Temple Of Saints - Plaudits but no goals

CIS Cup Semi-Final 03/02/2010

Saints 0 TFOD 2

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

For a national semi-final there hadn't been too much in the way of pre-match build-up for this. Sure a couple of interviews with Savo and Jody but then again I suppose when the BBC can get all self- obsessed about some Spurs reject signing for one half of the Bigot Bros it says it all - still Dougie and the cameras had decided to cover our game tonight although it was probably more to do with who we were playing rather than Pat Nevin's unrequited love for Murray Davidson. Anyway tonight saw Saints head out to do battle with the other half of Scotland's Shame for the right to take on St Midden (and Chic's "Paisley Legions") in the final giving the media a chance to dust down their Saints 'n' Sinners headlines in preparation of a potential All Saints final.

Of course before that we had to deal with the Bankrupt Bears and their derisory treatment of the competition. Mind you given the massed hordes of Saints fans that decided to make their way to Hampden we can arguably be just as guilty of apathy although a pretty intensive two-games-a- week fixture list and the thought of a midweek trip to mix with the Govan Gorillas in the ground outside the National Stadium doesn't exactly qualify as an incentive.

At least we had the knowledge that despite the mixed performances against the Ibrox mob this season the last encounter between the sides had ended in victory for Saints courtesy of a Savo double that ended their hopes and Le Guen's managerial career. While we might not have been as confident going into tonight's game, our recent form (thirty minutes against the Forces of Evil notwithstanding) had been pretty good and even Dr Goals was sparking into life with the winner against the Jambos at the weekend. And its not as if we were going to be overawed by the surroundings - at least on paper.

For the Dark Ones the SPL was obviously their priority (well apart from planting several money trees in a desperate attempt to stay in business) and they were hit by several injuries going into this one with Boyd and Bougherra out and Miller allegedly injured, while Pedro Mendes had been offloaded to pay this month's rent. Of course it still left the likes of Lafferty the Cheat to cause problems up front and they weren't exactly short of "talent" across the rest of their squad. Even so there was little to frighten Saints and it seemed that all we needed was to stay focussed and concentrate on our own strengths.

The game though turned out to be the same old story with plenty of effort and fight but if you had a quid for each chance on goal or piece of luck that went Saints way you'd have about as much in the bank as Mr Murray and co. Whether or not it was down to Del's decision to go with one striker and a couple of wingers rather than start with Savo and Peaso is up for debate but too often tonight players were just slightly below par when it counted. You can't fault most the effort and for long spells we controlled the ball well but the final third let us down too often and against the knuckle draggers that just means you'll get punished. Both goals were avoidable but that's history now and Del has to pick the boys up - we're still in one cup competition.

Going into this one we'd actually avoided any new injuries for a while. Sammy, Hardie and the Rusty One were all still missing and Jacko was away plying his trade in Arbroath. Jody, the Doc and Chrissy were all still suffering knocks (the former having missed out against the Jambos) but were expected to make it while into the squad came 18-year old Mark Connolly freshly arrived from the Owen Coyle revolution at Bolton. Del had the boys away acclimatising themselves to the West Coast pollution and slums by spending last night in a hotel in East Kilbride and they were well up for the game going by the press comments. The manager's starting eleven saw a five man midfield with Jody, Millar and Murray in the middle with Liam and Fil wide. Up front Sheridan was given the nod with the Doc out through injury while on the bench Peaso and Savo were joined by Mooner and Ando with Connolly having to settle for a seat in the stand.

The Forces of Darkness had a few changes as well with Fatboy Boyd missing along with Bougherra and Miller (the latter managing an injury crisis without a Scotland game even scheduled). Edu and Beasley were also missing, which was a relief to Danny Grainger after his experience at the Death Star but their cheats quota was maintained with Dorito Novo and Kyle Laughingstock up front.

With plenty of empty spaces around the ground and about 1500 Saints fans there to sing their hearts out the game got underway with around 18,000 turning up. Compared to the last encounter, Saints started well and survived the first thirty seconds in fact we almost created a chance with a good turn from Sheridan almost finding Morais breaking through on the right. Dorito tried a move for the Dark Ones but his cross was easily held by Smith. Another Saints long ball in the third minute found Sheridan but he just lost out on the chase with Alexander in their goal. Muzz set up Jody next for a long-range attempt but it was well over.

Sheridan set up Morais next but his cross was easily cleared - it was encouraging stuff from Saints, although that didn't last long as The Forces of Darkness broke up the park and despite Novo being a mile offside he was allowed down the right. Smithy came out to narrow the angle but was rounded and Twiglet played in a shot and turned ready to celebrate only for Dave Mackay to get back and make a great goalline clearance.

We forced our first corner in the 7th minute after an Irvine freekick into the box was headed behind. Jody took the corner but the ball was all too easily cleared. Liam and Chris linked up on the left next but their cross in for Morais saw the winger tackled. That ended in another counter-attack for the bigots but the final cross from them was headed well clear by Mackay. The game was still pretty even at this point although we were lacking in support for Sheridan when we pressed forward. Fil and Sheridan linked well in the 15th minute and the striker turned to find Liam but his cross was easily held. Millar saw a cross blocked a minute later but the throw-in on the right ended in another cross in and that found an unmarked Davidsonin the box. He's come in for a fair bit of flak for his heading abilities but he rose up and powered the header.....wide of target. It was the sort of opportunity that you know you'll regret at the end of the day.

Sheridan had another weak shot held in the 18th minute as he just reached onto the end of a long clearance from Garters. Liam saw a good low cross cleared and then in the 22nd minute Garters linked with Fil and Liam to win another corner. Liam fired this one out and Alexander managed to miss it. It fell for Morais at the back post but for some reason he hesitated instead of just blasting it and the shot was blocked.

With 25 minutes gone the Dark Ones had their best chance with Davis breaking free through the middle. He managed to round Smith as the defence struggled to get back but as his shot went goalwards there was Gary Irvine back to do his magic once again. But a minute later the singing Saints fans were silenced as the Dark Ones took the lead. Another attack from them down the left was played over and with Smith struggling Davis was at the back post to follow up a rebound and give them the lead - one they barely deserved, and was allowed even though the Dark One was off the field of play when he took the shot.

The goal shook us a bit but we forced another corner a few minutes later thanks to a good run from Morais. Liam took it and the ball broke out to Jody but as seems to be the case with every corner or Saints ball into the box these days the referee decided to blow for some strange infringement he'd witnessed. For all their puff the opposition strikers were struggling, no more so than Laughingstock who is fast making Peter Fyhr look good - a clash with Mackay just after the half hour ended in a foul for the Rangers player. The freekick was cleared though and Saints broke up the park with a series of crosses from Irvine, Morris and Liam all blocked. Still we did win a freekick and a quickly taken effort ended in a decent shot held by Alexander.

Saints another freekick in the 35th minute after Liam nutmegged Davis. Fil's effort almost gave us a Darren Dods style own goal as David Weir just headed wide of his own goal. Liam's corner this time was played out to Millar who set up Morris but his shot went just wide of goal. Time for sucker punch number two and another break up the park by them ended in a cross which was only half- cleared to the lumbering bulk that is Lee McCulloch at the edge of the box and his sclaff shot took a bounce and went under Smithy and into the net although to be fair to the Saints keeper it looked like he was unsighted when the shot came in.

The goal knocked the stuffing out of us and it seemed we lost our shape and focus with too many wasted balls and runs as the interval drew nearer. Morais managed to force a corner in the 40th minute but that only ended in a Garters header straight at the keeper. The half still managed to finish off with the Saints fans in full voice as Wotsit had a sneaky kick out at Millar which the referee ignored.

Del made his first change at the break with Savo coming on to replace Morais. Almost immediately it seemed the player had been given a deserved boot up the arse and as the Dark Ones sat back we pressed forward. Sheridan tried a nice lay-off in the box and when the ball broke back to him managed to turn and get in a low shot that was held. Irvine fired in a freekick next which ended in a Sheridan header being cleared. Grainger tried a long throw-in from the left five minutes into the second period and that found Sheridan but his header for Savo saw the striker go for a repeat of his overhead effort at Ibrox only for the shot to be blocked.

Liam tried next with a freekick from the left that managed to bounce around the Bigots box and when Savo played it back along the six- yard line it was somehow cleared. We'd started the second-half well and the entertainment for the Saints fans was only enhanced by the sight of a balding chubby Coisty throwing major tantrums (worthy of Dick the Bunnet) in the opposition dugout. Irvine gave us a neat bit of skill turning two orcs to set up Liam in the 55th minute but his attempt went wide.

Millar set up Savo next who played a one-two with Jody and got in the box but again the Dark Defence was their to block him. Liam played a cross in for Sheridan but he headed well over and then Liam tried a freekick from the left in the 58th minute was played out to Mackay and Jody whose cross for Davidson was played out for Grainger.It seemed we'd mastered everything but making room and getting a shot in. Grainger tried a cross from the left next but Sheridan's header was cleared.

The hour mark saw a break in play as Thomson became the first player to go into the book for a scything challenge on Davidson but it was possibly a sign as to how much the Saints midfield was pressing the Dark Ones. McCoist made a couple of quick changes with Quaver replaced by Naismith and Laughingstock by Little (not Syd but even he would have been an improvement). The game was getting more physical as Saints kept the pressure up with a sandwich on Savo in the 63rd minute allowed to go unpunished.

Del made his second change then with Sheridan, who hadn't played too badly replaced by Peaso. That meant we'd lost some of our height up front but the move got the Saints support going again and a Grainger cross in the 67th minute managed to show we still had some heading power as Murray rose up to head the ball back across goal only for the maroon shirts to fail to capitalise again. Davidson was on hand a minute later as Grainger and Liam combined to cross the ball in from the left but his header was held.

Time for what seemed to be another sucker punch as the Forces of Darkness broke up the park and a simple cross from the right ended with a shove in the box. No real protests from the Saints players as referee Dougie McDonald kept up the Hampden tradition of giving the Old Firm their token penalty. Naismith took it but Smithy made a great dive to his left to save the spot kick with the ball cleared for a corner - and that didn't cause Mackay any trouble. Another break for them ended with Smithy making a great block as Grainger was beaten for pace but when the keeper blocked the shot Danny was there to clear the danger.

Three minutes later though it seemed we were going to be out of it as another Saints attack was broken up and the counter turned into a three on two for the Dark Ones with Fleck the wonderkid the spare man. He eventually got the ball on the left but took it wide round Smithy and when he went for his shot there was a covering tackle forcing him to settle for a corner. If only we could get that sort of luck and break at the other end of the park we might have had a chance. Mooner replaced Liam for the last fifteen minutes but Saints were starting to tire. The Savo and Peaso partnership wasn't paying off against the height of Weir and McCulloch with the Dark Ones packing their penalty area whenever we pressed forward.

A long ball in the 80th minute was well won in the air by Peaso but again there were no takers. Rangers broke up the park and Naismith tried a shot as he fell to the deck (damn those snipers in the crowd), the ball going wide, the referee waiving play on and McCoist jumping up and down on the touchline to cause another dent in the turf at the edge of his dugout. Our next attack saw Irvine set up Peaso down the right wing. His cross broke to Jody but his shot was blocked. Two minutes after that it was Savo's turn as he cut along the edge of the box and tried his luck but his shot went wide. At the back Irvine almost got himself into trouble as a clearance was blocked and ended up in a shot just wide. But we were still pressing although it was looking more and more like a consolation than anything else.

With the bigoted mobs in the other stands heading home to their collection of flute CDs, the Saints fans kept singing and backing the boys. Irvine managed to force a corner from a throw-in. Danny's inswinger was spilled by Alexander. The ball broke out but a nice dribble by Mooner took it into the box and he laid it wide for Grainger but his cross was cleared.

Savo, Chris and Peaso all pressed next but their move broke down as no one seemed willing to just have a shot - instead it seemed we were intent on walking the ball into the net. Gary picked up a booking in the final minute for a nothing challenge on Naismith. The final chances came to us again with Jody heading the ball into the box for Davidson but again there were no takers for his header. Then Irvine tried a long cross but again Alexander manage to hold it.

And that was it - the home stands were practically deserted but credit to the Saints fans who stayed to applaud the players off the park. Like I said, a bit of luck and we might have got something tonight - certainly we weren't disgraced and fought and held our own for long spells in the game. We need to learn to play to our strengths though. MoM for me was hard to pick but I'll go for Gary "Clearance Specialist" Irvine although there were no real failures and certainly in terms of effort and hunger we were by far the better side. Diddy cup anyway.

So the Hampden hoodoo goes on but at least we have a chance to make amends quickly - its the real cup this Saturday.

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