Scottish Cup R4 - January 9th 2016 - McDairmid Park
No. of Shots
Shots on Target
Jamie MacDonald, David Syme, Conrad Balatoni, Lee Ashcroft, Steven Smith, Craig Slater, Kevin McHattie, Rory McKenzie, (Stuart Findlay 82), Adam Frizzell, Greg Kiltie, (Kallum Higginbotham 75), Josh Magennis.
Subs Not Used: Conor Brennan, Jamie Hamill, Kris Boyd, Dale Carrick.
James Morrison @ McDiarmid Park
After Storm Frank, constant downpours and then the heavy snow which fell on Ayrshire on Friday afternoon (causing travel chaos!) it was a surprise to most Killie fans to learn that there was only a "precautionary" pitch inspection at 9am in Perth on Saturday and that the pitch passed it!
The pitch had not been great when Killie lost 2-1 in November so it was going to be interesting to see what referee Kevin Clancy deemed as playable as the Saints previous home game had been postponed.
Watching and following Super Killie Away this season has been a more enjoyable experience than attending most of the home games - especially the four thrashings. Heading to Perthshire all of the away league games (other than Pittodrie) had been really close.
Would the romance of the cup make any difference to the team's performance or the result ? Results between the two sides have generally been very close and I did wonder what the odds would be on either side having a narrow one goal win?
Gary Locke selected the side which played most of the game against Hearts with youngsters Syme and Frizell continuing along with the newly re-signed Greg Kiltie - their combined ages totalling 53. Most teams would hit that with just two players or, in the case of St. Mirren, one.
It was a drab, dreich January day with no snow or ice to be seen as the teams came out to be greeted by a paltry home support of just over 2,500 fans whilst almost 600 Killie fans were already in fine voice.
The away support had reason to be even more vocal when after only 6 minutes, a clumsy challenge by Saints captain Mackay on Kiltie resulted in the ref awarding Killie a free kick on the edge of the box.
Craig Slater took charge over skipper Smith and curled home a pinpoint effort around the wall, and past the outstretched Alan Mannus. Ya beauty - it was a goal fit to win any game but with more than 80 minutes to go the away support sensed it could still be a long afternoon.
Indeed some cynics (who had clearly seen the side in Dingwall) seated near your reporter wondered whether it would be 5 or 10 more minutes before the home side would strike back!
Perhaps surprisingly Killie 'keeper Jamie MacDonald was rarely called on to make a save in the first 45 minutes but when Michael O’Halloran used his pace to get beyond the Kilmarnock defence, his powerful cross-come-shot was gathered easily by the yellow shirted 'keeper whose jersey was destined to get much dirtier towards the end of the game.
Josh Magennis was causing the Saints backline problems and with a quarter of an hour gone the striker tried a speculative effort from range, following some neat build up play. The shot, however, found it’s way over the bar. He fired a volley past the right hand post after a cleverly worked corner.
Frankly, St Johnstone were poor throughout the first half creating very little despite being awarded some free kicks in a couple of dangerous places by the increasingly fussy Mr Clancy.
Killie had look lively with players working hard for each other shutting down any Saints threats, tracking back, making blocks and then threatening at the other end.
The team were also given superb vocal support throughout by the Killie fans and it was good to hear Gary Locke acknowledge that in his brief post match interview on BBC Sportscene; the interview was about as brief as the highlights which were disappointing as the game did turn into a pulsating Scottish Cup tie.
St Johnstone simply had to improve and could Killie maintain the same tempo to their game as the match went on?
The first warning came when a clever exchange between Wotherspoon and the robust, physical Davidson resulted in Wotherspoon striking towards goal, but Jamie MacDonald palmed the ball away.
Corners also became a concern and anxiety was caused when MacDonald punched at one with the ball then ricocheting around the penalty box.
With 65 minutes played, Steven MacLean and Chris Kane were replaced by John Sutton and Graham Cummins and the long ball barrage began. Sutton almost scored with his first touch after a David Wotherspoon cross come shot towards but his effort was just over the bar - it did look like a bad miss if you were a Saints fan. The final quarter of the game saw Saints launching high balls and looking for flick ons with Killie looking very threatening on the counter attack.
It seemed that Killie subs were required and the first came when Kallum Higginbotham replaced Greg Kiltie who had run himself into the ground like most of the players in the away strips. Rory McKenzie moved over to the right and Higgy took his place on the left of the midfield.
It was now all Saints as Brian Easton produced a curling cross that was met in the air by Wotherspoon, but the midfielder’s header was saved well by MacDonald. Saints then made their final substitution as Thomson replaced Michael O’Halloran with 10 minutes to go with the home side continuing to press for the equaliser. However, a series of corners came to nothing.
At the other end young Frizzell had headed over earlier in the half from a MacKenzie cross, Slater blasted over when he should perhaps have played the ball to Josh who was lurking free on the left. Killie then brought on Findlay for McKenzie; he slotted in at left back with McHattie moving to left midfield and Higgy to the right. Saints' Millar hobbled off with two minutes remaining, with what looked like a hamstring injury – resulting in Saints playing out what was to be a frantic final few minutes with 10 men.
Higgy and Josh both had chances to seal the game but as the 4th official signalled for 4 minutes to be added, Saints had three chances to grab an equaliser within a matter of seconds. Davidson worked his way into the box cutting the ball back and Sutton, Mackay and Graham Cummins were all denied by simply sublime goalkeeping from the top league's finest keeper - Jamie MacDonald.
Keepers do work on double and even triple saves - getting up quickly and diving across to make the next save. However in a lifetime of watching football I have never witnessed a triple save executed so quickly, so determinedly and at such a crucial stage of game.
There is an art to goalkeeping and we are indeed fortunate to have one of the best in Jamie MacDonald.
Kevin Clancy eventually blew the final whistle and it was great to celebrate a superb effort as one - the players acknowledging the fans and those fans truly appreciating the tireless efforts of the team on what must have an awful pitch to play on.
A hard fought cup win and the draw for the next round is now eagerly awaited. Given our away form and the terrific travelling support - I have to say a trip to Annan, Dumbarton or East Kilbride could be our best options.
Our next challenge though is Caley Thistle next Saturday without the suspended Smith, McHattie and Magennis. Boyd and Findlay are obvious replacements for two of them but who will we play instead of Smith in midfield? It's been a fun weekend with a "feel good" factor so I'll not spoil it by contemplating any more!
Gary Locke: "It was a really good performance in difficult conditions. At times we moved the ball as well as we have most of the season. We have to try to get that on a consistent basis. We have played really well and really badly. That has been our problem. But if we can get performances like that hopefully we can turn the corner. We aren't going to get carried away. But we are in the next round. We had six lads from the academy in the starting line-up and I don't think Kilmarnock get the credit we deserve when you look at some of the youngsters we have brought through over the years. The academy boys do a fantastic job. I wouldn't put them in the team if I didn't think they were good enough. We are a young side. You see that young players playing with confidence try things. I thought some of them were exceptional. I would rather I got the stick than the young players. Youngsters respond to encouragement. The fans were brilliant at Perth. They got right behind the team, encouraging them from start to finish. It has been a difficult season for all of us so far but with performances like that hopefully we can turn it around."
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