St. Johnstone 0 - 0 Dunfermline AthleticAuthor: Alistair Campbell Date: Wednesday, 8th Apr 2009
Saints had the better of the first half after two early injury blows unsettled the Pars, but the visitors more than matched the league leaders in the second. However the game finished goal-less, despite a couple of half-decent penalty shouts.
This fixture was due to have taken place on 24 January and the original program (on sale at a 60% discount) hinted at what might have been - a table topping clash. Since then Saints have just about held on to their place at the top whereas the Pars have struggled, barely knowing from one week to the next if their priority is promotion, avoiding relegation or the cup. As the home fans put it - they were top of the league (and we weren’t) - the Pars fans countered that we were all going to Hampden…
Dunfermline welcomed back Wilson, Mole and Muirhead from injury, but had Glass and McCann missing, so fielded a slightly strange line-up with Nipper Thomson at left back, Jamie Mole in front of him on the left with Bell and Phinn in the engine room and David Graham on the right of midfield. Andy Kirk returned to the attack with Bayne, and there were the predictable places for Woods, Wilson, Shields and Gallacher in a 4-4-2 formation. St Johnstone for their part started with a 4-3-3 with Samuel on the left of an attacking trio, and had the veteran goalkeeper Alan Main equalling Saints’ appearance record.
Within 20 seconds Saints had a corner, although the ball appeared to have come off Savo Milne, and Thomson was injured clearing. Referee McKendrick appears the opposite of whistle-happy, which is sometimes commendable, but Nipper was left lying prone in the 6-yard box for good 30 seconds before Miller’s off-target shot allowed treatment to be given, Bell filling in as interim left back.
In the 5th minute Mole cut inside form the left and, after the ball has stopped bobbling, curved in a shot which had Main scrambling to save. However that was his last meaningful action of the game. The tenth minute appearance of Muirhead, stripped and ready for action in the technical area, signified that a change was imminent, with Thomson the favourite to be replaced as he had lost much of his normal mobility. So much so that as he limped to the touchline Mole got there first, and Thomson had to hobble back to his station for another couple of minutes before Burke joined the fray in his stead.
With quarter of an hour gone and two substitutes used already, Greg Shields added to the uncertainty, firstly completely misjudging a cross, but Gartland (himself a late call up following McCaffrey’s injury during the warm up) was too firm with his header across goal; then secondly slipping and allowing Milne in, but the latter’s lob was beyond the far post, and not close enough to the in-rushing Holmes.
The Pars were trying to come into it, a cross-field move saw Woods first to a loose ball before mis-controlling and allowing Samuel to surge forward, Bell hauling him back illegally and picking up a yellow card in the 29th minute. Gallacher, who had earlier had to beat away a swerving Sheerin effort, easily dealt with Anderson’s free-kick.
With Burke drifting inside, the Pars were exposed on the left, both offensively as Muirhead, now in the left back slot, would often find no yellow shirt within 20 yards of him, and defensively as the Saints right back Irvine had licence to get forward at will. It took a Woods clearance from under his own cross-bar to keep the scores level 4 minutes from half-time as the home team profited from their advantage in this area, and although Bell, savouring his more central role, had been heavily involved all over the park, the Pars were relieved to get in for the break level.
Half-time: Saints 0 Pars 0
During the break Greg Ross could be observed going through a focused warm-up directed by Stephen Wright, and with Loy and Paterson rather gloomily practising shootie-in with a ball boy it became clear the Pars were about to make their final change. Sure enough, Phinn did not reappear and Ross filled in on the left side of midfield.
Although Holmes sent a glancing header past in the 48th minute the visitors started much better, perhaps Ross’s abundant energy forcing Irvine to take a more defensive brief. After a bit of sustained pressure, Kirk managed to fend off Rutkiewicz in the 54th minute and did a good job of delaying his cutback, but Main pulled off a fine initial save from Bell then bravely dived at Bayne’s feet to tidy up.
Muirhead was also getting forward, foxing no fewer than 4 opponents when squeezing a through ball to Bayne but Anderson cleared his centre, then a minute later Muirhead got the break of the ball at speed, but again there was no-one there for the cut-back, Wheels almost ending up in the crowd he was travelling so quickly.