Saints 2 Well 2 - League Table Here
Team : Main, Mackay, Grainger, Morris, Garters, Caff, Davidson,
Craig, Savo, Deuchar, Morais
Subs: McLean, Irvine, Sheerinho, Hardie, Sammy, Reynolds, Heagney
This was it - the game we'd been waiting for all summer. A chance for the boys (well those of them that weren't keeping the nurses and physios busy) to go out and show what they were made of and to give the fans a reason to spend a banker's bonus on sitting behind a pillar at the home of The Forces of Evil next week. Yup the SPL was back in town complete with the names on shirts, squad numbers, extended media coverage, BBC Alba cameras, and a bunch of Radio Scotland pundits who had been forced to break off from calling for the public lynching of George Burley to swot up on what position Graham Gartland plays. Mind you with the Sunday tabloids last weekend apparently convinces Ross Forsyth, Jamie McQuilken and Goran had just left over the summer it's enough to say that our expectations of some accurate coverage didn't stretch to much. There was plenty of expectations in the stand though about what we might see on the park. After the win over Burnley last weekend and despite Well having had some match practice as they exited Europe, this was about as good an opener as you could wish for to test Del's players. Tam Cowan's favourite bunch of Buckfast-quenching dole-queue merchants had undergone plenty of upheaval in the summer with player departures and Mark McGhee jumping ship for Pittodrie - the words frying-pan and fire spring to mind here. But new boss Jim Gannon seemed to be popular enough and no doubt was straight to the top of Chic the Pricks Xmas Card list for signing the son of Mark Hately with a tenuous OF connection enough to keep the media vaguely interested in the game.
As it was though the game turned into an entertaining skilful almost cup-tie like match - at least for the neutral. For the Saints fans though it seems to be a case of frustration more than anything else as we passed up chances galore and should have taken all three points. There were plenty of positives for Del to take though with no bad performers in blue although that's not to say we weren't given a few nervous moments during the ninety minutes but for the most part the players did well to create chances and put the Steelmen under pressure. We may still lack a bit of stamina with Morais, Morris and Davidson all struggling as the game went on but based on today's performance we have little to fear from the coming season.
Going into the match Del hadn't exactly been short of problems with Jacko, Rustybitz, Peaso, Mooner, Karaoke Chris and Graeme Smith all ruled out through injury. Still the players that beat Burnley last weekend had gone a fair way to staking a claim for the starting jersey today and that at least gave the manager something positive to work with - although if you believe the reports the tactics and starting eleven had been identified by Del much earlier in the week. Main was in goal as always and the back four showed only one surprise with Dave Mackay selected ahead of Draco Irvine. The midfield though saw new skipper Jody Morris and Murray Davidson in the middle with Liam and Morais going wide. Up front the striking options were a bit limited but Del opted for a Savo and Doc partnership with Sammy forced to settle for a place on the bench. Elsewhere the U-21 SPL rule meant that there were places on the bench for Stephen Reynolds and David Heagney while Swankie and Ando were left out of the squad.
Pre-match saw the championship flag unfurled under the wonderful new floodlights (another SPL requirement apparently as they generated enough light to ensure we'll all be dazzled by the reflection from Sheerinho's bonce in the midweek winter evening games) with the East Stand pretty well packed and the Well support penned into the North Stand. With that over though it was down to business and as the game got underway, Saints made a couple of early runs with Filipe looking sharp but unable to create anything substantial. Davidson had a decent run in the second minute and tried to set up Filipe in the box but he was crowded out. Motherwell had to settle for a soft free kick on the edge of Main's area but the wall did their job blocking the attempt.
Apart from that the only real interest was in the hefty challenges that were going in with Craigen intent on elbowing the Doc at every opportunity and Sutton employing similar tactics on the Saints defence. The first chance on goal came six minutes in when Davidson again set up Morais who cut in and tried a 25 yard shot that went wide of goal .Two minutes later Dr. Goals tried a similar volley but that was more embarrassing than anything else. Still we were looking sharp and in an echo of the Burnley game last weekend, we were dominating the possession for long spells. Filipe saw a good cross over held by goalie Ruddy ahead of Davidson and then in the 12th minute Morris set up Filipe who skinned a defender on the touchline before sending a good cross over which Ruddy spilt with no blue shirt nearby to take advantage.
Motherwell had a long-range attempt sent over the bar before normal service was resumed with Dave Mackay making a rare foray forward. A nice one-two allowed him to make a run into the box behind the defence but his cutback was somehow put wide by Dr. Goals. A minute later Grainger sent over another of his party-piece long throws and found Savo - he took two touches in the crowded box before turning and sending a low shot just wide of goal. Deuchar tried to set up Jody next but he was crowded out then Davidson showed his fight with a brilliant leap for a header forward for Filipe but his final cross was poor. The only counter Cowan's Cowards had was a Forbes dive after losing the ball to the Saints defence. The freekick went over the wall but Main managed to get himself behind the ball comfortably enough. Another shot was easily dealt with but as the half wore on Del switched things to play three up front with Morais switching flanks. The next decent chance came in the 29th minute with a Mackay long throw which Ruddy again spilled. This time Davidson was in to pounce but put his shot wide. Motherwell had a quick counterattack but that ended in a shot going miles wide of goal.
Then in the 32nd minute we finally got a break. A Grainger throw found Mackay who set up Morris. His ball in was headed out for a corner and when that was played over another header seemed to be poked over the line with Saints claiming a goal. The referee decided against it and awarded a corner for us instead. That was a Filipe ball over for Craig who set up Davidson just inside the box and a neat chip from the midfielder went over Ruddy and into the net. As cheeky as a Cheeky Girl's left buttock and boy did we celebrate it.
Suddenly it was a different ball game and while Well tried to hit back, there was a real sense of confidence in the Saints side. Main had a simple cross to deal with and then when Grainger was beaten and a dangerous cross sent in Caff was there with a great tackle before clearing the ball. At the other end Filipe had a cross held and then Liam (who was having a pretty quiet game) set up Mackay with a cutback for Davidson but his shot was saved. The game threatened to boil over just before the break as Forbes and Morris had a contretemps on the touchline and although we had the freekick referee Dougie MacDonald decided to keep the cards in his pocket - pretty poor given the way he dished them out for soft fouls later in the game. But just in case we were feeling too confident Motherwell had a quick freekick in the final minute which caught Main outside his box but he just managed to clear the danger.
Gannon didn't hesitate to switch things round at the interval and Motherwell made a couple of changes with Sutton and Craigen off. They started a lot livelier as we were guilty of defending too deeply. An early freekick caught Grainger out and when the ball was sent back over two Well strikers managed to miss the ball as we were given a real let off. The referee wasn't helping matters though and an early foul on the Doc went unpunished. Grainger tried a throw into the box which the Doc headed on for Morais but he was unable to turn and get a shot in as it seemed we'd lost a bit of our spark. Liam picked up the first booking of the season in the 53rd minute thanks to a late challenge on Junior Hately which didn't help matters - in fact Liam and Jody were arguably our worst performers in midfield and looked to be off the pace.
Saints got a foul next as Davidson was caught late as he made another impressive run. Morais' freekick found the Doc but his header went over the bar. Back up the other end and a tug from Caff cost us a freekick. This time we weren't so lucky and the ball went over for a Hutcheson header which beat the stranded Main (possibly caught off his line) to level the scores. It was interesting how when the entire Well side left the park to celebrate though that no cards were shown. Suddenly it wasn't looking quite as good and in the immediate aftermath we seemed to lose our shape a bit with Mackay forced to clear a Well corner as we were pinned back.
But in the 59th minute we regained the lead as another long throw-in was used to great effect with Davidson turning and seeing his shot deflected out for a corner. Morais sent that one deep over to the back post, it was headed back across the goal, a couple of attempts were blocked but then Garters was in there to poke the ball into the net.
Four minutes later Well had the ball in the net after a quick break tore us apart but the final cross had been blatantly handled into the net and earned Murphy a yellow. All the same it seemed that the midfield were being caught out and the defence were being put under extra pressure with Grainger in particular caught out of position a few times. We weren't getting the breaks elsewhere though with most fifty-fifty challenges going against us - a long ball forward in the 64th minute saw Savo run into the box only to get bundled out of the way.
Del's first change saw Sammy replace the tiring Filipe. But before he could even get a touch we lost another goal in the 65th minute. Liam conceded a corner which was cleared but only as far as Forbes who struck a sweet curling shot from the corner of the 18 yard box which saw Main stranded and the ball curl into the top left corner of the net. A good goal but again no cards dished out when the Well players left the park.
Saints tried to hit back with Jody setting up Davidson whose shot was blocked before Sammy and Mackay tried a cross that went behind. Mackay saw another cross for the Doc headed over. Deuchar should arguably have had a penalty in the 70th minute when he was held as he chased a long ball but by this time Dougie MacDonald was more intent on reminding Saints fans just how shite the SPL referees are. He did manage to book Hammel for a nasty challenge on Sammy as he broke up the wing.
Sammy had a decent run in the 73rd minute but his shot was rushed and went over the bar. A minute later Davidson hassled an opponent to win the ball. He knocked it forward and Ruddy was forced out of his box to clear it. Davidson won the ball though and sent it back across the goal for the Doc who with an empty goal (well one defender rushing back) in front of him did a Sammy, rushing his shot and sending the ball over the bar when he should have scored. Caff picked up a booking as Motherwell broke up the park next for another soft challenge. Then a couple of minutes later a good Saints attack was broken up and Well countered quickly with a good fast break down the right catching Grainger and Caff out but luckily the final cutback was well blocked by the backtracking Liam. The resulting corner caused us more problems with a free header over the bar.
Well's Coke picked up a booking for a foul on Liam next. The freekick into the box found Mackay who set up Davidson before the ball was played into the box for Sammy. A quick turn and he was in space but again he rushed his shot and sent the ball over the bar. The next chance came thanks to more hard grafting from Davidson as he challenged a Well defender 25 yards out. He won the header and went for a snap volley that forced Ruddy into a decent save. Mind you the game was going from end to end and a couple of minutes later we had another lucky escape as a simple ball in from the wing cannoned back off the corner of Main's crossbar with the keeper nowhere.
Mad Mental Martin came on for the Doc for the last five minutes as both sides went for broke. Garters was forced to concede a corner and as Well pressed they fouled a Saints player to allow us to kill the game a bit. The last couple of chances fell for us with a Grainger throw-in used again to great effect in the final minute. The ball into the box was headed out for a shot to be blocked and then Grainger set up Mackay but his effort went wide. Sammy picked up a booking for a foul which saw Hammel collapse like he'd been shot. Finally in injury time a long freekick from Main found Hardie and Grainger in the box but neither could make the room for a clear shot.
The feelings at the final whistle were mixed to say the least. There was plenty of pride in the performance but frustration at the chances we passed up to wrap up the points. MoM was pretty easy with Murray Davidson running himself into the ground, scoring one goal and looking like a solid grafter in the middle. Savo, Morais, Mackay, Caff and Garters all played well and Grainger's throw-ins are going to be a handy weapon for our attacking options. The midfield was perhaps too guilty of defending too deeply and we seemed to be off the pace a bit. Oh aye and Kenny Deuchar if he does nothing else this week needs to work on putting the ball into an empty net.
A decent enough start though - nothing to fear but we're going to have to work bloody hard.
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