2018/19 – Chapter Four. Premiership Fixtures 29-38 & the Play Off Final

So with momentum and the feel-good factor high following the late victory over Livingston, the last thing we needed was an international break, although so bad are Scotland that the Alan Stubbs era at Saints looks like a fairy tale with Stubbsy cast as the handsome outgoing prince in comparison to the national team, where Alex McLeish was about as suited to modern day football management as Danny Baker is for entertainment at children parties.

The next match for Saints was a Monday night fixture live on Sky against high-flying Kilmarnock, (TM Radio Scotland) a few weeks later, and in a predictably tight match Simeon Jackson had Saints best chance late in the game, but the Canadian inexplicably delayed shooting allowing Stuart Findlay to get back and make a last gasp tackle. Saints paid the ultimate price for this when Killie grabbed an even later winner, and at least a potentially crucial point was dropped.

A few days later, a trip to Perth was postponed as St Johnstone had failed to look at the weather forecast and prepare for what the entire country knew, and that was the fact snow was on the way. Apparently, they hadn’t switched on their heating equipment, which I assume is a giant hovering scarecrow blowing out hot air from Murdo Fraser’s mouth. The media favourites were strangely let off the hook about this matter, I’m not sure how they check the weather in Perth, perhaps it’s an ancient farming technique where a lamb is dipped in the River Tay and how loud it squeals determines the forecast, but it’s rather strange that the Perth club missed the multiple snow warnings that week.

The match was rather inconveniently for St Mirren supporters rearranged for the immediate midweek; however a fantastic away support of around 800 travelled up to Perth and despite some quite incredible continuous backing the Paisley side lost a match in truth they never should have, and the bad luck against the Perth stretching back as long as I can remember continued.

On this occasion, Simeon Jackson once more had the pivotal moment of the match when he hit an early penalty kick straight at the bearded wotsit Zander Clark in the Fakes nets with all the conviction of Ryan Edwards attempting a triple shuffle, and the chance to take the lead was lost. To compound this, a defensive mix up in the Saints defence a few minutes later presented Chris Kane with an open goal, and despite being V9 academy level horse manure, even Kane couldn’t miss a chance like that and it was 1-0 St Johnstone.

It was defending closely reminiscent of the days John Potter used to “organise” our backline, and of course that week a photograph emerged of a prominent figure from Saints board with the Sunderland “Paisley” contingent, which remarkably and I’m sure it’s just a coincidence, was around the time Potter was announced as the newest inductee into the Saints Hall of Friends, sorry Fame, more proof the Loving Cup has dulled the senses of some at the club.

Anyway, despite another stonewall penalty being denied later in the match at Perth, it was another narrow defeat for Saints, and Funeral FC once again proved to be a bit of a bogey for Saints who had Ethan Erahon sent off very late on for a tackle on Ricky Foster, who had been winding up the young makeshift full back and the Saints support for most of the second half.

It was a disappointing outcome to a match most Saints fans had expectations of taking at least a point from and in reality we most definitely should have, and it was a particularly annoying night as Dundee appeared in free fall and had lost four league matches since their spirited first few games after the winter break.

This meant the match a few days later at Paisley against the Dens Park side was beyond extremely important, a fact signified by close to 7,000 in the stadium including a sold out away end in extremely good spirits.

Saints remained bottom of the table by one point, gathering only 17 points from 30 matches, therefore defeat in all likelihood would probably have led to relegation at this stage of the season, and we made the worst possible start when somehow we managed to concede after just 20 seconds despite kicking off the match!

The goal scorer was Ethan Robson, on loan from Sunderland, and the inevitability of Jack Ross helping to relegate Saints looked on, however this team post-Christmas has some real fight about them as I said in chapter three, and Danny Mullen equalised not long after to calm the nerves in the stadium. It was a crucial goal, and after fighting his way back to fitness the forward looked in good form.

The game after this was end to end, but it was Brad Lyons who headed Saints in front around the hour mark following a magnificent cross field pass from Popescu was nodded into his path by Anders Dreyer. This of course was massively significant for Saints, but the impact on Dundee was perhaps even more so.

We all expected a bombardment from Dundee to try and get back into the match, but we were put under as much pressure as Nigel Farage on Question Time in all honesty. Saints bossed the rest of match to see it out comfortably, marshalled by a superb defensive performance by the returning Gary MacKenzie, and the travelling support turned on their players who subsequently gave up with all the ease of Andrew Dallas awarding a penalty to The Rangers.

The outlook for survival looked much better at full time, and this fifth straight defeat for Dundee would turn into eleven on the bounce and automatic relegation was confirmed at the end of the thirty sixth set of fixtures of the campaign for the Dens Park side.

A few days later, Saints faced Champions elect Celtic in Paisley, now under interim manager Neil Lennon, and with one eye on the crucial match with Hamilton a few days after facing the Glasgow side, Oran Kearney went for a starting XI as experimental as Radio Clyde having a phone in about the lower leagues, but the fringe men put up a good fight to their credit.

After going 1-0 behind and Vaclav Hladky saving a Ntcham penalty, Saints were the better side in the second half and despite cutting Celtic wide open leaving Duckens Nazon one on one with the keeper, the Haitian striker instead of shooting when he got under 10 yards from goal, decided to turn around back into oncoming defenders and the chance was lost much to the frustration of the majority of the crowd.

Celtic then scored a late deflected clincher, and to celebrate their support threw two air bombs onto the park at each end of the stadium as of course our board allowed them to be there, an issue further compounded by the Police permitting these supporters to stand for 90 minutes meaning identification of the culprits is impossible. One of these devices however landed in the vicinity of the Saints keeper who was badly shaken by the incident and for anyone that thinks it doesn’t matter as it never hit him, I was sitting around 90 yards away from the explosion and jumped at how loud it was. Hladky is a professional goalkeeper highly reliant on concentration, and it is unacceptable that this should happen. Imagine it was the other way around in a crucial match for Celtic? The conspiracy theories about our support would involve the moon landings, a grassy knoll and lack of bus fares to Ibrox.

With this match out of the way, Jim Kellermann could hang up his boots for the season as he is only used against the Parkhead side, and all focus was on at Hamilton Accies away in an absolutely crucial match as the Douglas Park side had recorded a quite remarkable 2-0 win at Pittodrie as were losing to Celtic, courtesy of two shots on goal the entire match to move four points clear of Saints.

As is always the case at important times, the Saints supporters turned out with almost 2,000 making the trip and comfortably outnumbering the home support. In terms of volume it was really quite something though, and the players seemed inspired by dominating the first half. The lingering hangover of that Duckens miss though seemed to affect Brad Lyons, and twice the Irishman fluffed his lines with great opportunities in a frantic opening to the match that also witnessed a stonewall Saints penalty turned down.

The main man for Saints that afternoon was Anders Dreyer, and a glimpse of what he is capable of made for good viewing as the Danish winger ran Accies ragged. As is often the way with Saints though, there was a sting in the tail and the home side improved significantly in the second half where it was much more even, and frustratingly took the lead just after the hour mark when Steve Davies knocked home a cross to give Accies an undeserved lead overall.

Saints though have a strong resilience, and almost immediately Dreyer danced through the Hamilton tackles before being dumped to the ground in the box and finally a penalty was awarded. With Simeon Jackson on the park, a slight hush descended over the stadium but it was Dreyer himself who expertly converted to level it up with around twenty five minutes remaining.

The away side then pushed for a winner, and were back on top for most of the remainder of the match, however it was a brilliant Hladky save and subsequent Stephen McGinn clearance off the line that stopped the Accies literally stealing another three points off Saints, and the match like a good quality sausage, finished all square.

With another break in league football for the Scottish Cup semi-finals, a fortnight later on the 20th April, Saints travelled to Livingston, large support in attendance once again for a match played in close to Mediterranean conditions. It was ‘Taps aff’ weather for the Saints support, and many of the Livingston players and staff hadn’t seen this much young male flesh since prison.

It was another dramatic day, with Craig Halkett ordered off early in the match by Willie Collum after bringing down a clean through Brad Lyons, the third time Collum has sent off an opposition player in Saints matches this season, but it was Livingston that took the lead midway through the first half when Scott Robinson slotted home after some fine build up play by the West Lothian side.

Just as the away support began to fear the worse, Paul McGinn popped up with a lovely one two with Dreyer to slot beyond Liam Kelly and equalise within ten minutes of the opener. At this point however, it was an even match and Saints back three seemed petrified of Ryan Hardie, with his head like a barren wasteland, but still giving Saints many problems.

As time ticked down in the second half, Saints completely took over and the warm conditions helped with Livingston struggling to cope with the personnel disadvantage as Saints worked them hard by retaining the ball for long periods, a masterstroke as it turned out, as by the last fifteen minutes most of the Livingston team hadn’t been this physically drained since their hard drives had been taken away by the police.

For anyone present that day, the last quarter of an hour of that match was truly something special. Dundee were getting beat again of course, so we knew that a victory would push us six points clear with only four games left, a massive step to avoid automatic relegation that looked as nailed on as Pat Bonner not knowing ten footballers on the planet outside of Celtic’s squad.

The second goal finally arrived with twelve minutes to go when Danny Mullen smashed home a right footed twenty yard shot low past a stranded Kelly, and all mayhem broke loose in the stands and by those on the pitch in black & white, or red as it was that day. Just as Discoland was warming up in the celebrations following this, Kyle McAllister let fly from 25 yards and Kelly spilled the shot allowing Simeon Jackson to happily tap in a third goal for Saints and seal the points, and once again the celebrations were further proof that our support is one of the most passionate in the country.

A week later, St Johnstone were the opponents again, an awkward match against a side that time waste at 0-0 and stop the flow of the game at every opportunity. You would have been forgiven if you thought Dumbarton were in town with a new away strip, but Funeral FC really are a brutal side to play against and the match was about as exciting as Robbie Nielson reading out the shipping forecast, but an old Achilles Heel came back to haunt Saints again when Chris Kane gave the Perth side the lead with only eleven minutes remaining.

The Achilles heel I refer to is the fact that over the years far too many below average players seem to score against us. I have covered Kane already; he’s genuinely hopeless but has now scored two of his three league goals this season against Saints, costing us at least two points. Jon Daly, Alex Bone, Andy Smith, Stewart Petrie, Lee McCulloch, the list goes on. It’s annoyed me for years and will continue to do so I am sure.

With all hope seemingly lost and Dundee drawing with Motherwell who were down to 10 men, while Hamilton had surrendered a two goal advantage to trail 3-2 at home to Livingston anything could still happen, and fortunately enough for Saints two of the three goals that followed were all in our favour. Vaclav Hladky pumped a long ball deep into the St Johnstone penalty area and at full stretch, Jason Kerr headed back out towards the penalty area with Jackson lurking menacingly behind. Like a predator, Danny Mullen came alive instantly and from the back of the family stand I could hear him scream “Danny’s” as the ball looped perfectly towards him twenty odd yards from goal. With his left foot, Mullen connected as sweetly as scientifically possible to thunder a volley high into the top corner and level the match. An absolutely sensational goal.

News then filtered through that Motherwell had scored late in the match to defeat Dundee, and Hamilton had equalised against Livingston. This meant Dundee were seven points adrift of Saints with three matches to play, and Hamilton still only two points ahead of Saints. It was building up to be quite the end of a crazy season, and it was back to Lanarkshire the following week with a trip to Motherwell as Dundee played at home to Hamilton.

This was a key day. With Hamilton at almost certainly doomed Dundee, by far the poorest side in the division, victory for Accies would mean Saints had to match that result to keep it in our hands. Again it was left late at both matches, and with around fifteen minutes remaining Motherwell took the lead despite what looked like a clear foul in the build-up on Gary MacKenzie who continued to excel at the back beside Popescu and Baird. It was the latest of many very poor decisions during the match and season against Saints particularly in the run in, and it would get worse as the season finished.

A few minutes later, the predictable happened when Accies scored a late winner, and Saints were now looking destined for a playoff spot despite a last kick of the ball equaliser from Kyle Magennis to send the 2000 travelling Buddies wild, most of whom were unaware that Hamilton were officially relegating an absolutely rotten Dundee side that couldn’t even beat Stubbs St Mirren of course.

All that was left to sort out now in the Premiership was who would be in the play off between Saints and Accies, and the two sides met nine days later on Monday Night Football, where the “sold out” signs went up an hour before kick-off for the home end, while Accies brought a credible 600 through, an away support we would get on a bad day, but for the minnows a decent effort.

The game was as expected and followed the pattern of the previous two matches against Accies as Saints dominated, and we were given yet another Willie Collum pleasant surprise when he correctly sent off Alex Gogic for pulling down Simeon Jackson who was clean through on goal in the first half.

With the Lanarkshire side needing just a point to avoid the play off, they battled and time wasted their way to seventy five minutes before the intense pressure finally paid off when the outstanding Kyle McAllister lashed home a left foot shot from inside the box, and this was followed up in injury time by another Kyle Magennis goal after he waltzed through an Accies backline more rattled than someone’s skull after arguing with Declan Gallagher at a house party.

So to the last day it went. Saints needed to better Hamilton’s result in order to finish tenth, and close to 3000 Saints fans travelled to Dundee for the early kick off in full voice, it was a fabulous occasion before kick-off, but surprisingly the team appeared nervous and the Dens Park side grabbed a deserved lead when Cammy Kerr smashed home an early opener, and with Hamilton scoring also, it looked over for Saints and the play off beckoned.

That’s exactly what did happen of course, but only after a dire first half where Darren O’Dea was sent off for the home side after chopping down Brad Lyons, and Saints went up several gears in the second period inspired by the unlikeliest of heroes in the handsome shape of Cody Cooke who grabbed a second half hat-trick, the first Saints player to do so as a substitute since Alan Logan back in 1981.

It wasn’t enough though, and Hamilton scored an extremely dodgy second goal when former Hamilton Accies player Brian Easton, who was playing for the Fakes for the first time in seventeen months, prodded the ball into the path of Steve Davies who smashed home to seal the win.

Sounds suspicious enough, but then Easton signed for Accies. Utter scum.

If ever we have the chance to relegate St Johnstone we should gladly take it, twice in eighteen years after the Alan Main scandal is too much of a coincidence for me. One day we will playing someone and the result of that match will affect St Johsntone adversely, we should honestly play Tam Stewart in goals and Alan Wardrop up front, an improvement on Stubbs signings undoubtedly but enough to secure defeat.

So we now knew our fate, a head to head against Dundee United to survive, and we were back to season 2018/19 patter as the media almost completely wrote us off and the natural order guff was well and truly back, aided by the usual arrogant United fans who gave the ‘wee Weegie’ team no chance, this was the mighty Dundee United after all.

Thankfully, nobody in Paisley has ever believed that nonsense, not in 1987, last season or this time. As I keep saying, 1983 is not relevant anymore, why are we subjected to this rubbish by a sycophantic media?

United played every trick in the book to gain an advantage, limiting our away support to just 1200 and putting us in a section of the stadium I assume used to be the dungeon Jim McLean kept Andy McLaren and Duncan Ferguson in, going by the twenty minutes it took just to get out the place, and the fact the toilets had no running water in the sinks. Welcome to Dundee 1983 right enough.

As the atmosphere built at Tannadice, United fans in the shed sang about us going “down with the Dundee” and being a “shite team from Glasgow”, it was absolutely tragic to be honest. The Tannadice club are basically Jim Davidson. Inexplicably successful in the 1980’s with terrible terrible patter.

Saints came into the match in excellent form, the third best in the Premiership, but were no match for United apparently who “had much greater attacking options” than us and “better players”. Night after night this was relayed on the radio to my astonishment. The probable match winner Saints fans were told, was a large skulled small man who falls over a lot called Paul McMullan. You may remember him being so bad he couldn’t get into Ian Murray’s St Mirren side in 2015; that’s who were supposed to be scared of!

Beside little big head in the Dundee United front line was perennial lower league striker and son of a wank sock, Nicky Clark, along with Osman Sow, who is kind of like a really bad Brocks-Madsen. Essentially it was the Dunfermline attack from three years ago with a big donkey up top. I bet you Popescu was bricking it.

With ticket sales over 11,000, the media and practically everyone with an opinion also said United had a major advantage for the home tie, and getting totally carried away by it all, a Dundee United social media employee asked their American owner if he thought the Tannadice club would “blow us away” in the first leg, a dangerous question to ask anyone from America.

As it turned out, Saints coped easily and it took a remarkable save from the extremely impressive United goalkeeper Siegrist after a brilliant Magennis effort to prevent the away side from winning the match refereed by Bobby Madden, who was quite simply appalling. The whistler let the Dundee United number 19, Rachid Bouhenna, make eight fouls during the match including wiping out Ryan Flynn meaning the Saints man missed the second leg through injury, before the Algerian finally got booked very late in the match. And that doesn’t include Bouheann’s two footed lunge on Stephen McGinn after around ten minutes that should have resulted in a straight red card which Madden inexplicably deemed fair.

This error led directly to a United attack that thankfully landed at the tiny feet of McMullan who found nobody with his cross, as we’ve come to expect from a player more over-hyped than a Sky Pay Per View Boxing match between two people you’ve never heard of, and know it will go the full distance and be decided by a controversial points decision.

All in all it was decent result for Saints, with a home fixture against a Championship side to save our bacon which had been evaporated to pig dust by Alan Stubbs only nine months prior to this. All of us would have taken this at any point between July and probably early April as it was really only the last few weeks of the season that outright safety became a real possibility.

The media however had a few surprises in store. On the morning of the first leg, there was widespread coverage of Alan Stubbs criticising the club in an interview, without even a question fired back such as, “Where are your signings now?” or “Do you think the sixth level of England is similar to the Scottish Premiership? Or “Were you thinking specifically of Ryan Edwards when you said marquee signings were on the way?”

None of that whatsoever, and the media continued their partisan coverage of the play off matches when Brian McLaughlan of the BBC hounded Oran Kearney to admit that home advantage was in fact now a disadvantage! Yeah, Brian you are right that’s why nobody wants to play at home anymore, scrap the seasons tickets. Idiot.

This absurd notion continued in the days before the second leg, with Robbie Nielson also suggesting in all seriousness that the advantage was now with firmly Dundee United, a bit like saying a one armed man is the clear favourite for a clapping contest as the other contestants have two arms and the pressure is now all on them to remember to use them.

We have of course heard a lot of seriously biased nonsense in particular from the BBC about Saints and United over the past two years, however when a commentator starts making information up like Liam McLeod did in the Sportscene highlights commentary when he stated three seasons is the longest the Tanndadice club have ever spent outside the top flight in their history, then you know they have lost it completely. As I was at the match I didn’t get to listen to the radio commentary either that night, but I can honestly say I have never seen so many complaints about how one sided it was towards the Dundonians, with Alan Preston in particular apparently shouting “foul” every time a Saints player tackled one of his precious East coast pals.

As annoying as it is, the media you can handle though as they can’t influence a football match, unlike John Beaton the referee who was in charge of the second leg.

To say the standard of refereeing in this country is currently poor is as big an understatement as suggesting Cappielow maybe needs a lick of paint, but Beaton took it far beyond incompetency in my opinion and had a clear set of rules for each team on the day.

In a match more tense than Alan Lithgow stopping at traffic lights with the Police behind him, Saints were the better side with multiple opportunities created and missed throughout a 120 minutes I must admit was like personal torture for me, the only thing worse would have been stuck in a lift with Jedward. Although there was fear whenever Dundee United had the ball, they created next to nothing like the first leg, but Saints superiority all over the park didn’t consider the Beaton factor.

In a rare opportunity for United midway through the first half, Pavel Safranko’s scuffed and deflected shot was clawed away wide by Hladky, and when Jack Baird closed the resulting cross down the ball unintentionally struck the back of his arm. It was ball to arm, and according to the current laws of the game not a penalty, which was confirmed by the BT sports referee in the studio watching. In fact the only two people on the planet who thought it was a penalty were Alex Rae who was also in the BT studio, and Beaton who quickly pointed to the spot. Further proof if needed that Rangers fans are idiots.

Nicky Clark stunned his watching father by scoring the spot kick, the first member of the Clark family to ever score on the final day of a season when it really matters, but Danny Mullen quickly equalised with a fine volley after a mistake from Mark Connolly who I assume escaped from the V9 academy. A dreadful player who was so unsettled by Cody Cooke over the two matches I thought he was going to burst into tears at one point.

Although the match was cagey after this, Saints created the best chances, with Siegrist again denying the Paisley side a late winner with a fine stop from Paul McGinn header and then a crashing Jack Baid piledriver, but by this point Beaton had failed to send off Safranko for a clear elbow on MacKenzie, choosing to only book the striker for his sixth foul, and Anton Ferdinand had to replace the big centre half who had yet another head wound inflicted by an opponent.

To compound this, Kyle Magennis was not fully match fit and had to be substituted near the end of the 90 minutes when Muzek came on, pushing Lee Hodson into midfield beside Stephen McGinn who had injured himself desperately trying to bring down Peter Pawlett who was counter attacking. Extra time would therefore be played with Saints in absolute bits to be honest, but still we dominated and looked far more likely to win the match outright.

The main threat by this point was substitute Duckens Nazon whose direct running was really causing United’s defence problems, and as he burst through in the first period of extra time Mark Connolly took him out. The expected second booking or even straight red card did not materialise however, and Beaton decided there was no foul. An incredible decision.

Soon after, an already booked Peter Pawlett appeared to elbow Paul McGinn in the face, and then dived when running at goal, but once again Beaton waved play on both times. This was all getting the Saints supporters incredibly angry, and by the time the ref sent off Nazon for jumping for the ball, I think we’d all decided that Beaton wasn’t for Saints winning this match.

United never looked like pressing home their man advantage (or disadvantage as the media probably believed) so to penalties it went, and with two fine goalkeepers on show it promised to be interesting, but not even in Vaclev Hladky’s wildest dreams could he have imagined what happened next.

Firstly, the big keeper saved from Pawlett and then Safranko, two players who of course shouldn’t have been on the park. Justice had so far prevailed. Saints relied on defenders for their kicks, with Paul McGinn and then a sensational Popescu penalty putting the home side 2-0 up. Osman Sow was next for United, but the Swedish Gary McVie hit the post leaving Muzek with the chance to win the tie for Saints but he also battered the same upright.

United now needed to score their remaining two kicks and rely on Saints missing all theirs to take it to sudden death, but by this point the expectation from I think everyone in the stadium was that Hladky would save the next penalty, and despite Beaton inexplicably talking to the keeper between kicks, the big man outwitted Calum Booth to stay upright and block the final penalty with his boot. Game over, Saints had won.

In an outpouring of pure relief, Saints fans rushed onto the park to hail the brilliant keeper and the other heroes who had played superbly for several months now. The play offs were horrible, there is no other way I can put it. However, to survive in the Premiership after using Alan Stubbs squad for 20 of the 38 league matches, is an incredible achievement. The current squad is a quickly assembled unbalanced one, and a work in progress, but Kearney deserves massive credit for installing belief and a never say die attitude as good as anything I’ve ever seen in a Saints shirt.

From the 30th of March, Saints played ten matches and went behind in eight of them. Only once, against Celtic, did we lose. In the other two matches, we won 2-0 and drew 0-0 at Tannadice. This team as I said in chapter three have real spirit about them, the difference between Part 1 and Part 2 of the season is simply astonishing, and the achievement of staying up bigger than the great escape of 2017.

Also, the so called “superior” Dundee Utd players failed to score in open play during 210 minutes of football, and the media looked foolish. By far Dundee United’s best player is their goalkeeper, and he is still not as good as Hladky. In every area of the park we were better, including attack which is undoubtedly our weakest part of the squad. You can guarantee next time we go head to head against United however, the media will make the same mistakes.

As we know, there is something special about our club. The fans have always been passionate, but in the last three seasons the influence of the North Bank who have managed to express this passion in a positive way has benefited the team. Kearney was right in his post match speech when he said they couldn’t have done it without us, but that goes both ways, we need the manager and players to believe in the club also, something badly missing under Stubbs.

We witnessed first hand the outcome when Dundee fans got on their teams back at Paisley. It destroyed their players. A few weeks later at Hamilton and then Livingston we roared the team to four points out of six after conceding first in both matches. Before the match at Livingston in that glorious sunshine, I watched on smiling as an old man dressed head to toe in black and white danced in the concourse singing Saints songs. I have never seen anything like that in 35 years of watching the club.

Next season is our ninety ninth as a top flight club, in a league that will have Hamilton, Livingston and Ross County. With our support, there is absolutely no reason why this time next year we shouldn’t be planning for a century of top flight football in Paisley.

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