December 2017 & New Year

December started with a home match against bogey side Dumbarton, one of two clubs in the division that only seem to treat matches against Saints seriously, which is cute but questions the mentality particularly of the manager.

In Dumbarton’s case that is of course ex Morton player and Time Bandit Steve Aitken, someone I have called out many times for his excruciatingly negative tactics that include time wasting from practically the first second of matches.

As the media continuously link Jack Ross with every possible vacancy and even posts that don’t exist such as the Aberdeen one when they assumed Derek McInnes would move to Rangers, the same people also consider Aitken a good choice to replace the Saints boss at Paisley. When the day does come that Saints need a new manager, hopefully years from now, I’d like to think Aitken’s disgraceful tactics are remembered in the Saints boardroom and we steer well clear. Going from Jack Ross to Stevie Aitken would be like casting Vinny Jones as Don Corleone in the new Godfather.

On this occasion, tactically Aitken organised his side as usual to stop Saints and the rhythm of the game at every opportunity, and credit where it is due it worked but he was helped massively by Stelios Demetriou losing the plot and unnecessarily launching himself at one of the Dumbarton players to give The Sons a man advantage for around 55 minutes. We now know Stelios was provoked by the Dumbarton player eating a bounty left at the side of the park by the Cypriot for an in-match snack.

At the time it was not good news, but not a disaster I thought as Dumbarton were likely to come out now and try to play, and this should open room for our forwards. Of course, I was wrong, and Dumbarton altered very little and seemed happy enough if the match ended 0-0 immediately at the red card despite their clear advantage.

Saints toiled badly and created nothing to be honest even with eleven men; this despite some of the imposters and Rae’s Ranjurs duds from the last few seasons playing for Dumbarton; Kyle Hutton, Callum Gallacher, Stuart Carswell and Scott Gallagher in particular, and perhaps it was the mere presence of these so-called footballers on the field that meant Saints produced their poorest performance for 11 months, and much more in line with when they were on our books, however this was to be a case of The Imposters Strike Back as far as Saints were concerned.

The winner also came from the boot of one of Rae’s players, but Tom Walsh was never one player I particularly disliked and felt he had a lot of talent which he proved when he scored a quite splendid solo winner near the end of the game which had the flair and imagination completely unbecoming of an Aitken side, and I hope the winger finds a manager that utilises properly his skill in the near future.

So, a 1-0 defeat, our first at home in the league since January but despite their awful tactics a deserved victory for The Sons who completely nullified us and had the best player on the park in Walsh. Perhaps not incredibly considering the circumstances in late 2016, this was the first time Walsh had ever played in a winning side at St Mirren Park during a league match despite being a Saints player for five months, and for Hutton who signed a two year contract for Saints in 2016, he had to go back to March 2011 when he played for the old Rangers for his last win at Paisley on league duty.

With this defeat now registered, Saints had five quick-fire matches between the ninth of December and the second of January, including games against title favourites Dundee United, then form side in the division Queen of the South, a trip to Cappielow, as well as a tough looking match game against Dunfermline near the start of this run.

Undoubtedly, this was now a make or break month and Saints didn’t want to fall into the same category as the Pars who had started superbly but fallen away in the past few weeks. Next up before any of these matches was a trip to Brechin City, a side Saints had really struggled to beat at home in the previous fixture, and the freezing conditions in Angus almost guaranteed a tough match against a side without a single league win so far.

Again, it proved to be a difficult and tricky match, but goals from Reilly and a Smith penalty ensured a hard fought 2-1 victory with most people satisfied at the outcome, however once again Brechin proved that part time clubs don’t need to time waste at every opportunity to be competitive in this division.

The Pars were next, and their slump in form was significant enough that should Saints win this match it would put such a large gap between the clubs it would take a weird turn of events for the clubs to swap positions before the end of the season, and win was what Saints did do, but on this occasion with some real luck and some bizarre decisions from the referee Craig Charleston.

Not long into the match, Gavin Reilly was sent clear and went around the Dunfermline keeper Sean Murdoch to the strikers right before what looked like being brought down by the keeper when it looked like he had a clear shot at goal.

The foul was outside the box, so not a penalty and therefore excluded from the double punishment rule which was recently introduced to stop a red card and penalty being given when a genuine attempt on the ball had been made.

After much deliberation the referee decided to only book the Dunfermline keeper which was the wrong/right decision depending on your view (probably correct in my opinion after watching the next day) and the Saints goal led a charmed life in the ten minutes after this, but Saints ended the first half strongly and crucially scored when on top when the almost permanently impressive Cammy Smith dispatched home to score what was the only goal of the match.

The drama was nowhere over however, and after around an hour the referee pointed to the spot for a Dunfermline penalty after Eckersley tackled Williamson, a decision which resulted in much commotion from the Saints fans in the Main Stand nearest the tackle, and from practically every Saints player.

A rather sheepish Charleston then consulted his linesman, but at no point did I think the decision would be overturned as that simply doesn’t happen, and if the assistant referee didn’t think it was a penalty he would surely have raised his flag to indicate so, and he hadn’t.

However, rather sensationally the referee did change his mind and Saints were awarded a free kick as Charleston had now decided the Pars player had dived, which apparently everyone in the Main Stand could see, some Dunfermline fans behind the goal also admitted was the case, but wasn’t so clear from TV replays. Sandy Clark I’m sure was delighted about it though.

Making a surprise debut for Saints this afternoon was Danny Mullen, who arrived from Livingston on an “emergency loan” with a transfer agreed for when the window opens again. The forward had been impressive for the Lions on many occasions against Saints, and despite his wild lunge on Jordan Stewart in a League Cup tie a few years ago; he should be a good addition to the squad. Despite his introduction to the match however, Saints were hanging on a bit near the end and we were all relieved when Fraser Aird almost cleared the stand with a late chance at the back post before Charleston blew for full time and what felt like a big result.

With six points collected following the defeat to Dumbarton, Saints then made the trip to Palmerston for their next league match a couple of days before Christmas, top of the league again by two points following the abandonment of the Dundee United fixture the previous week at the same Dumfries venue.

By this point, Harry Davis had returned to the side the previous month along with Kyle Magennis following their long-term injury issues, but due to the fake surface at Palmerston Jack Ross didn’t want to risk the centre half due to the nature of his knee injury and I’m guessing the unnatural hardness of these fake pitches.

I doubt I’m in the minority here, but these pitches should never be allowed in the professional game in the first place. There are many possibilities for technology and progressive ideas to flourish in football, but fake pitches are not one in my opinion. The fact multiple matches with these surfaces were called off in December as the parks were unplayable adds to the farce as the biggest selling point to fans over the past few decades was the fact they were supposed to be “all weather”. Clearly not, so get them ripped up and replaced with grass.

With Davis out, one of the heroes of last season finally returned to the starting eleven, the colossus that is Gary MacKenzie. Big Gary had suffered several setbacks this season including delayed concussion that led to him unknowingly playing when he shouldn’t against Morton earlier in the campaign, something that doctors strongly advise against for good reason, so it was great to see him back in the side after four months out.

However, before a ball was kicked there seemed a bit of doubt if MacKenzie was ready for first team action so early in his rehabilitation, including some comments from Jack Ross, so when Queens found themselves 2-0 up after only six minutes the big centre half could have been forgiven for indicating to the bench perhaps a substitution was in order, but as we know the defender is a lot tougher than that.

As MacKenzie found his feet, Gavin Reilly went about his business in his usual fashion scoring twice before half time to level the match, the second a typically ice cool finish when one on one with the keeper, to take his season total to a quite remarkable nineteen goals in twenty six matches.

In the modern era not too many Saints players have had such an impact early on in their career; Eddie Gallagher managed twenty two goals in his first thirty six Saints matches, but strikers as prolific as Reilly even at this level are quite rare particularly with the almost global shift over the past fifteen or so years to hard working lone strikers who bizarrely aren’t necessarily expected to score goals, resulting in utterly ludicrous comments entering the mainstream such as “Aye, but apart from score goals what does he do?”

Reilly however as we know works very hard for the team also, and despite his slight physique in comparison to defenders puts himself about very cleverly, often playing on the very edge of what is a foul and what is acceptable particularly with a defender at his back, and very quickly Reilly has re-established himself as one of the most lethal strikers in the division following a disappointing few years at Hearts and on loan at Dunfermline.

With the match now on a knife edge, up stepped MacKenzie. Probably the only thing Saints have been pretty poor at this season is scoring from set pieces, understandable of course as Stevie Mallan departed in the summer, but the aerial threat of big Mac from corners and set pieces has also been badly missed, so when Ian McShane curled an in-swinging corner towards the defender three quarters of the way through the match, we all knew the outcome and MacKenzie didn’t disappoint by expertly judging the flight of the ball and volleyed home when most of us were motioning a header movement.

Dozens of “score at anytime” coupons then came up, and Christmas was suddenly magical again having looked cancelled only an hour or so beforehand. It maybe did not match the pure mayhem of Christmas Eve 2011, but still good none the less.

Also, to put MacKenzie’s goal scoring prolificacy into context, he has a better goal to game average in the league since joining Saints than Morton “hotshot” Jai Quitongo during the same period. Not bad for a centre half.

With another win recorded Saints then concentrated on the top of the league clash against Dundee United live on BT sport on Friday 29th December, with Saints still two points clear of a resurgent Tannadice club having played a game more.

In the lead up to the match, I wondered if we should actually turn up at all. Despite having an incredibly strong home record, being top of the league and top scorers in the division we had absolutely no chance according to the easily the most arrogant set of fans on social media, and that is undoubtedly Dundee United supporters.

If you can’t work out who a trolling fan supports, you can guarantee it will be the Tannadice club if the word “minter” is used, as that is their go to patter. Predictions before the match on social media included anything up to five nil, and the usual “diddy club” nonsense from them, it put me in mind of other delusional East Coast fans, Dundee as it happens. You have so much in common lads, just merge and be done with it.

Before the match, the Dundee United boss and 90’s Mr. Loverman, Shabba, expressed his surprise as Saints led the league as apparently nobody seen that coming. That is except the bookies who had us only narrow second favourites at the outset, and a whole host of “experts” in the media who had backed us.

Shabba was to be further surprised however when the game started, and United provided as much penetration as Stevie Aitken at a speed dating contest, with their only shot in the entire match a penalty kick that was never a foul anyway, expertly saved by the increasingly important Craig Samson.

The award for the penalty was almost comical, with United defender Mark Durnan falling easier than a Rangers fans need for a new billionaire chairman, but as soon as I noticed Paul McMullan putting the ball on the spot I was mega confident they wouldn’t score, the winger is simply not built to kick a football.

Once Samson had saved, I then expected Saints to improve as the large crowd in the stadium reacted brilliantly to the moment, but in truth we didn’t get going at all in the first half and looked somewhat subdued, perhaps the loss of Gavin Reilly to illness was the reason for this.

That changed second half however, and the Saints we have been used to for most of the season came out. Encouraged by an epic snowball victory over Dundee United fans at half time, and an almost brutal sledging of former boss Alex Rae who was on BT Sport duty in a box between the rival supporters (who on earth thought that was a good idea??) the volume in the stadium rose significantly.

Rae will probably now try and take credit for the victory, but Saints and in particular Lewis Morgan was far too good for United and not for the first time this season. Tam Scobbie, a plodding one-dimensional honest pro had been switched to right back to mark Morgan, and claims at half time from the Dundee United support that he had the winger “in his pocket” were looking as silly as the Livingston player that bought David Hopkin toothpaste in their Christmas dip by full time as Morgan netted twice and Saints could have had many more as they turned on the class.

Shabba was still shocked though afterwards, and was still trying to work out why we were top of the league as nobody had seen this coming he claimed again. It’s almost as though he took the job without looking at the league table, or was told we wouldn’t last the pace.

This was a bad result for the dinosaurs of Radio Scotland, especially Willie Miller who is desperate for the return of the “natural order” as the sees it. I’ve never really been quite sure the logic behind this rubbish, on radio they mean the “big clubs” should always be in the top division regardless of ability, defending what they see as a football establishment that needs preserving, in other words absolutely everything that is and has been wrong with Scottish football for well over a hundred years.

“The natural order” as they like to say shouldn’t logically include Dundee United however as they didn’t become “established” until the late 1970’s, a full century into competitive football in Scotland. The Tannadice club are still benefitting from a good twenty years between 1974 and 1994, and somehow this propels them into the mythical elite as this period is basically around the same time these media dinosaurs either played or started their professions.

I would love to have seen Miller’s reaction if he was around in the 1950’s when people his age were arguing the same about Renton and Dumbarton; it’s as absurd then as it now.

United might still win the league, but should Saints or anyone else win the Championship it will not devalue the game in Scotland as these pundits believe.

This was the last match of 2017; statistically in terms of wins and goals scored one of the most successful we have ever had, but undoubtedly one of the most memorable. Only 2005 beats 2017 in terms of win %, however those that are old enough to remember that calendar year are unlikely to ever quote the multiple narrow victories and clean sheets that period in the same warm way 1976 under Alex Ferguson is revered, or Tom Hendrie’s 1999 and this current batch in 2017 are likely to be fondly recalled.

The first match of 2018 and the last of the Christmas period was an away match at Cappielow, the third cup final of the season for Morton, and their fans started the preparations early by posting messages on social media weeks in advance of the actual match when both clubs had at least two fixtures to complete beforehand. A game at a time indeed.

I admit I do find it all very curious. In the fifteen-year gap between playing in the same league as the Greenock club, (2000 to 2015) I had more or less discarded the rivalry completely like many other Saints fans had also, however clearly the sentiment isn’t mutual and a rather odd infatuation with St Mirren and Paisley has developed down in Greenock, which includes a strange obsession with the City of Culture bid. Absence makes the heart grow creepy I think.

Lewis Morgan, born in Greenock and who I believe still lives in the area, has over this season of course gained national exposure for his sometimes breath-taking performances for Saints and Scotland Under 21’s, and he is regarded as one of the best if not the best young player in the country, and before the match was on the brink of clinching a move to Celtic.

Not a popular transfer with the Morton support it would seem, and they screamed at Morgan “We know where you stay” like a bunch of young stalkers as the “Morton” support was boosted by almost 100% from previous matches to around 2400 for their big match.

Perhaps the Morton fans should be asking why the best player to come out of Inverclyde in the last twenty or so years has twice been missed by their scouting system in the past decade, once when he signed for old Rangers and again when Saints plucked him from the football wilderness at sixteen. Instead of concentrating their hatred at Morgan, perhaps some probing questions should be asked of their own club’s failure to sign blindingly obvious talent on their own doorstep.

To the action, and on the back of four straight wins Saints were in confident mood early on and bossed the first half with ease, however they only had a solitary Morgan goal to show for their efforts, the young winger reacting to creepy chants about him and his family by sliding in front on the Morton supporters to celebrate his goal.

I had a feeling at half time we would regret not finishing the match off, and that’s exactly what happened when Morton came out predictably fired up and flung everything at Saints, however Baird and Reilly (who was back after illness) both had real chances to finish the match off before Morton grabbed a late equaliser predictably from a set piece when Tam O’Ware rose at the back post to nod the Greenock side level.

What followed was as bizarre a celebration as I have ever seen at any match, when O’Ware attempted to engage with the Saints fans by making a couple of “slit throat” references to the support behind the goal, but most fans were distracted by Jai Quitongo standing in front of him and posing in a clear “look at me………look at me………look at me……………sign me” plea to the Saints fans.

O’Ware was joined by multiple Morton players who were falling over themselves to have a go at the Saints support in further proof of the creepiness that has descended from the Greenock club into the derby.

It was pointed out that Morton players only followed what Morgan and the Saints players had done by celebrating in front of the opposition support, but the fans from Paisley hadn’t sang about knowing where Morton players stayed or about the conduct of their sisters on a Saturday night that had provoked the Saints winger to slide in front of them.

And then of course is the “slit throat” gesture which apparently comes from a move by “The Executioner” who I am told was a wrestler. I’m not that bothered about it personally, it definitely was a bit irresponsible and in different circumstances could have resulted in real trouble, for example I remember a grown man in a Panda outfit once showed a league table to Morton fans and they complained to the Police, however what is more concerning is a twenty-four-year-old man liking wrestling. Get a grip of yourself Tam.

Saints however should still have won the match deep into injury time when Sutton was found unmarked at the back post and instead of heading home cushioned the ball into the path of Reilly who didn’t react quickly enough, and Morton cleared to ensure they remain the only side Saints haven’t beaten this season in the Championship.

After the match pictures emerged of Stelios being hit by a chocolate bar flung from the Morton support, but after initially being annoyed about this the Cypriot got tore into the confectionary which made him a brief internet sensation, however the real story was the picture of O’Ware doing his slit throat impression with his tongue sticking out covered in the excess scraps from Catman’s beard and it was utterly disgusting from the Morton defender.

The contents of O’Ware’s mouth should be investigated by the compliance officer, not the celebration.

After the match most fans of both clubs seemed happy with a 1-1 draw, probably a fair result overall, as did the managers, and Jim Duffy once again should be congratulated for his fair assessment of the match. Duffy is definitely one of the most sensible managers in the league, and has proven that it is possible to work on radio whilst managing a club and not becoming a laughing stock.

However, with this result the five-point lead at the top was cut to three points over United who still have a game in hand. Another big set of games lie ahead, can Saints remain on top seems to be the recurring question each month at the moment……..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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