The red mist clears but Saints win com­fort­ably


IT DID not take long for the red mist to descend on the Hamil­ton Aca­dem­i­cal sup­port­ers gath­ered in­side McDiarmid Park.

As Ali Craw­ford watched his closerange shot clear the cross­bar and dis­ap­pear be­hind a row of seats in the stand be­hind, one young fan, ei­ther seek­ing some phys­i­cal man­i­fes­ta­tion of his frus­tra­tion or a means of ob­scur­ing the sorry scene be­fore him, let off a smoke bomb. By the time the red cloud had dis­si­pated the La­nark­shire side were a goal be­hind and on their way to a ninth league de­feat of the sea­son.

Any lin­ger­ing hopes Hamil­ton had of a com­fort­able end to the Lad­brokes Premier­ship cam­paign also seemed to dis­solve in the per­sis­tent Perthshire rain on Satur­day evening. De­feat has left the side prone in the league ta­ble – Hamil­ton are above bot­tom-side Inverness Cale­do­nian This­tle by virtue of goal dif­fer­ence alone – with sur­vival in the hands of a squad which has man­aged only two league wins all sea­son. They have won just one match since Oc­to­ber.

Given such pal­try form, their next fix­ture has as­sumed far greater sig­nif­i­cance. Inverness visit the Su­perSeal Sta­dium to­mor­row, a ground at which the High­land side have not lost since Jan­uary 2009.

Martin Can­ning would likely ar­gue that past re­sults bear lit­tle rel­e­vance to the chal­lenge await­ing his side to­mor­row, but their per­for­mance on Satur­day still pro­vided enough con­tem­po­rary ev­i­dence to trou­ble the Hamil­ton man­ager.

His play­ers started pur­pose­fully but posed only an in­ter­mit­tent threat in Per th, Craw­ford’s er rant shot amount­ing to their best op­por­tu­nity to score. That earned the mid­fielder an earnest re­proach from Can­ning, with the miss felt more acutely as St Johnstone went ahead two min­utes later – crit­i­cism which seemed to be­tray the de­gree to which Hamil­ton rely on their 25-year-old mid­fielder.

His com­po­sure in front of goal was scru­ti­nised af­ter the game but Craw­ford has still reg­is­tered nine goals this sea­son, mak­ing him com­fort­ably the top scorer for his side.

For­wards Dougie Im­rie and Alex D’Acol have each scored six times, with Rak­ish Bing­ham find­ing the net on just three oc­ca­sions. All four play­ers started on Satur­day and it was Craw­ford who de­liv­ered the more men­ac­ing per­for­mance.

His wiry frame and ap­par­ent aver­sion to the cold – Craw­ford wore gloves through­out the af­ter­noon in Perth – can make the mid­fielder seem in­sub­stan­tial, but he ex­erts a con­sid­er­able in­flu­ence on his side. One set-piece de­liv­ery early in the first half on Satur­day pre­sented Grant Gille­spie with an op­por­tu­nity to score, while an­other drew a save from St Johnstone goal­keeper Zan­der Clark.

The mid­fielder can also be re­lied upon to shut­tle the ball through mid­field, as shown by one de­light­ful, drib­bling run at McDiarmid Park, in par­tic­u­lar. As both Mas­simo Donati and Michael Devlin re­turn from sus­pen­sion to face Inverness, the re­spon­si­bil­ity of in­spir­ing Hamil­ton to their first league win since Oc­to­ber 25 will con­tinue to rest squarely on Craw­ford’s slen­der shoul­ders.

St Johnstone’s play­ers are not com­pelled to their roles quite so se­ri­ously, their win at the week­end keep­ing them in touch with Hearts in fourth place.

In­deed league busi­ness last week gave way to the nov­elty of film­ing a mu­sic video of sorts, with Chris Mil­lar and Blair Al­ston among those who co-starred in a pro­mo­tional clip in­tended to en­cour­age more sup­port­ers to at­tend the club’s lat­est home game. They were filmed at McDiarmid Park mouthing the words to 90s hit Blue, an ear­worm orig­i­nally per­formed by Eif­fel 65.

One could be cyn­i­cal about the Perth pro­duc­tion – it fea­tures a sup­porter spray­ing silly string from his car win­dow, for one thing – but the club should in­stead be com­mended for do­ing some­thing bold in an at­tempt to in­crease local in­ter­est in matches.

Fol­low­ing up with three goals and a fifth con­sec­u­tive home game un­beaten is the op­ti­mal way to re­tain the in­ter­est of any ten­ta­tive new sup­port­ers, with St Johnstone en­sconced com­fort­ably among the top six places in the Premier­ship. The side are also at home in the fifth round of the Scot­tish Cup.

That all pro­vided rea­son enough to play Blue in full over the PA sys­tem on Satur­day.

By then Hamil­ton’s af­ter­noon had gone up in smoke. Now Can­ning is look­ing for his side to pre­vent their sea­son from do­ing the same, start­ing with vic­tory over Inverness, who they sit just one goal ahead of on goal dif­fer­ence, to­mor­row night.

The Hamil­ton man­ager was again made to rue his side’s missed chances af­ter watch­ing the op­po­si­tion go up the other end and score.

Hamil­ton have now gone 12 league games with­out a win and Can­ning is keen to stretch fur­ther away from Inverness with a much-needed win. “We want to get back into it,” he said.

“The one thing we gen­er­ally have done well is if we have had a poor per­for­mance, a poor re­sult, we have bounced back well in the next game. And there is none more im­por­tant than Tues­day.

“We have to make sure we are right at it [to­mor­row] and give our­selves the op­por­tu­nity to win the game.”

Can­ning, how­ever, fears Ac­cies will pay for their profli­gacy. He said: “That’s the was it is look­ing. We can’t keep sit­ting here say­ing we are not tak­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties.”

THREE AND EASY: Graeme Cum­mins (right) cel­e­brates scor­ing one of his two goals in the vic­tory over Hamil­ton at McDiarmid Park.

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