March 2018

March started with Saints eight points clear at the top from Livingston, with Dundee United miles further back carrying multiple games in hand, so not entirely written off by the media as some brave souls stuck to their weird obsession of insisting the Arabs can still win the league. 1983itis is a persistent and lingering condition that some never recover from.

With the Scottish Cup scheduled for the weekend of March the third, no Championship fixtures took place until a week later, when Saints were at home to Dunfermline whose form had been nothing short of Tommy Craigesque abysmal since their fine start to the season came to a shuddering halt in the autumn.

In Saints previous match against Brechin, despite the 1-0 win, a rather nervy second half had prompted a pretty inappropriate reaction from a very small section of the crowd, but this victory was Saints fifth in a row without conceding at home since our only defeat at Paisley in the last fourteen months, the 1-0 loss to Dumbarton at the start of December.

Dunfermline started the match brighter without creating much, however once the first ten minutes elapsed Saints gradually began to dominate before completely taking over and pinning the Pars back for long spells at the beginning of the second half.

The chances came and went for the Paisley side as the three quarters point of the match passed, but there was little panic from either the stands or the players, we just all seemed to know the goal was coming.

After sixty seven minutes following another close call, Cammy Smith squeezed a cross in from a loose ball and Danny Mullen was unceremoniously hacked down from behind by Jason Talbot a yard out as he looked to open his Saints account and put Saints in front. It was as clear a penalty as you will ever see, yet bizarrely the Dunfermline players surrounded the referee in protest.

Bizarre that is until you remember who the strange Fifers assistant manager is, Sandy Clark, with his face even a snap chap filter couldn’t fix, and then we remember that all decisions must be contested and every effort made to cheat.

Incredibly, the referee only booked Talbot when no attempt to play the ball had been made, but it was his second booking in any case and a red card followed.

For the next few minutes Dunfermline players tried every trick in the book to delay the penalty kick being taken, including 1990’s throwback Joe Cardle with his Echobelly guitarist hair throwing mud at Harry Davis as he ran up to strike the penalty, but the centre half smashed it true and straight into the back of the net to open the scoring.

A little over a minute later Liam Smith nearly lifted the roof of the place with a thunderous 25 yard shot low into the net after a corner was cleared, and Saints were now cruising with little chance of the Fifers mounting a comeback as they surrendered their only attacker, the busy but consistently ineffective Declan McManus for a defender. The white flags were up and Saints cantered to victory.

After the match, Alan Johnston complained about the penalty award against his side, stating he believed Mullen actually fouled Talbot and not the other way around, a statement as ridiculous as suggesting John F Kennedy head-butted a couple of bullets on purpose back in 1963.

Saints lead was back at 11 points, but Livingston now had a midweek rearranged fixture from late 2017 to play against the Catmen of Greenock at home, whilst Dundee United faced Queen of the South in a rearranged fixture from that abandoned match in December. That one the media had went on about ever since Saints were building up a strong lead over their Championship darlings.

However, in one of the shocks of the season so far Dundee United actually won this rearranged match 3-1, and at The Ricky Ravioli, ten man Livingston had to rely on a last gasp equaliser to gain a point against Morton who had completely Morton’d it after taking the lead with just two minutes remaining.

Saints rivals would draw once again on Saturday, Livingston at home to Falkirk and the Tannadice club surprisingly again managed to avoid defeat by drawing 1-1 at home to third bottom Inverness, all of this unfolding as Saints comprehensively defeated Queen of the South at Palmerston thanks to Danny Mullen finally grabbing his first for the club, a Lewis Morgan free kick and a brilliant powerful surging solo goal from the impressive Kyle Magennis. The lead was now 12 points with equal matches played between Saints and Livingston.

Everyone was happy about the current situation apart from one Saints fan who had informed the actual real police via social media that his fellow fans might be drinking on the train down to Dumfries. In an even more scandalous event he addressed the Polis by starting the message with the word “Guys” as though he was tweeting from Central Perk, Noo Yoik.

We all know a StuartMcInnes32. He’s the one with the Bluetooth headset walking down the street talking about distances in “clicks”; the one that tells children Santa doesn’t exist at three years old to save them the “pain” in later years. He does a full risk assessment before taking a shower before putting arm bands on “just in case” and thinks a milkshake is “evil”. Get a grip of yourself Stuart, and lighten up.

Back to the football and Dundee United by this point of course were a shambles on and off the park. They have a manager who looks more uncomfortable than Paul Hartley in skinny jeans, a boardroom in meltdown, and finally Bilel Moshni on trial and soon to sign terms with the club. The fact this utter mess of a player will likely make the Tannadice side better tells its own story. Lewis Morgan well and truly broke them on the 29th December 2017.

To prove this shambles theory, Queen of the South went to Tannadice and won in another of United’s games in hand the following midweek, the Doonhamers first win at the ground for almost 100 years, although it should be pointed out they haven’t played too often in the period in between.

Suddenly talk of the natural order and 1983 in the media was replaced with realisation that Dundee United barring something short of a footballing miracle (if they even make the play offs) will be a Championship club next season. Wee shame that.

A few days later, Saints had another free Saturday as our opponents Dumbarton were playing in a Cup Final (Irn Bru) for the first time in 120 years; ironically the idea length of time Stevie Aitken dreams of his goalkeeper being allowed to take a goal kick. This was a hard one to call as Aitken was up against John Robertson, or his copyrighted name by all in the media, “Wee Robbo”, a hater of the Mirren on a previously unforeseen level.

Inverness scored very late to win 1-0 and gave Robertson a rare taste of winning a trophy after bottling it repeatedly in his playing career, but it was really pleasing to see Kyle Hutton and Stuart Carswell lying on the pitch gutted at full time, now they know how we felt every time they were included in a Saints starting XI.

As this was happening, Queen of the South were at it again this time against Livingston, and a Doonhamers goal deep into injury time levelled the match at 3-3 to reduce Saints lead to 11 points but giving us that game in hand against Dumbarton. Dundee United drew again meaning they were around twenty points behind Saints, and all that remains for the Arabs is a desperate fight to finish in a play-off place.

Tuesday the 27th March finally came around and there was a real buzz of anticipation about the rearranged Dumbarton match, not even Scotland playing at the same time could reduce the attendance significantly, although I suspect many people were probably trying to avoid watching a bunch of journeymen lower league English players with Scottish grannies playing in any case.

In advance, everyone knew of our struggles against Dumbarton. They are the only side to beat us at home in the league since the January 2017 transfer window closed, and in general have been more of a nuisance than Alan Lithgow outside an Ann Summers party, with their anti-football tactics and dreadful approach to everything frustrating us for the best part of three seasons.

However, when a team repeatedly raises their match for one club the issue is always going to be sooner or later the message from the manager won’t get through or it becomes tired, and they will eventually get a hiding, and what a thrashing Saints handed out that evening to Aitken and his mob of Alex Rae imposters.

Lewis Morgan was first up, with a delightful right foot curling shot into the back of the net from the edge of the box after a sweeping move from right to left by Saints. Stephen McGinn chased the ball into the net and retrieved it to restart the match quickly, the captain sensed blood and he was right. Cammy Smith doubled the lead before half time after some farcical defending by Dumbarton who were panicking every time Saints came forward, and the pressure was verging on relentless.

The Dumbarton right back, David Smith, was hounded by Lewis Morgan all evening and he just landed up booting the ball into the stand every time it came near him, even when nobody was within 20 yards of his petrified feet. Kyle Hutton, a one dimensional footballing equivalent of a scarecrow without the intelligence, executed easily the worse pass in football history in the first half when he attempted a long diagonal switch of play from a bouncing ball, the sort of thing that requires composure and technique and not the touch and finesse of Katy Hopkins with an AK-47.

As the ball left Hutton’s right foot in the centre circle, it launched itself high into the Paisley sky like a missile bound for the moon and dipped back down to earth just inside the roof of the main stand, perhaps thirty foot higher than his intended target of Andy Stirling. To actually think that Hutton played for us only last season and would still be under contract right now had Jack Ross not terminated it in the summer just shows how spectacular our rise has been in the last sixteen months.

Two nil at half time flattered Dumbarton massively, and Saints wasted no time in finishing the match off, Danny Mullen showing brilliant movement to nip in front of his marker and lash the ball high into the net following great work from Morgan and Magennis.

Saints now went for the kill, and following a long period of possession Gavin Reilly executed a finish beyond Gallagher for the fourth. There has been little fanfare about this goal, and I haven’t seen it since anywhere else, but from memory it would have eclipsed even the legendary John Hewitt strike against Falkirk in terms of passes, a brilliant team goal.

This utter hounding prompted former Saints ‘midfielder’ Stuart Carswell to launch himself repeatedly at Cammy Smith in the remaining fifteen minutes in a clear attempt to injure the Saints forward, provoking a quite rightly furious reaction from Jack Ross.

Don’t remember Carswell? He was an Ian Murray signing, so clearly nowhere near good enough to play for us. His only impact was tweeting about Rangers when Alex Rae was manager resulting in a public dressing down from Tony Fitzpatrick, and he disappeared afterwards to the football scrapheap known as Dumbarton.

After starting the rout, Morgan finished it with a thunderous left foot pile driver into the top corner from twenty five yards with Scott Gallagher showing all the athleticism of Dumbarton Rock itself in trying to keep it out, but it was a splendid way to finish a highly professional and polished performance by Saints in a match that could have easily turned into a double figures victory for the Paisley club, and this equalled the club record seven consecutive matches without conceding at home thanks to a quite astonishing Samson save in the first half.

Praise wasn’t forthcoming from Stevie Aitken however, and according to him we only won as Dumbarton had lost a cup final the weekend before. Now, we have lost two cup finals this decade and our results in the matches immediately after were 4-0 and 6-2 wins against Celtic and Ayr United respectively. Losing a cup final doesn’t mean defeat the next match, and Aitken’s excuses are becoming more and more laughable. Here’s a hint for free Stevie; try attacking now and then and maybe you will avoid relegation.

This meant just one match remained in March, away at Inverness, and Saints now had a massive fourteen point lead over Livingston with just seven matches to play. The relentless pursuit by the manager and players to win the league was paying off, and having now ground out the winter months with narrow wins like we needed to do, it looked like they were now hitting peak form in the run in just like last season.

Inverness away is no easy fixture of course. Gone are the days of a small number of Highland referees being pooled for Inverness matches alone making it practically impossible to get a decision, step forward Kevin Bissett, but it is still a tough match despite Robertson taking the Premierships relegated side to third bottom of the Championship and making Ian Murray look competent.

Saints laid siege to the Highland Frankenstein mash up club from the word go, and took an early lead via another Davis penalty after Danny Mullen was clearly fouled going in one on one with the keeper. It was probably a sending off, but it seems only Jack Baird at Cappielow is capable of getting a straight red card in these circumstances.

Mark Ridgers then surprised everyone by having a quite sensational match after this, stopping Saints from notching up the proverbial cricket score against the relegation haunted Highlanders whose fans have deserted them like height has evaded WeeRobbo all his life. Ridgers even saved a penalty from Davis, in this case a harsh award and justice was done, but that didn’t stop WeeRobbo moaning afterwards despite it having no effect on the match.

Saints finally went two up after Lewis Morgan curled a beautiful right footed free kick in off the post for his seventeenth of a remarkable season, and take his combined goals total for the season with Gavin Reilly and Cammy Smith to a brilliant 52, and the game looked over.

However, perhaps Saints took their foot off the peddle after this and were undone by two late Inverness goals from set pieces to give the Highlanders as fortunate a share of the points as is possible in a football match, but nobody was really disappointed as the lead was down to a still massive twelve points and really this was just another step towards the title as opposed to two dropped ones.

In the aftermath, WeeRobbo claimed it was a “fair result”, but I think he was just tired as he had recorded all the voices for the new Alvin and the Chipmunks movie that week (Alvin and WeeRobbo bottle it again) as clearly any draw where one side records three times as many shots on target as the other is a fortunate one, and only someone who is delusional and full of spite for St Mirren would suggest otherwise.

WeeRobbo wasn’t finished there however, and stated incorrectly for the second time this season that Lewis Morgan dived during a match. Maybe the SFA compliance officer can’t hear the high pitched whines of WeeRobbo, so I suggest he gets a dog to interpret for him, but how is this little weird human kazoo allowed to get away with this?

I have a feeling however this is the last time we will ever face Robertson in a football match as his employment and time in football is coming to an end soon, and like Stevie Aitken he won’t be missed by me or many Saints fans as we prepare for life in the Premiership.

We now have six matches in April where we could clinch the league in any one of them. What a time to be a Saints fan.