Temple Of Saints - Doc's Duck Dumped

Clydesdale Bank Premier League 30/01/2010

Saints 1 Jambos 0 - League Table Here

Team : Smith, Irvine, Grainger, Mooner, Garters, Mackay, Millar, Davidson, Deuchar, Savo, Morais
Subs: Main, Ando, Craig, Peaso, Sheerinho, Sheridan, Reynolds

After the stress of the last couple of games it was safe to say we were taking nothing for granted today - especially if we were going to be lucky enough to be leading at half-time. But our record against the Edinburgh side this season has been fairly good with a draw earlier in the home game followed by that nice wee win at Tynecastle, both games relying to late goals from Saints to get the result. Today though, we were able to take some hope from the first half performances against Sellik last weekend and the midweek trip to Tannadump. And with the strikers seemingly hitting a bit of form and the Jambos hopefully demoralised after their midweek humping at the hands of the Sheep (I mean letting a schoolkid score against you?!!?!) we had every hope of taking full points today. Of course that would mean the defence getting their act together for 90 minutes and the whole team to focus on today's game instead of a certain upcoming semi-final.

Whether or not the Hearts players were going to have their minds on their semi against St Midden would be a telling point but after a bad start they'd managed to hit mid-table mediocrity and that wasn't enough for the Edinburgh support with the calls for Lazlo's head starting to mount - and last night it seemed the threat of facing up to the Peaso strike machine was too much and he jumped ship. Even allowing for the Tynie Crisis headlines dominating the back pages this morning, there's no doubt that there are plenty of quality players in the Hearts side and Mumblin' Jim Jeffries isn't exactly a stranger to the Scottish game (and beating us as well unfortunately). As for the Jambos playing squad, more and more though, it seems that they lack the depth of squad to compete with the top teams and without the constant trickle of Lithuanians heading over from FC Kaunas there was little in the way of backup when their strikers weren't hitting the target (as opposed to Nade who seemed more intent on hitting the nearest branch of Greggs). Either way there's no doubt that we were facing up to an unknown today.

The game itself though turned into a fairly one-sided affair with Saints only letting themselves down with some poor finishing. Of course we were helped by a Jambos defence that looked about as solid as their managerial career prospects down Tynecastle way. But for all that, the Saints midfield controlled the play throughout and Smithy had about the quietest game he's had in his Saints career. Elsewhere the defence looked better and the icing on the cake was seeing the Doc finally break his SPL duck. If you want to look for negatives, we still tended to defend too deep and the finishing left a bit to be desired with Sheridan missing the best of the misses.

Garters was available again after serving the first part of his suspension while Jody and Liam had knocks from midweek. Sammy was getting close to a comeback but he'd been ruled out today. And with the tired legs from the draw at Tannadump and Davidson recovering from the bout of illness that ruled him out midweek, it meant that Del had some leeway to tweak the side. As it was, he opted for several changes. Out went Ando to the bench as Garters came back while Jody and Liam missed out through injury as Davidson and Mooner started in the middle of defence while Liam dropped to the bench as Fil was given a start. Del had tended to tweak the strike pairing for each game recently. Sheridan and Peaso started at Tannadump and today they were benched as the Doc and Savo started. For the managerless Jambos, Nade was available again while Andy Driver also returned to their matchday squad to try and win himself a move away from Gorgie in the last 48 hours before the transfer window closed.

Right from the start Hearts were up to their old tricks with Obua taking a first minute tumble but the freekick caused no worries for Smithy. We were soon mounting the pressure on Kello and two minutes later a nice header forward from Murray found Fil coming in from the left and his cross found Savo but the striker had no room to turn and shoot. Grainger turned provider playing the ball forward for Savo who made a good run and squared for the unmarked Millar but his first time shot was well held when perhaps he could have taken it further in. Morais had a go next cutting in from the left and trying a shot from out on the left touchline that went just wide of Kello's left-hand post although there was a hint of the keeper getting a touch on the ball (at least according to Kenny "Honest" Deuchar). Hearts rarely managed to press.

Their first real attack came in the 8th minute but Garters comfortably dealt with it and they ended up with Glen fouling Millar to ease the pressure. Deuchar and Millar combined next on the right flank with the latter trying to thread the ball to Morais but Kello came out to gather. Generally the Jambos defence looked really shaky with their central pairing about as mobile as Nade after fifteen steak bakes. However the Jambos did manage to win the first corner after Mackay made a poor clearance and Irvine was forced into blocking a cross but their set piece was about as effective as one of Liam's and Savo got the clearing header in at the near post. Saints took the ball up the park and a throw-in from the left went up the line for Morais and his deep cross found the unmarked Millar again and he slipped the ball into Savo in the box but his shot went over the bar.

Morais was upended on the touchline in the 14th minute but the freekick was wasted with a foul against a Saints player although every time we pressed like that Deuchar and Zaliukas were mixing it in the box. We weren't really being troubled by Hearts as an attacking force and even on the rare occasion when we lost the ball (Chris in the 17th minute was caught easily) the defence were alert enough to cover. As the half wore on the traffic seemed to be one-way with Grainger seeing a cross cleared then Millar and Irvine mounted an assault from the right that saw the pair have shots blocked. Then the Doc set up Morais in the 20th minute for a long-range attempt that Kello got down to save and a minute later Morais and Davidson linked up well with the latter going on a run only for a good cutback across goal to be cleared.

The Doc forced another corner for us in the 24th minute but Morais' effort was missed by everyone (although Murray seemed to get closest). Savo and Davidson linked up next to press but were unable to create a chance and when Hearts counter attacked Mackay managed to slip on the playing surface and conceded a corner. It was a case of deja-vu though with the ball coming into the near post and Savo heading the ball clear.

The chances were still coming for us. With thirty-one minutes gone Savo, Millar and the Doc linked up with a great passing move to set up Savo in the box but he just couldn't get a break of the ball. Davidson won another challenge in midfield next and set up Morais but his poor cross ended up going out for a corner and that was easily held. Five minutes after that another ball was sent right for Millar who made a good run and beat Thomson at the byeline somehow making room for the cross but Savo could only head that over the bar. Two minutes later and Morais went for a great run straight through the middle with the maroon shirts standing off him. His shot was blocked and spun to the left. Danny tried to cross it back in but ended up settling for a corner. That saw more fouling on the Doc but the opposition defence were let off and managed to clear.

With five minutes to go to the break the pressure kept up. Jonsson fouled Davidson and Grainger's resulting freekick was just held by Kello. Irvine on the right had a good move next with Davidson, Savo and Mooner linking up but the final ball for Mooner was too poor. Finally Morais tried a cross from the left and forced a corner. That ended up with Garters heading the ball across the goal but again there were no takers.

Given the pressure we had in the first half and the history from the last couple of games everyone expected some comeback from the Gorgie Gits in the second period. Jeffries didn't waste time in making any changes with Diver on for Zaliukas at the break. Within a minute of the restart they managed a good break and cross in from the right which was misjudged by Garters and the ball fell to Glen in the box but he could only succeed in shooting over the bar. That was a wake-up call for us and a minute later Davidson showed some great skill winning the ball in midfield, breaking through the middle and threading a brilliant pass do the right for Millar and his cross found the Doc but the striker's shot was blocked. Another foul on Murray let Grainger have a crack from distance but his low freekick was well held by Kello.

Then in the 49th minute Savo got onto a long ball with Kucharski playing him onside. He broke to the box down the right and ended up firing in a low angled shot that beat Kello but just failed to cross the line. But when it seemed like we were never going to score we finally broke the deadlock five minutes into the half. Morais played a great ball up the left touchline finding Grainger who had made a good run inside. The left-back got to the touchline and played a good hard low cross into the box and there was the much- maligned Kenny Deuchar there to slip the ball in past Kello to make it 1-0. And boy did he celebrate.

Jeffries made his second change in the aftermath with Cinikas coming on for Visconte (no me neither) as the Saints fans indulged in the song of the day with a chorus of "Sacked in the morning" towards the away dugout. Hearts tried to hit back and in the 54th minute Cinikas managed a cross from the right to find Nade but Gregg's No. 1 customer managed to only head the ball over the bar.

Still to their credit the Jambos were trying to press more and caused us a few more problems. And bearing in mind our recent record around the hour mark in games it was a bit nervy but at the same time the midfield were sitting too deep. Still we managed to get forward in the 58th minute before Davidson was up-ended. Morais took the freekick and won a corner but that was cleared only as far as Davidson in the box. He couldn't find room for a shot and elected to play a short pass to Garters but on the edge of the six yard box Garters was wrong- footed for the shot and had to settle for a corner. That went deep and found Davidson but his header went over.

Nade had a run for them but was just offside but Saints were soon back on the attack with Savo going wide right. His cross was headed down by the Doc for Morais but he couldn't take a shot and laid the ball left for Grainger but the less said about his shot the better. Davidson set up Savo for another break next and Murray got forward to try and get the return but the Jambos defence cleared the danger. Millar was the next one to try and get a cross in only to meet a Jambo hand. The freekick was played in from the right and punched clear by Kello but Mooner's return cross was held by Kello.

The Jambos made their final change after 67 minutes with Smith replacing Glen while Del took the chance to make our first change as Sheridan came on for the Doc. Davidson was unfortunate to become the first Saints player to go in the book for a nothing challenge in the middle of the park Hearts created nothing from the freekick. A minute later there was a foul against Sheridan and the Jambos freekick was half-cleared by Irvine and Millar but another cross into the box saw Smith put a weak shot that Smithy held.

In the 72nd minute another Saints attack found Savo and he seemed to be downed by a Hearts defender in the box but the referee was having none of it and waived play on. Morais had picked up the ball though and a good move involving Fil, Mooner and Millar set up Sheridan but his low shot was far too weak and easily held. Garters was next to go in the book although this one was based on a linesman's flag from earlier and nobody was quite sure what the Irishman had done to deserve a card.

Still Saints were holding their own and while a one-goal advantage wasn't exactly enough to relax the sphincter, the lack of real chances for the Jambos meant that the North Stand was becoming a den of frustrated maroon shirts. We kept pressing and with fifteen minutes to go Savo set up Millar on another run from the right and Chris did well to get to the byeline but his cross was held. Millar got into the box a minute later but his effort was blocked and Davidson's follow-up met the same treatment. Grainger managed a long ball from the left a minute after that finding Sheridan in space but for some reason Cillian stopped on the ball allowing the defence time to get back a bit and when he did go forward he ended up firing in a low shot from the edge of the box which caused Kello little problem. Liam replaced Fil for the last twelve minutes and lasted thirty seconds before conceding a foul.

The game entered the closing stages with Saints hitting on the counter more as Hearts began to press. They forced a corner in the 83rd minute and Smithy punched it clear. It came back in and Garters cleared it with the ball eventually played out for Savo who set up Millar on the break. He got forward and set up Liam but his shot went back across the goal. With four minutes we should have increased our lead. Kello was guilty of a loose kick out and Savo pounced like a cheetah to take the ball forward and square for the unmarked Sheridan. But it wasn't Cillian's day and his shot came off the right-hand post and went behind when it seemed easier to score.

The closing stages turned into a frantic affair as the Jambos threw everything at us. Diver lived up to his name two minutes from the end with Millar getting a booking for the alleged foul. The freekick into the box was aimed at the Jambo's striker Smith but he was ruled offside. Saints broke up the park with a long freekick finding Savo and he in turn found Sheridan but his effort went wide. Sheerinho came on for Mooner in injury time as we tried to kill the game off but even then there was still time for one last panic. A Jambos freekick (which at least involved Stewart being booked for dissent) was long into the box and broke for Obua on the right and his ball across goal threatened to be put in by a Saints defender or end up in a stramash but there was Irvine to clear the ball and listen to the wondrous sound that was the final whistle.

After the criticisms aimed at the players in recent weeks there were hardly any weak points in the Saints side today with the defence as solid as ever (and well boosted by the return of Garters) with both back much improved on their performance in midweek. Up front we did well and it was good to see the Doc break his duck while hopefully the rest will help freshen the legs of the likes of Peaso and Jody for the semi. But in midfield we dominated with Millar, Morais and Mooner all putting in excellent shifts. But Davidson's fighting attitude and creativity going forward made the difference and he gets my MoM award. As for Sheridan - he's got a lot of work to do to convince me he deserves a starting jersey - today he seemed too lacklustre going forward.

Now we can relax and enjoy the cup(s)!


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LEAGUE TABLE

Team P W D L F A Pts
Rangers 23 16 6 1 54 14 54
Celtic 22 13 5 4 44 23 44
Hibs 22 12 6 4 35 19 42
Dundee Utd 22 9 9 4 30 29 36
Motherwell 22 7 9 6 29 29 30
Hearts 23 7 7 9 20 24 28
Aberdeen 21 7 6 8 17 22 27
Saints 20 6 5 9 29 37 23
St Mirren 22 5 5 12 21 32 20
Hamilton 21 4 5 12 16 34 17
Kilmarnock 22 3 7 12 16 31 16
Falkirk 20 2 8 10 15 31 14

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