Saints 1 Motherwell 2 - League Table Here
Team : Smith, Mackay, Ando, Moon, Doobs, Gartland, Millar,
Davidson, Savo, Doc, Craig
Subs: Main, Connolly, Grainger, Morris, Morais, Swankie, Sheridan
At last a return to McDiarmid and some football at the Sacred Turf for the first time in a month. After the TFOD game fell victim to the frost there was no room for red faces again as Saints pulled out the stops to ensure this one went ahead. Today's visitors were the guys from the opening day of the season although there had been more than a few changes down Fir Park way since we last played them on Boxing Day.
Fresh from the humiliation inflicted on the subject of Tam Cowan's Wet Dreams, courtesy of Peaso's hat-trick, the Steelmen hadn't mucked about with Gannon punted and a cry for help issued to the Jack and Victor of the Scottish game in the form of Craig "Stud" Brown and Archie "Chic's a Pric" Knox. Their arrival has worked wonders as well with Well unbeaten since we gubbed them and officially the leagues "form" team. All that's been built on a miserly attitude to the defence shipping only two goals in ages as they've crept back up the league into Euro contention.
For Saints this was going to be a tough match. While we've been gaining a reputation as a flair team (just check the goals for column), there was no doubt the strikers today were going to have to be on top form to get past Pa Broon's defence. Last weekend had seen the strikers draw a blank against the Hibs with chances going a-begging as we relied on Mr Cool Liam Craig to knock one in from the spot - hopefully the likes of the Doc, Sheridan, Muzz and Millar had learnt their lesson. While today wasn't exactly going to make or break our season, a win ahead of the trip to Falkirk next weekend would go a long way to securing survival for next year. Top six wasn't beyond our reach (overtaking Aberdeen seemed to be inevitable these days given the in- fighting in the Pittodrie dressing-room which makes TFOE's spat with the referee's look like childs play).
We knew what was needed and after the excellent backing at Easter Road last Saturday, the players were due to give us some payback. Besides this was going to be one of those rare occasions in 2010 when we had a Saturday 3pm kick-off at McDiarmid - and given the SPL's fixture committee had shown about as much sensitivity towards fans hopes for the forthcoming Arabs game (aye and Wayne Bridge didn't mean to snub Shagger Terry) we wanted to make the most of it. Added to that this was Del's 100th game in charge for Saints so there was plenty we needed to celebrate.
The ninety minutes though was possibly one of the worst performances from a Saints side this season. We weren't bad individually (well apart from some well below par showings) but the play was disjointed, the movement and mobility almost non- existent and the whole team looked knackered. For all that a draw might have been a fair result but in this league you get punished for the slightest error and two slips from Smithy combined with a lack of any punch up front against a well- organised Well defence means it was a hard lesson for Del's boys. It's not a disaster for the season but after the highs of the two performances against the Hibs it seems the nerves have crept back into the Saints mindset. That needs to be sorted if we're going to get back to winning ways.
Jody had been ruled out with a stomach tear while Muzz saw his opportunity to shatter the youth of Azerbaijan in midweek put on hold after picking up a knock against Hibs. Sheridan had played for the Irish U-21s and come through unscathed but it was too soon for the likes of Peaso, Rustybitz and the rest of the walking wounded. The big question pre-match was whether Sheridan, who had followed up his display in the 5-1 thrashing of Hibs with a poor shadow of a performance in the return game, would get a start or whether it was time for Sammy to make his return for his 50th appearance in Saints colours.
Del opted for neither with Sammy out, presumably through injury and Sheridan having to take a place on the bench.The starting eleven showed two changes over the side that got a draw at Easter Road with a vomit-free Garters back to the centre of defence as Ando moved to left-back and Danny dropped to the bench. Up front Savo was the other change as he came in for Sheridan. Jody managed to make it onto the bench as well alongside Fil and His Swankosity.
The pitch isn't looking too great these days and the surface wasn't exactly helping our normal passing style. Saints started the game quietly with Millar and Mackay managing to link up on the right. They set up Davidson for a header but there was no room for the Doc and Savo in the opposition box. The first sign of trouble for us came in the third minute when Humphrey broke down the right wing and tore past Ando before sending a cross into the box. Luckily it was Sutton on the receiving end and true to form he opted for a dive which referee Thomson ignored (although a card might have helped nip that in the bud). Mackay played a cross in from the right a minute later which Muzz headed on for the Doc who saw a header spilled by Ruddy in the away goal but he recovered to gather the ball before the Doc could react.
Well had some pressure after a Hammell freekick but the Saints defence eventually managed to clear the danger although we didn't exactly look like we were concentrating on the ball. Generally we were slow to get going and looked off the pace. The game was end to end with neither side looking capable of making a breakthrough. It was going to take a piece of magic or total ineptitude to break the deadlock and unfortunately for us Graeme Smith stepped up to take the Alan Main award for Goalkeeping Madness. Eleven minutes gone and a Well break down the left saw Smith come out to the edge of his box on his right. He failed to clear the ball and the subsequent cutback beat Doobs. Garters managed to block it but didn't clear the danger and Murphy was there to shoot from 6 yards to give them the lead. Not a good start.
We almost hit back a couple of minutes later with a long ball from Garters finding the Doc but he took a shove in the back. Liam took the freekick but although the low curling shot beat the wall, Ruddy got down to make the save. Another freekick after that found the Doc. His header was cleared as far as Mackay. His cross was cleared to Millar and his cross was well held. Things got worse for us just after that when Ando went down in the middle of the pitch. He was able to continue after treatment but was struggling. Another long freekick in the 17th minute saw the Doc have another header held. Reynolds fouled Savo next. Liam sent the freekick in from the right and found Garters but his header was just tipped over the bar. The corner was a well worked set piece and hit out for an incoming Dave Mackay and his powerful header was cleared off the line. It fell for Doobs but his shot went into the side netting.
Mooner, who was playing really well and was holding onto the ball in midfield linked with Savo next to set up Millar in the 25th minute. His cross went deep to the back post and found the Doc but his attempted shot was a fresh air effort and although he recovered to get the ball in the defence cleared it easily. But things got better a minute later as a clearance from Mackay found the Doc on the edge of the box and a nice lay off to the side saw Muzz and Savo racing into the box and it was the latter who got the shot in to send the ball past Ruddy and bring us level. The celebrations were slightly tarnished though as Muzz was left flattened - he managed to recover after treatment though. Del made a quick change after that with Grainger coming on for the struggling Ando.
The game had opened up a bit though and we seemed to improve slightly - there were still some nervy moments with Garters and Doobs struggling against Well's pace up front and the likes of Millar pretty much anonymous. Mooner though was giving us some hope as he was at the heart of most of our creative play. We managed a series of corners in the 32nd minute thanks to a Mackay header forward headed on by Muzz for the Doc and Savo. Their shot was blocked but it came back and Savo tried a chip that was deflected over the bar for a corner. The first two corners were cleared, one from a panicking defender and one from a block on a Garters shot. Then another one in saw a good header cleared off the line to Doobs but his shot went out for a corner. Mooner took this one and laid it out for Grainger. His ball forward ended with Davidson and Mooner having shots blocked.
At the other end Well won a corner of their own but Liam cleared that. Savo and Liam linked up in the 39th minute but the Well defence blocked their move. Davidson was right in there though, latching onto the loose ball like a Sellik official onto a conspiracy theory, and he sent a long-range shot in that went just wide of Ruddy's goal. A minute later it was cock-up time again with Garters losing the ball. It ended up in a cross into the Saints box but Doobs cleared it. Generally though we were lacking the spark that's been on show in recent weeks - the players looked tired and washed out.
Another sleeping defensive mistake two minutes from time saw a cross in from the left. Smith missed the ball completely along with about nine hundred blue shirts in the box. Luckily for us the single Well body in the box also failed to make contact but it was another lucky escape for us. Garters lost the ball again a minute later and Well broke forward down the left with Murphy's shot bringing out a great save from Smith. The corner ended in a Well header but Smith managed to hold it again. It wasn't the best end to the first half.
After the break, the game got off to a quiet start. Our only real chance came in the 49th minute when the Doc set up Mooner who tried to press Ruddy but he managed to clear the ball. It was at least good to see the midfield pressing forward . A minute later a nice through ball found the Doc in the box. His cutback though was cleared. We kept up the pressure but a follow-up cross was also cleared. Well took the play up the other end of the park but the Saints defence held firm, if not all that convincingly - the pressure was at least eased when Lasley clobbered Mooner.
There was more controversy in the 57th minute when Well got a soft freekick. None of this waiting for the whistle for them, or even taking it from the spot where the infringement took place and the quick freekick into the box found the Saints defence napping and a low shot beat Smithy but thankfully Doobs got back there to clear the ball before it crossed the line. We were lacking any punch up the other end with the Doc winning headers but not finding a blue shirt and Savo well marked out of the game.
Defensively though we were still living dangerously - a Smithy throw to Mackay on the hour mark saw him caught napping but at least their break was ended as we cleared the cross. Savo and the Doc lined up a minute later with the latter playing a decent cross deep for Liam but he was outjumped by a defender and had to settle for a corner. That found Millar and his good cross was headed behind. Liam took the next corner and it bounced around the box before the Doc got a header in which Ruddy easily held. Hately sent a shot wide for them before Del made the second change in the 67th minute as Jody replaced the limping Davidson. A minute later the Doc headed the ball down for Savo and Liam who linked up in the box but Liam's right-footed shot went wide of target. Millar had a cross held next but you just got the feeling it wasn't going to be our day.
Well made a double change with twenty minutes remaining and Morris was on the receiving end of a nasty challenge from one of their subs Coke. Saints sent the freekick long for Savo who laid the ball out for Millar and his cross found the Doc. It would have only taken a turn of the head to direct the ball but Deuchar ended up instead heading the ball straight over the bar. A long ball from Garters in the 74th minute also reached the Doc but this time his diving header was held by the keeper. That was followed up by a drive from the edge of the box from Liam - well apart from the fact that the shot had about as much danger of going into the net as we have of going a week without the OF whinges dominating the back pages of the Scottish papers.
The game moved into the last ten minutes with Saints still pressing. Liam and Mooner had shots blocked and there were a couple of crosses easily cleared. Millar got onto the end of a decent through ball but he lost possession before he could cross. With Fil stripped on the wings, the Gods decided that it was time to be nice to the Well OAPs - mind you Saints did their best to shoot themselves in the foot. A simple break down the left four minutes from time led to an angled shot in from the edge of the box saw Smithy get down. He stopped the ball from going in but didn't hold it and it spun free for Sutton and he tapped it home.
Too late really for us to make a comeback. Garters moved up front and there were plenty of long balls with the Doc still winning them in the air but the Well defence kept its miserly reputation as time and again we lacked the final ball in the box. We were left exposed and a couple of attacks almost finished us off but thankfully there was no further embarrassment for Smithy.
It wasn't a disastrous performance but too many players today didn't produce the goods on the park. Ironically though there were some inspiring displays. Mooner gets my MoM for controlling the play in midfield and being one of the few players willing to take some time on the ball. Doobs and Grainger's were excellent at the back and the Doc did well up front. But Millar was anonymous, Savo struggled to link up and too many players were still hoofing the ball forward when there was no one up front. Smith had a bad game in goal but he shouldn't be singled out as the whole team should take the flak for this one. We have another week's rest coming up and need to use this to get the fitness and sharpness back - otherwise it could become a really bumpy run-in.
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