping for a ball. While it first looked like cramp, he had to concede defeat. The home support seemed to think he was feigning injury (wonder where they get that idea from) but despite getting plenty of abuse as he limped round the touchline off the park he managed a quick kiss of the badge to wind them up a bit more. Liam came on to replace him.
With 20 minutes remaining home sub Witteveen managed to collapse on the edge of the box to win a freekick. Some jostling in the wall saw Mackay and Stewart mix it a bit leading to a booking for the Saints defender although it looked like Morris was more likely to lose the plot. It didn't matter much as Stewart's freekick sailed over the bar. The game was getting scrappier and two minutes later Black was booked for a late challenge on Grainger. Saints pressed back and in the 73rd minute a good move from Morris and Mackay saw the latter play it forward for the Doc to head on for Sammy but his angled shot went wide of target. Sammy had another chance a minute later but his run into the box saw him slip as he went for the shot and again the ball was off target.
We kept pressing though and Sammy set up Liam in the 76th minute and his cross over was headed on to the far post where Jody popped up with a shot that was blocked by the Banana for a corner. That led to the real controversial moment of the game (and handy excuse for the maroon half of Edinburgh). A ball forward was played out and Liam went for it only for Goncalves to come over doing a can-can impression as he tried to take the Saints player's head off. The ref spotted the challenge and while I reckon a booking might have sufficed (since there wasn't much malice in it) the straight red was flashed and the home side were reduced to ten men.
Suddenly it was a different game and with the extra man advantage we began to make room in midfield and to string together more passes. Liam saw a good cross blocked by a defender from reaching the Doc and then with seven minutes remaining we should have wrapped up the points. A Mackay cross went deep for Liam at the back post but his volley was deflected over the bar for a corner. That was headed out to Morris and when he tried to set up the Doc the referee gave a foul against the Saints striker.
Rustybitz had an embarrassing long-range shot go wide in the 85th minute but at least his blushes were spared a minute later. JJ had barely been on the park for a limping Murray Davidson but a brilliant move saw him start with a one-two with Sammy as he tore up the right wing. The defence seemed set to clear the danger but Mackay showed great persistence in tackling the defender in the box and laying the ball back to Jody. His cross went deep to the back post where Liam rose up to head the ball back across goal and in came JJ to poke the ball home from about four yards out. Cue 600-plus Saints fans going into ecstasy and three home stands emptying rather rapidly.
The closing stages still had a couple of moments of drama - a handball against Liam ended with Smiffy punching the freekick clear and Mooner picked up a booking for a foul on Nade but there was no late injury-time equaliser this time. This time we got what we deserved.
MoM for me goes to Sammy for running his arse off for the whole game, scoring a good goal and looking like our biggest danger. But you can't deny the influence Mooner brought to the game as we saw today how strong the options are in the middle of the park especially given the skill of both Moon and Davidson. There was a downside with the performance of our central defence at times and we missed the physical presence of Garters today. But after getting the hard-won points it's hard to be bothered by this, especially given the pluses in terms of the fight and attitude shown by all the Saints players.
Now all we need is a wee bit of consistency.
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