Temple Of Saints - Xmas Cheer

Clydesdale Bank Premier League 19/12/2009

Saints 1 Paisley Mob 0 - League Table Here

Team : Smith, Irvine, Grainger, Morris, Garters, Mackay, Millar, Mooner, Deuchar, Peaso, Morais
Subs: McLean, Anderson, Davidson, Liam, Savo, May, Durnan

Welcome to the pre-Xmas festivities and what had to be the nerviest game for ages for Saints. With a bad home record in recent games and the disaster at the Death Star last weekend (only slightly moderated thanks to the Forces of Darkness notching up the same scoreline at Tannadump in midweek) this had suddenly become the proverbial six-pointer with Saints out to improve on the one point (or rather two dropped) from the earlier encounter at the Ferguslie Park Methadome earlier in the season. That day it was Jody on the scoresheet for us and the stand-in skipper had been in the papers midweek urging the team to pick things up this weekend. Of course the other talking point was Del's position as a likely candidate for a move to the rubbish tips of Juteopolis should Gordon Smith have the guts to appoint Levein to the Scotland job.

For the Paisley side patchy was the best way to describe their form as a series of draws and a poor home record had ensured they were kept in the relegation battle with Saints and the fast- closing Bairns. With Accies managing a good win at Pittodrie last Saturday, there was even more pressure on Gus to try and get a result today and a hard battling encounter seemed to be on the cards. We'd had the better record against the Midden in recent years (including a nice cup win a couple of years back at Love St) but given the fragile state of the squad, the home fans were more than a tad nervous.

The game turned into a nervous affair as well but in the end we thoroughly deserved the three points against a St Midden side that seems to have adapted the Accies physical approach to the game preferring to kick the player instead of the ball for the most part. Still we had a referee that was at least willing to partly punish them and the Saints players helped themselves out by ensuring that mistakes were kept to a minimum and they all put in 100% - with the added boost for the home fans of seeing the return of both Peaso and Savo to the first team and looking well up for it. It's ensured that the nightmare of Govan has been put to rest and hopefully given us a big boost going into the festive fixtures.

Going into the match, Del had plenty of concerns as the injury problem had worsened during the week and with the defence in disarray and the strikers unable to hit the proverbial coos erse with a stringed instrument, Del had plenty on his plate. Additional knocks to "Passback" Ando and Danny hadn't helped as their training had been almost non-existent this week (what's new there I hear you cry) while there had been more bad news from the surgeon's theatre as Sammy was out for a couple of months. Things were that stretched even Swankie was being talked about for a starting jersey.

The starting lineup saw no Swankie though but there were several changes to last weekend as Ando and Davidson dropped to the bench while Mackay moved to centre-half as Gary Irvine came in for his first start since about the last time Rafa Benitez celebrated a win bonus. Danny made it to the other flank. The midfield last week had been one of the few almost-bright points in a rotten afternoon and today Saints lined up with the 4 musketeers - Morris, Morais, Millar and Moon while Deuchar started up front alongside Peaso. No place for JJ on the bench either as Savo made an unexpected return to the squad. For the Midden there was no Dornan but plenty of candidates for abuse with McGinn the Diver starting and Dargo, Mehmet and Higdon up front.

The weather wasn't exactly balmy but the game started after an early panic over a sudden snow shower. Just under 3000 fans in the ground saw Saints look sharp from the kick-off. The opening stages saw the Doc win more headers than he has all season while Peaso's half-goat DNA ensured that he was springing about all over the place. As early as the first minute Peaso turned provider laying a decent ball off for Morais on the wing but he was too slow to reach the ball. Millar sent a cross in for the Doc next but he was caught in a clash as Gallacher hit the deck and referee Tumilty awarded the first of a million free kicks to the Junkie Journeymen. But we were creating plenty from midfield and Mooner had a decent break in the fourth minute but he was dispossessed in the box and a St Midden break up the other end of the park saw Barron cross the ball into the Saints area. The defence failed to clear the ball properly and it broke to the other side where an angled shot went just wide of Smiffy's goal.

But the better chances were coming for us. Irvine tried a ball in the 7th minute finding Peaso who set up Millar in the box but again the final ball was hit just too far. A minute later Grainger tried a cross in from the left. It was only just cleared as far as Mackay who linked with Peaso and set-up Mooner for a decent long-range shot which stung Gallacher's gloves. Of course it wouldn't be a Saints performance without a proverbial banana skin moment in defence and ten minutes into the game Garters almost became a cropper for the second week on the trot as a harmless ball into the box saw him slip allowing Dargo to take possession. But credit to the big defender and a sliding tackle meant that the Midden diver had to settle for a corner - the defence easily clearing the danger.

The game seemed to be settling into one of long punts and Saints almost scored from a Smith kickout in the 10th minute as the ball was headed on by Deuchar for Morais who tore up the left wing. He managed a cutback for Peaso who missed the ball but it fell for Jody coming into the box. Unfortunately the love of our life rushed the shot in an attempt to go for the spectacular but only ended up sclaffing his effort wide of goal.

A Peaso cross was cleared next allowing the Midden to break but despite a good cutback across the Saints goalmouth there were no takers. Mackay managed to pick up a knock during this break and struggled for a bit before getting some treatment. With Mackay struggling we were almost behind in the 17th minute as a long ball through the middle caught Garters square and allowed Dargo to break through on goal with just Smith to beat. The Saints keeper came out to cover the shot and made a great blocking save. Saints went straight up the park and mounted an attack of their own. The ball was played into the St Midden defence who struggled to clear their lines and a poor clearance saw the ball fall to Millar coming in from the right. Chris let rip from 20 yards out with a low drive that went through a crowd of Midden players and seemed to go under Gallacher as he dived to his right before nestling in the bottom corner of the net.

One-nil and at least we had something to applaud to try and ward off the cold. The goal gave us an added spark. Within a minute Grainger won a corner that was cleared, Morais saw a cross held and then in the 22nd minute the game sparked into life for the wrong reasons. First Mehmet and Grainger clashed in the middle of the park and then when Garters went out to clear a ball Higdon took him out. At least the referee took some action on the latter with the first booking of the day. Peaso won us our next corner that was cleared but Grainger played it back in for Deuchar but he was just too slow.

Generally though, Saints were playing well with Peaso looking sharp and the midfield getting forward to support the front men with Millar and Mooner looking very sharp. Morais had the next decent run in the 27th minute but it was blocked. The ball was still played into the box and cleared as far as Jody who went for another shot sending the ball wide of the target once more. Grainger got our first booking a minute later for a challenge on Thomson with Smith holding the freekick. We were sitting back a bit and the referee was giving them soft freekicks (Deuchar as usual was getting nothing). One ended up with a Higdon header which caused Smith no trouble and a Mehmet drive that was cleared.

It wasn't until ten minutes from the break that we carved out our next opportunity with Garters going forward and setting up the Doc. He laid the ball off to Morais on the left and his run to the byeline saw the ball cut back to Millar who turned his man brilliantly before firing in a low shot that came off Peaso and went wide. Irvine and the Doc worked the ball forward next setting up Peaso and Mooner with the ball breaking off Mooner to the Doc in space but he shot wide when it seemed easier to score. Grainger was the next one needing treatment as he went down with a shoulder injury after Mehmet laid into him. Del lost the plot at that and picked up a warning from the referee.

Dargo had a shot held by Smith as the game went more end-to-end as the half drew to a close. St Midden won a couple of corners but Garters and Peaso respectively dealt with them. At the other end Irvine saw a cross cleared that turned into a move up the park with St Midden shooting over the bar as the Saints defence failed to clear the danger. Irvine saw another cross cleared and Mooner had a run end with a poor pass. Still it was a good performance for the first forty-five.

No changes at the break which was a surprise given the way Mackay was struggling as the first half wore on. St Midden started the second-half a bit brighter though with some early pressure which Grainger cleared - he found Peaso who went down heavily (after being clobbered by Innes near the end of the first half). He lasted another couple of minutes but wasn't mobile enough and went off with a hip/back knock to be replaced by Savo.

Chances were at a premium as the game wore on. Irvine and Millar combined for the former to send another too-deep cross into the Paisley area and Millar and Morais linked up before Millar made a run up the left this time and sent a cutback into the goal to find no supporting blue shirt. Mooner and Mackay teamed up next with a couple of runs as the St Midden defence started to look more and more nervous as we kept up the pressure. Savo had a good run next and sent a cross in from the right wing that found the Doc in the box but he was forced into an overhead kick that ended up missing the ball never mind the goal.

Savo was adding a lot of pace to the side going forward and looked almost back to his best. He won a couple of corners getting forward on the right with Millar and Irvine supplying good balls. Unfortunately the quality of the corners wasn't that great with too many balls played too short to cause the keeper any problems. The best we got was a bit of head tennis from one and a Deuchar header that went wide. St Midden did manage a rare break as Irvine was caught out of position in the 61st minute allowing them to break up the left but the cutback across the goal found Gary back to clear the danger.

Morais had been less effective this half and seemed unable to get to the byeline to play in a cross. He was replaced in the 64th minute by Liam Craig and two minutes later it seemed we were on easy street. St Midden played the ball out and Higdon, who had been booked in the first half, had a sneaky wee kick at Grainger. The ref spotted it and a yellow was followed by a red as the Paisley side were reduced to ten men. The cards didn't stay in Mr Tumilty's pocket for long though and Irvine picked up a booking with twenty minutes left for a foul on Dargo.

Against ten men and with an advantage in midfield we were unable, or not confident enough to press forward and the game began to peter out a bit. Irvine and Savo combined to win a corner but that was only half-cleared to Jody who sent another volley wide of goal. Liam tried a ball forward in the 73rd minute that was half-cleared to Kenny and the Doc tried a curling shot from the edge of the box but as usual with his luck the ball went just over the bar. We were keeping up the pressure but lacked the ball in the box to cause the Midden defence any real problems. There were plenty of good moves and all the subs were making an impact with Grainger and Liam linking up well on the left and a good move from Grainger to Liam saw a one-two with the Doc but Liam's final shot was just too late allowing a defender in to clear.

The Paisley mob weren't out of it though and with nothing to lose they pressed forward. Mackay was struggling but our inability to play the ball out of defence was causing us problems. They won a corner in the 75th minute but Irvine put a couple of good blocks in. Two minutes later Irvine played Savo forward down the right but the striker's cutback was held by Gallacher. We won a couple of corners but they came to nothing (guess what needs to be worked on in training this week boys?) .

The closing stages though saw the Midden press forward without really causing us any trouble. We had a good chance in the final minute as Millar broke down the right and set up Mooner in the middle. He couldn't find the room to turn and shoot and was sent flying instead. St Midden pressed forward at pace and a ball sprayed to the right wing ended with a cutback for Liam to clear. It wasn't pretty but it was enough.

Saints overall did well today against a tough opposition and less than ideal conditions. Given Mackay was carrying a knock for most of the game the defence held up well with Gartland winning everything in the air and Irvine giving us an extra option going forward on the right. The return of Peaso and Savo, and their form and hunger was another big boost and in midfield the form of Millar (my MoM) was outstanding with a good goal. Mooner played well through the middle allowing Davidson to have a rest but Morais was again disappointing with Liam arguably pressing for a starting jersey next weekend. These are minor quibbles though and the team worked well throughout for the three points.

Now can we go on a winning run please?

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Team P W D L F A Pts
Rangers 16 11 4 1 35 10 37
Celtic 15 10 3 2 33 16 33
Hibs 16 9 5 2 24 10 32
Dundee Utd 15 7 6 2 20 14 27
Motherwell 16 4 8 4 20 25 20
Aberdeen 16 4 6 6 12 18 18
Saints 16 4 4 8 21 29 16
Hamilton 15 4 4 7 15 24 16
Hearts 15 3 5 7 13 17 14
St Mirren 16 3 5 8 18 25 14
Kilmarnock 16 3 4 9 12 22 13
Falkirk 16 2 6 8 14 26 12

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