No hangover as Saints stun last year’s Scottish Cup finalists
THERE was no sign of a new year hangover as Saints returned to action after the festive break for their biggest fixture of the season so far at Glencruitten last Saturday.
A tremendous all-round team performance earned the D&K Lafferty-sponsored side a thoroughly deserved 4-1 win over Craigshill Thistle, last season’s beaten finalists, in the Scottish Amateur Cup fifth round, inflicting the Livingston side’s first defeat of the season in the process. Manager Alex Craik stuck with the same starting 11 that had beaten Postal United in the last round, with Dene Cassells and Keith Millar returning to join Alex, Allan MacKay and Scott Maitland on the bench.
Look lively Saints started brightly and forced Craigshill keeper Robert Sinclair into action in the second minute with the big keeper having to look lively to punch a Willie Gemmell cross from the left off the head of David McArthur who had made a terrific run to the back post.
At the other end, Saints netminder Thomas McCulloch saw his first action of the afternoon in the sixth minute rising confidently to catch a deep cross from ‘Jags’ right back Gary White.
Saints opened the scoring in the 13th minute after two brilliant saves from the visiting keeper led to a corner. Donald Campbell rose eight yards out and, despite stretching back, met Ross Maitland's flighted delivery perfectly finding the bottom corner of the net with his header to give Saints the lead.
Ross Maitland was giving the Jags left back Robert McGregor a torrid time on the Saints right and in the 23rd minute he burst through the inside right channel onto a slide rule pass from Donald Campbell, once again leaving Robert McGregor trailing in his wake. Ross unleashed a powerful swerving shot which Robert Sinclair could only parry into the path of Dean Smith who drilled the ball home to double Saints’ lead.
The visitors began to exert more of an influence on the game and enjoyed a good period despite being unable to break down the Saints defence, although a free kick deflected off the Saints wall and hit the junction of the post and bar with Thomas McCulloch struggling to get close.
Referee James Gallacher, who was excellent throughout, produced his first yellow card of the match in the 44th minute when a late Donald Campbell challenge on the half way line brought a dangerous looking Craigshill counter attack to a halt.
It was definitely a case of Donald taking ‘one for the team’ and proved to be worthwhile as the free kick came to nothing and the half ended with Saints in a commanding 2 - 0 lead.
Saints made a storming start to the second half with a dazzling 20 minute attacking display which eventually made the tie safe.
Saints came close in the 48th minute when Dean Smith delivered an excellent cross from the left, picking out Ross Maitland who had made a good run to the back post. The delightfully cushioned effort off his instep from Ross beat the keeper but slipped agonisingly wide of the post.
More persistence from Dean Smith in the 50th minute won a free kick 20 yards from goal and slightly left of centre. Willie Gemmell took responsibility for the kick and curled a delicious effort around the wall and onto exactly the same spot on the junction of post and bar that Craigshill had hit in the first half.
From a corner on the right, Willie then produced his own acrobatics with a spectacular bicycle kick which beat Robert Sinclair but the ball flew narrowly over the crossbar.
Lobbed Dean Smith increased the home team’s lead in the 59th minute when he beat the Craigshill offside trap.
He cleverly lobbed the advancing keeper with the ball rolling into the unguarded net for Dean’s second and Saints third goal of the afternoon.
In the 70th minute Freddie Coyle brought down Dean Smith 22 yards from goal and right of centre.
The angle didn’t favour a strike on goal from a right footer but Willie Gemmell once again took responsibility and curled a delightful effort around the wall and in off the keeper’s right hand post to give Saints a four-goal lead. In the 73rd minute, a good ball from Craig MacEwan found Donald Campbell who picked out Dean Smith inside the box. With a hat trick firmly in his sights, Dean blazed over the bar when perhaps a lay off to the better placed Ross Maitland would have been the better option.
With the match over as a contest, manager Alex Craik gave all his substitutes some valuable game time as the clock ran down.
In the 79th minute the irrepressible Donald Campbell won possession inside the centre circle and threaded another defence splitting pass sending Dene Cassells through on goal. Dene made a good run and squared the ball to Allan Mackay on the edge of the box whose shot was charged down and the danger cleared.
The consolation goal for the visitors came with just four minutes of the 90 remaining. Substitute Mark Shipton made an excellent run up the left wing and crossed low across the face of goal past the despairing dive of Thomas MacCulloch for fellow sub Jason McGowan to hammer the ball into the unguarded net. Saints comfortably saw out the remaining time plus the three additional minutes added by Mr Gallacher to secure their place in the sixth round where a trip to face Central Scottish Amateur Football League side Stirling City awaits.
Manager Alex Craik was delighted by the result but more importantly by the performance of his team.
He said: ‘ We were excellent today.
‘Everyone played their part in a great team performance. We defended well when we had to and always looked dangerous going forward.
‘Make no mistake about it, that was a big scalp we took.
‘If we can keep up that level of football then we are capable of doing really well in the the cup this year.’
It’s back to league action for Saints on Saturday when they travel to play East Kilbride Rolls Royce at The Murray, kick- off 2pm.
Saints’ striker Dean Smith is mobbed by his team mates after scoring the third goal against Craigshill.
Determination written all over Craig MacEwan’s face as he races
past two Craigshill defenders.