Scottish Cup semi-final preparation does not go to plan for slack Saints

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Last Saturday Saints warmed up for their impending Scottish Amateur Cup semi-final against Colville Park when they welcomed first-time visitors Motherwell Thistle to Glencruitten.
With rivals East Kilbride FC Amateurs and Goldenhill slipping up elsewhere, Saints had an ideal opportunity to make up ground in the Scottish Amateur Football League Premier Division title race. However, Saints Scottish Amateur Cup form sadly deserted them and saw tamely surrendering the points to their visitors and giving them a massive boost in their battle to avoid relegation to Premier Division One.
Craig MacEwan and Willie Gemmell were unavailable, as was the injured Paul Kerr, so it was a welcome sight for manager Alex Craik when Matthew Kelly reported fit for duty after shaking off his recent ankle injury.

Paul Carmichael, on ground far left, nets Saints’ second goal.
Paul Carmichael, on ground far left, nets Saints’ second goal.

Elsewhere, the gaffer sprang a surprise by giving Scott Maitland an attacking role alongside Donald Campbell and Ross Maitland. Scott’s usual left-back berth was filled by Jamie Graham, with David McArthur, skipper Marc Maccallum and Dene Cassells making up the rest of the back four in front of keeper Thomas McCulloch.
The three-man midfield of Brian Mackay, Myles McAuley and Paul Carmichael completed
the starting line-up. The returning Kelly joined Martin Bonar, Kerr Newbigging and Dean Smith on the bench.
Saints started well and were rewarded for their early endeavours in the sixth minute. A deep David McArthur free-kick from the halfway line was headed out to the Saints left by Thistle skipper Stuart Hunter. Donald Campbell picked up the loose ball and drove into the box chased by William McMaster. Donald’s chipped left-foot cross from just short of the bye-line took a deflection off McMaster which sent it spinning away from Paul Aiton in the Thistle goal and into the net, giving Saints the lead.
Saints continued to move the ball around well and, after a brief stoppage for some treatment to the injured right ankle of Thistle full-back David Knight, forced two good openings in quick succession. Ross Maitland steered a right-foot effort from 18 yards towards the bottom corner but without the power necessary to seriously trouble Paul Aiton. Shortly afterwards, the keeper was beaten down to his left when Scott Maitland latched onto a Donald Campbell lay-off but, unfortunately, Scott’s well-struck shot shaved the outside of the post.
Saints’ good early work was undone in the 13th minute when, seemingly under no pressure, goalkeeper Thomas McCulloch misplaced a hur-ried pass from the edge of his box straight to the feet of Thistle striker Mark Begg, who gleefully curled the ball past Thomas and into the empty net.
Worryingly, the setback severely jolted Saints’ confidence with passes no longer finding their men and Thistle’s good pressing making life extremely difficult for Saints’ midfield.
Despite this, Saints can count themselves extremely unfortunate to be denied a goalscoring opportunity by a bad offside decision from referee Mr Dickinson. Ross Maitland’s 15th-minute ball over the top sent Donald Campbell spinning in behind the Thistle defence and through on goal. Donald’s run appeared to be perfectly timed but Mr Dickinson, without the benefit of an assistant, blew for offside much to the frustration of the Saints’ bench.
Paul Carmichael’s perseverance on the left won a 19th-minute corner which Ross Maitland whipped in right-footed looking for Donald Campbell on the six-yard line. Donald beat Christopher McEwan
in the air and flicked on to Paul Carmichael who couldn’t get the necessary purchase on his header and sent his effort from four yards wide of target.
Thomas McCulloch went some way towards redeeming his previous error when he produced a good save in the 21st minute to deny Thistle striker James Faughnan.
In an attempt to introduce some much-needed craft to the midfield, manager Alex Craik swapped Donald Campbell and Paul Carmichael. The change briefly gave Saints some fresh impetus with Paul Aiton producing a good save to his left to hold a Donald Campbell shot after an overlapping run and cross from Jamie Graham on the left.
A heavy challenge on Paul Carmichael by James Gibbons gave Saints a deadball opportunity 25 yards out and slightly left of centre. Ross Maitland rolled the ball short to Donald Campbell, who sent a good effort just wide of Paul Aiton’s left-hand post.
The visitors capitalised on a bizarre free-kick award by referee Mr Dickinson on the right touchline midway inside the Saints half. The ball was stopped from going out for a throw-in by a spectator. Instead of a drop ball, Mr Dickinson awarded Motherwell a free kick. Still complaining about the decision, Saints missed several chances to clear with Colin Gillies eventually forcing his way into the box via a lucky break off Dene Cassells. With only the keeper to beat, Gillies curled a delightful left-foot finish past Thomas McCulloch’s right post and into the net to give Thistle a 36th-minute lead.
Saints rallied briefly after this second cheaply conceded goal with Donald Campbell making a good run into the box to meet a deep Scott Maitland cross from the right on the penalty spot. Donald climbed well to out-jump James Gibbons but sent his header inches wide of Paul Aiton’s left post.
With five first-half minutes remaining, Paul Aiton produced the save of the match to deny Donald Campbell. Jamie Graham made a good run on the left and cut back to Donald, who controlled on his right foot and from 12 yards fired a left-foot shot towards the postage stamp corner which Aiton at full stretch finger tipped over his crossbar.
An error-strewn first half from Saints ended with another misplaced pass being collected by Colin Gillies, who cut in from the right and curled an effort from 25 yards over the crossbar.
Attacking the Mossfield end in the second half, Saints looked eager to put a poor first 45 behind them and started brightly. Paul Carmichael cut in from the left and curled a 47th-minute shot just over the junction of post and bar.
Saints came forward again on the right in the 51st minute, with Scott Maitland and David McArthur combing to win a throw-in. David took the throw and picked out Scott with his back to goal 16 yards out. Scott’s overhead kick brought another fine save from Paul Aiton diving to his left to clutch Scott’s spectacular effort.
Aiton quickly launched the ball upfield where Christopher McEwan beat David McArthur rather too easily on the corner of the Saints’ 18-yard box. McEwan made for the bye-line pursued by McArthur and cut back for the unmarked Mark Begg whose good left-foot finish made it 3-1 for the visitors.
Trying to find some inspiration for his shell-shocked troops, manager Craik turned to his bench, sending on Matthew Kelly and Dean Smith to replace Jamie Graham and Ross Maitland. While Saints were adjusting to the positional changes Thistle sent another ball over the top where Marc Maccallum had to make a vital interception to deny second-half substitute Antony Mitchell.
On the hour mark, a driving run by Myles McAuley opened up a shooting opportunity for the Saints midfielder. Thistle captain Stuart Hunter blocked McAuley’s shot with his chest and then brought down Myles down on the edge of the D before he could get another shot away. Donald Campbell once again took responsibility for the deadball but couldn’t find a way past the four-man Thistle wall.
Saints forced their way back into the match in the 65th minute when Matthew Kelly and Dean Smith linked up to create an opening for Paul Carmichael. Matthew closed down and dispossessed second-half substitute Daniel Young on the halfway line and raced forward on the right. Matthew picked out Dean Smith’s run into the box but the retreating Thistle defence prevented Dean from getting a shot away. Instead, he found Paul Carmichael eight yards out who turned and lashed a right-foot shot into the postage stamp corner giving Paul Aiton in the Thistle goal no chance.
Manager Alex Craik made his final changes before the restart, replacing David McArthur and Myles McAuley with Martin Bonar and Kerr Newbigging. Matthew Kelly and Martin Bonar combined well on the right in the 69th minute but from the corner of the 18-yard line Martin took on a difficult shot which curled high over the crossbar when a cross to Paul Carmichael at the back post looked to be the better option.
Two corners in quick succession from the Saints’ left were dropped into the six-yard box by Donald Campbell but keeper Paul Aiton showed excellent handling under pressure to take the heat off his defence.
Saints had the ball in the net again in the 83rd minute when Paul Carmichael turned home a Dean Smith through ball but Mr Dickinson correctly ruled Paul to be in an offside position.
In the first of five added minutes, Colin Gillies cleared a Donald Campbell shot off his own goal-line after a Matthew Kelly corner from the Saints right.
This turned out to be Saints’ last chance of a disappointing afternoon as Motherwell Thistle played out the final minutes in relative comfort to claim the points and doing their survival hopes no harm at all. Full credit to Thistle who worked hard all afternoon and took their chances well to run out deserved winners.
Saints must now lift themselves for their biggest match of the season this coming Saturday when they travel to New Douglas Park, Hamilton, to face the might of Colville Park in the Scottish Amateur Cup semi-final.
Manager Alex Craik was not happy with this team’s perfomance. He said: ‘This was our worst performance for a long time.
‘There was a lack of energy about everything we did. Our passing and work rate were poor and the running of the ball was non-existent.
‘If we play like that against Colville Park on Saturday, we will be in for a very difficult 90 minutes.’