By Alan Gallacher at Cappielow Park
THE Renfrewshire Cup stayed in Paisley as Saints again saw off rivals Morton to retain the old trophy. Unlike last season there was to be no cakewalk for Saints as the plucky hosts made them fight every step of the way, even if Saints did very much merit the victory.
Apart from the result there were enough positives for Danny Lennon and Tommy Craig to take from the ninety-minutes to make it a very worthwhile exercise. The summer signings all got a run-out, there was a clean-sheet, we could have won by more had it not been for an inspired showing from the Morton keeper, and old stagers Jim Goodwin and Steven Thompson continue to exude class.
Having successfully completed the rigours of their Spanish training base Saints went with a slightly unfamiliar looking team in as much as there was no recognisable left-sided defensive player to be seen, and also no Hugh Murray. There was however a start for summer captures Lewis Guy and Jon Robertson in attack and midfield respectively.
On the bench Sam Parkin took his place alongside on-trial keeper, Grant Adam as Saints tried to maximise their options amidst trying financial times. Only Kenny McLean and Graham Carey were glaring omissions from a squad that really does look all the better for having a fit-again Darren McGregor in the heart of the defence.
For what one of their fans told me was very possibly their biggest game of the season, Morton unveiled a massive eight new signings in their starting eleven with more on the bench. Only Michael Tidser, Peter Weatherson and David O’Brien remained from last season, although top scorer Peter MacDonald only missed only due to injury.
With so many new faces Morton were going to be unpredictable, but backed on by a decent crowd desperate for some SPL giant-killing a day-out at Cappielow is never an easy ride for a St Mirren team unless they stand firm and win the physical battle before letting their superiority take hold.
As someone who works at Cappielow a lot judging by the widespread high-fives and hugs around the place whenever they hear Saints are losing this is a fixture that means a whole lot more in Inverclyde than in does around the Paisley area.
As far as Saints went this was just another step towards achieving maximum sharpness for the ICT game, even if there was a healthy support through for the encounter.
Danny Lennon’s response to lack of numbers in his ranks was to go with a three man defence of Mair, McAusland and McGregor, Goodwin holding, van Zanten and Imrie the wingbacks, Robertson and McGowan in midfield with Thompson and Guy in attack.
Imrie looked like the only round peg in a square hole, but it was the former Hamilton man who forced Derek Gaston into attack early on with a chipped effort that keeper, Gaston clutched easily.
Gaston was a busy man for the ‘Ton, ten-minutes in and he made a flying dive to tip over a Paul McGowan drive at the end of a forceful run from the midfielder.
The quality keeping wasn’t confined to one end however as no sooner had Gaston denied McGowan than Craig Samson was rushing from his line to get his body in the way of a drive from David O’Brien who had stole in cheaply on the blind side of van Zanten.
As Renfrewshire Derbies go it was far from the best with neither the fiery passion of byegone days, nor the utter one-sided nature of last season’s meeting. Saints weren’t exactly ripping through their lower league hosts, but they were controlling the ball for the most part and only another smart stop from Gaston kept out Imrie on the half hour mark.
Imrie then very nearly turned provider seconds later when Lewis Guy really ought to have opened his account having been picked out smartly, however the one-time MK Dons man lacked any conviction and the chance was gone.
Craig Samson wasn’t being over-worked, but did need to get across his goal to keep out a free kick from Martin Hardie who did well enough to get the ball up and down.
The duel between Imrie and former Albion Rovers man, Gaston, started to look like it was personal with the Cappielow man again denying Imrie, this time helping a floated free kick over the bar on the brink of the interval.
Half-Time: Morton 0-0 St Mirren
When the break did arrive Saints made two changes, a like for like in attack with Sam Parkin replacing Guy and the introduction of David Barron at the expense of McAusland as Saints went to a more orthodox flat back four.
Even into the second period Gaston was keeping Saints at bay. Seconds after the restart he parried a drive from Jon Robertson before reclaiming ahead of Imrie.
Morton were clearly in no mood to rest having reached the interval on parity and had two strikes from distance through Tidser and Willie Dyer which had Samson scampering across his line.
Indeed Morton began to enjoy something of a purple patch and really should have in the lead just after the hour when O’Brien conspired to head wide when picked out perfected by Tony Wallace.
Saints then introduced Gary Teale for Robertson and missed a very good chance of their own. Parkin heading wide following a superb cushioned header across goal from Thompson.
With the game trundling towards a penalty shoot-out Saints finally made the breakthrough, albeit with a slice of luck attached to it. The approach play, especially a wonderful chest lay-off from sub Thomas Reilly, was top drawer as Paul McGowan dashed in behind the defence before lashing in a shot which rattled the crossbar, hit Gaston en-route to squirming over the line with McGowan in attendance amongst a crowd scene of hooped jerseys.
It was enough to win what was a disappointing game and a very disappointing derby. However, there was enough to move on with some confidence.
Full-Time: Morton 0-1 St Mirren
Morton: Gaston, Taggart, Reid, McLaughlin, Dyer, Stirling, Hardie (Rutkiewicz 46), Tidser (Halsman 74), O’Brien (Campbell 84), Wallace (Graham 70), Weatherson.
Subs Not Used: O’Ware, Flak (GK).
St Mirren: Samson, van Zanten, McGregor, Mair, McAusland (Barron 46), Robertson (Teale 63), Goodwin, McGowan, Imrie, Thompson (Reilly 78), Guy (Parkin 46).
Subs Not Used: Kelly, Trialist (GK).
Referee: Alan Muir.
Assistant Referee: John Gilmour.
Assistant Referee: Graeme Stewart.
Star Saint: Steven Thompson was great in leading the line, but his fellow veteran, Jim Goodwin, gets the nod for a controlled midfield display in which he constructed and destructed in equally effective measure.
Match pictures by Allan Picken – © Allan Picken Photography.