Saints 4 TFOD 1 - League Table Here
Team : Smith, Mackay, Grainger, Morris, Doobs, Ando, Millar,
Morais, Deuchar, Sheridan, Craig
Subs: Main, Irvine, Swankie, Reynolds, Sheerinho, Davidson, Sammy
For the first time in ages the majority of Saints fans probably approached a home game with more than a bit of trepidation. Never mind the potential weather / TFOD boot-packing scenario that could risk another call-off, the real worry was the way in which our form had dipped recently. Even allowing for the unlikely chance of us taking something at Parkhead, we should have done better against the Bairns and Accies and the tally of one point out of the last nine meant that the chances of us still making the top six were about as likely as Chic the Pric asking a searching question of Wally Smith. Del hadn't had his troubles to seek with the Doc's involvement at New Douglas Park curtailed at the weekend thanks to a suspected concussion, but even so it was a sign of the increased expectations of the fans that we were that downbeat after the weekend defeat.
But tonight saw the boys face up to the Forces of Darkness for the fourth time this season and the law of averages said that we were due to take something off one half of Wegieland's Ugly Sisters some time - the promise shown against them in our earlier SPL fixture at McDiarmid had been followed up by a rank display at the Death Star and a boring semi-final at Hampden. Mind you while we've been lamenting our poor showing in the last couple of games, Wallys boys saw their treble hopes dashed in the cup replay with the Arabs (showing that they're not invincible) although a gubbing of the Jambos on the Edinburgh side's own turf at the weekend was more typical of the Dark Ones showings this season as they seemed set to be heading for another SPL title.
While we had to be grateful we weren't going to let them seal a championship at McDiarmid (memories of a few years ago still rankle) Saints were always going to be outnumbered by the travelling unwashed Buckie-fuelled Neanderthals who came from the west. They'd promised a boycott after the earlier scheduling of this fixture was postponed just an hour before kick-off but that never materialised - although there were enough empty spaces to perhaps prevent any further perpetuation of the myth that the Ugly Sisters keep us diddy teams going.
Saints were up against it but for once everything clicked. The Dark Ones were poor but Saints were simply magnificent. Chic the Pric, Andy Cameron, Dougie Donnelly et al will be even more greeting-faced tomorrow after we totally slaughtered the Dark Ones. Not a failure on the park from back to front, four different scorers but there could have been even more as we passed up some gilt-edged chances later on. The players ran their arses off out there tonight and after all the slagging they were given at the weekend, they deserve all the plaudits tonight. Defensively we were as solid as ever but the midfield in an unorthodox diamond formation behind two strikers were immense. If we don't get a top six slot it won't be for a lack of fight.
Going into the game, there had been some good news for Del with the Doc recovering to return to the squad after being passed fit by his Dad! Mark Connolly was handed a start at right -back on Saturday but lasted just 45 minutes and one booking before he was hooked. Thankfully we had picked up no further major injuries against Hamilton (although narcolepsy was a danger given the "excitement" of waiting on the Accies players to indulge in their timewasting rituals) although Ando's hamstring strain meant he was a doubt. Garters was still ruled out as he struggled to get over his mystery virus but Jacko was added to the squad.
That allowed Del some flexibility in his selection and there were two changes from the weekend with Ando coming in at the back as Mackay moved to the right to cover the right-back slot as Connolly dropped out (some pre-match comments possibly not helping his cause). Davidson dropped to the bench in favour of Sheridan as Del started with two strikers and Morais tucked in just behind them. TFOD weren't hanging about and has a strong side out although both Boogera and Broadfoot were out through injury. But FatBoyd and Miller up front and the likes of Davis and Naismith in midfield showed they weren't taking us for granted.
The start of the game saw the usual Dark Ones tactics with a first- minute run from FatBoyd miles offside ending in the striker taking a quick dive in the box. But Saints weren't slow in getting forward and a minute later, Fil found himself in plenty of space (not for the first time tonight) in the centre of midfield. He spread the ball to the left to find Sheridan but his cross went behind as he failed to win a corner. Some more great build up play next saw us keep the ball on the deck and retain possession before Millar laid the ball off for Morais through the middle. Fil managed a great turn before firing in a shot from the edge of the box that went just over the bar. It was a sign of things to come.
With five minutes gone the referee got into the act after Danny won the ball. Mr Tumilty saw it the other way and warned the Saints player for his challenge on Miller. The freekick was easily cleared though and a long ball forward found Sheridan. A quick lay-off found Morais breaking in support but his final shot went just wide of goal. But a minute later another long ball found Sheridan on the left again. Now Cillian has had a mixed time at Saints despite knocking a few goals in for us. But tonight he surpassed himself with a sublime touch that Sheerinho would have been proud of. He bombed past Wilson on the left and with McGregor coming out, latched onto a long ball with a volleyed chip so perfect McCain would have framed it. The ball floated over McGregor's flailing arms and dipped past him only to hit the far post. But on a night like this magic was in the air and it spun back, came off the other post and spun into the net. One-nil and the laughing began in the East Stand.
Obviously with the Death Star Orcs going behind it was time for the referee to dish out the favours to them. Ando picked up a booking for a foul on Whittaker which was barely deserved - Doobs comfortably dealing with the resulting freekick. Another freekick was given to them as Davis complained that "Liam looked at him funny". This time the defence cleared it easily with McCulloch handling the ball into the bargain - he was barely spoken to.
There was a real sense though that the players were really up for this one and the Orcs looked nervous and shaky.Sheridan and the Doc linked up well in the tenth minute but could only force a throw-in. But a minute later a straightforward Millar run down the left saw him cut in and from fully 30 yards out fire in what can only be described as speculative effort. The ball took a wicked / brilliant (delete as applicable depending on whether you're a Saintee or a Neanderthal) deflection off Weir but even then McGregor could have done more than just stand like a statue waiting on a bird to crap on him - still he did manage to move to sit in the back of the net when he went to retrieve the ball. Two-nil Saints and it was turning into a decent night.
The Dark Ones hit back winning a quick corner which was half- cleared as far as Whittaker but Smithy got down to smother his shot. Another attack from them and a cutback saw DreamTeam Mackay there to clear the danger. They kept pressing though and as we defended in numbers around the edge of the area the phrase "asking for it" sprang to mind. Jody lost possession trying to clear but even then he and Liam put some good tackles in before the Dark Ones found Papac about a mile offside. He got in on the left and sent a low angled shot past Smithy and into the net. Well it woke up the cave trolls behind the goal.
Saints were on fire though and the discipline was starting to go amongst the Dark Ones. The Doc got back to defend a loose ball in the 17th minute only to be upended by Kenny Miller. We got the decision but the referee didn't even speak to the Dark One when he threw away the ball. Still, we had a laugh at him instead. We were well in control and you could see how shaky the Dark Ones were in defence. Liam spread the ball out to Mackay in the 18th minute and a rare foray forward from him saw a great cross into the box that the Doc and Sheridan just failed to make contact with - mind you their defence was nowhere in sight either.
Next up a forward pass was headed on by Sheridan but the ball was just the wrong side of Fil. The Forces of Darkness broke up the park but all they could contribute was a cheap dive from Naismith as they went in search of a penalty. With 24 minutes gone Morais and Liam linked up well in the middle for the latter to try a chip but McGregor managed to hold this one. We were shooting from all over the park though. Rangers had another cheap freekick but Mackay was there to head the ball clear. It came back in and Doobs missed it allowing McCulloch to have a free shot but despite our generosity all he could do was sclaff the ball over the bar.
Jody conceded a soft corner next but Doobs cleared the ball easily. It still came back in and despite the Dark Ones being a mile offside, the flag stayed down - Smithy was alert enough to come out and make a good save though. The half hour mark saw another desperate claim for a penalty from them for handball but Saints just broke straight up the park with Liam trying to set up Sheridan but he was ruled offside - with McGregor warned for trying to nick a few yards for the resulting freekick.
We kept up the pressure. A Morris cross was cleared next as far as Danny Grainger and he tried his luck from distance but his shot was held. FatBoyd managed a foul against Ando to little effect. Morais had another damaging run forward a minute later setting up Sheridan on the left and he made a great run into the box only to put his shot into the side netting. But ten minutes before the break more persistent Saints pressure paid off. Morais had a cross cleared but then Sheridan saw a good run end in a shot blocked. The ball was cleared to the right and a quick cross in was met by the head of Liam Craig who duly stuck the ball in the net to make it 3-1 (or Three-Fecking-One as most of the East Stand said), albeit with the aid of McCulloch's heid.
The Dark Ones were all over the place after that but Saints almost visibly upped a gear. Another Fil run down the left and another cross in the 38th minute saw a decent Doc header held at the far post. Liam tried a long-range effort from about thirty yards out that went inches wide with McGregor again nowhere. Next up was a Mackay cross from the right headed out as far as Liam who was up-ended. The freekick from the edge of the box was chipped into the box. That was cleared from Mackay but Liam was in on the loose ball to try his luck with another low shot that the keeper held. Arguments amongst the Rangers defenders told it all.
A long ball from Ando next saw Weir hit a fresh air shot and Whittaker sclaff the ball off the park - even Hibs on the wrong end of a five-one drubbing weren't this bad. A freekick from the right was wasted by Saints and then Sheridan just failed to beat McGregor to the ball after charging down a loose clearance. The half ended with another long throw from Danny that found Doobs and his backward header was easily held.
After an enjoyable interval, the game kicked off with two changes for the Dark Ones as Thomson and FatBoyd made was for Edu and Laffingstock - and if the latter had his big chance to resurrect his career at the Death Star tonight suffice to say he blew it big time. He had one run early in the second half but managed to lose the ball in the box. For Saints a slick Morris pass found Fil unmarked in the Dark Ones' box but he had to settle for a corner. Grainger fired on in that was headed behind and his second effort was only headed out as far as Jody who could only send the ball over the bar. Papac tried a cross for them but they were all offside.
For Saints the Doc found Sheridan with another header (between them they made more headers than they had all season). Cillian hesitated though and ended up having to settle for a pass back to the onrushing Chrissy Millar but his effort was well blocked. The game had a real cup-tie flavour to it and the Dark Ones were throwing everything at us (and if that didn't work they were throwing everything onto the deck in a desperate pathetic attempt to win the game). Laffingstock had one dive against Doobs but the freekick was easily cleared. Smithy held a cross from them as he grew in confidence as the game wore on. For Saints Mackay sent a decent cross in from the right that the Doc headed on but found no takers in the box.
Then in the 63rd minute another good break from defence found Fil, the Doc and Cillian in a 3-on-2 break. Fil had the ball through the middle but took it a bit too far and ended up with a poor ball to the Doc. The Saints support was growing in voice as well - it was plain that the Dark Ones had about as much chance of threatening us as Laffingstock has of being sold for more than a fiver. Morais and Sheridan saw another cross cleared before the 65th minute saw Jody pick up a daft booking for dissent for complaining about another offside decision not being given when the Dark Ones encroached upon Smithy's box. It was even more ironic when a minute later Laffingstock's mouthing off to the referee escaped any punishment as they won another soft freekick. That was headed in to the near post but Smithy was there and he and Ando cleared the danger.
Saints were starting to tire a bit and Millar who had a great run and cutback cleared in the 73rd minute was suffering for his endeavours. Liam had a freekick held by McGregor but we were looking a bit the worse for wear as we tried to ease the pressure on the goal by taking the play up the park.
With fifteen minutes remaining we had another bit of luck as a Rangers throw-in was headed down to an unmarked Edu just inside the box and he managed to stick the ball wide of goal when it seemed easier to score. Almost immediately the Dark Ones went for broke with Novo coming on for Wilson. It made little difference.
Del meanwhile made his first change in the 77th minute as Muzz came on for the knackered Fil. We pressed and won a freekick on the right when the Doc was fouled. Liam's freekick in was headed on by the Doc but McGregor beat Sheridan to the ball.
But that counted for little a couple of minutes later as the icing was duly applied to the cake. Another long freekick from Danny on the right was headed goalwards by Doobs. The ball went behind the defence and in came the foot of Murray Davidson to perform that ancient Scottish football skill known only as "poking the ball home". Four bloody one up and McGregor looked like he'd rather face up to another domestic incident than stay on the park.
Sammy came on to replace Sheridan for the last ten minutes as we chased a fifth. Naismith picked up a booking for a nasty cynical spoilt-brat type challenge on the mighty Doobs. Saints were showboating and a minute later Morris set up Liam on the left wing. As Davis closed in on him, Liam indulged himself in some great keepie-uppy before smacking the ball off Davis' face for the shy. Chances were at a premium as the Doc tired and Sammy found little room up front but with the points in the back we didn't really care. Irvine came on for Chris in the 87th minute. The Doc tried a header on for Sammy but the ball eluded him and the closing shot came from them as Miller again was foiled by Smithy.
We thought the mauling of the Hibees was good but tonight was oh so much sweeter. No doubt some cynical pessimists will be moaning about how we didn't play like this in the semi- final but the point tonight is that we thoroughly deserved the win. The papers will draw comparisons with last week's destruction of the Evil Ones but this one was a lot better given the quality of the opposition. They made mistakes but we were the ones that caused them to slip up. Four cracking goals with at least one candidate for goal of the season, a hard-working midfield and a defence that rarely looked more than slightly troubled. It says it all. Hard to pick a MoM but I'm going for Fil - he didn't score but he was at the heart of most of our moves. But there were no failures tonight - just sheer bloody glory.
Same again next week please...
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