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.