Sep 15 2009 by Johnathon Menzies, Perthshire Advertiser Tuesday
St Mirren 1 St Johnstone 1
THE respective groups of fans might have differed on which club merited the tag “Fake Saints” but they were in unison passing a post-match verdict on the performance of floundering rookie referee Steven Nicholls.
Perth fans remained furious at a debatable first-half penalty kick award which presented St Mirren with an unlikely opener, while the Buddies were enraged by a failure to play advantage in the final seconds when defender Graham Gartland clattered a late replacement.
The Irish defender, turning in his soundest all-round display since arriving from the Emerald Isle, has found his name in more Scottish books than Bonnie Prince Charlie but this card fell into the “professional” bracket as he ensured Brighton was denied free passage on goal.
A late Buddies winner would have been a complete travesty. Even a draw made a mockery of a match in which the Perth Saints monopolised the ball, flair and imagination, with one-time target Paul Gallacher and his woodwork combining to frustrate the visitors.
A point, as in games against Motherwell and Hearts, was scant reward for manager Derek McInnes. Three points rather than nine will niggle.
The Buddies, a club for sale, got off the hook.
Perth players caught in a sprinkler system deluge before kick-off provided the natives with a chuckle and they were smiling broadly in the 32nd minute when the referee penalised a Dave Mackay challenge on midfielder Stephen McGinn.
Until then, most of the entertainment was provided by exchanges in the technical areas.
Post-match, Mackay remained sore at a hotly disputed verdict which also cost him a caution and in the full-back’s defence he seemed intent on applying the brakes. But McGinn was cute and Billy Mehmet took full advantage by rolling home the spot-kick in front of agitated Perth supporters.
But Jody Morris wasted no time in drawing level, with the keeper unsighted as he whipped home a 25-yard first-time strike when the Buddies defended a dangerous trademark throw-in launched by Danny Grainger.
Keeper Alan Main fended off a Higdon header but with Gartland a colossus and Stuart McCaffrey not far behind him, the St Mirren attack was nullified and both strikers were removed early.
Filipe Morais was inches out before the interval and the second-half belonged to St Johnstone. Stevie Milne bombed into the six-yard box but his instinctive touch on a driven Morais cross evaded the net.
Murray Davidson, turning in another pulsating performance, thought he’d scored in 72 minutes when Martin Hardie teed-up Collin Samuel’s cross.
Davidson got power and accuracy on his header but alert keeper Gallacher justified the substantial investment in his talents and had the crossbar on his side.
Sub Kenny Deuchar made an impression with a header bundled wide and seven minutes from the end Chris Millar rounded off a bad week for the clan. A goal seemed certain when Milne picked him out yards from goal.
But in a scenario reminiscent of Kenny Millar’s agonising miss against Holland, the midfielder, who had replaced recalled Paul Sheerin, found Gallacher blocking his shot with the target at his mercy.
Then the midfielder’s height counted against him as he stretched for the rebound and looped a header off the crossbar.
Gartland had to take one for the team to halt a Buddies breakaway, with the troubled referee failing to detect a blatant handball which set it in motion.
While the caution count was tilted six-two towards the Perth club, Mackay, Grainger, Sheerin, Samuel, Gartland and Davidson, who flirted with red, could have no complaints. But for referee Nicholls it was a bad day at the office.
ST MIRREN: Gallacher, Ross, McGinn, Mair, Potter, Murray, Dornan (Robb 85), Mehmet (Brighton 77), Thomson, Higdon (Dargo 61) and Barron. Subs not used: Howard, O’Donnell, Quinn and Faulds.
ST JOHNSTONE: Main, Mackay, Grainger, Morris, McCaffrey, Gartland, Davidson, Sheerin (Millar 52), Morais (Hardie 65), Milne and Samuel (Deuchar 73). Subs not used: McLean, Irvine, Reynolds and May.
Referee: Steven Nicholls.