Friday, 22 March 2013

Breaking Hearts

66th Scottish League Cup Final, Hampden; St Mirren 3, Hearts 2

You know, it is very difficult to know where to start with this match, bearing in mind that I’m still finding my way down from cloud nine from this match, but here goes…

St Mirren won their first silverware in nearly 26 years on Sunday by beating Hearts to lift the League Cup. Despite dominating the middle section of this match, Hearts should have buried St Mirren at the start of this match.  By the time Hearts got their second consolation, it was too late for them.

Hearts started the brighter, undoubtedly aided by St Mirren being caught cold.  The pressed high up and possibly should have taken the lead through Sutton.  They did when after 10 minutes Ryan Stevenson picked up the ball just in front of goal – he tried to shake off the marking but shot across Samson, maybe coming off Dummett.  In the next 15 minutes, Sutton’s header hit the post while Ngoo failed to connect with a cross.  Taouil also had a shot that was just tipped past by Samson.  A second goal would have sunk St Mirren before half time.  Yet the turning point came with 8 minutes to go until half time when St Mirren equalised, inflicting a crucial psychological blow while their numerical advantage in midfield was started to tell.

Thompson’s through ball found Teale, who outpaced the Hearts defence and centred for Goncalves to tap in.  Hearts must have been shell shocked to have been pegged back.  It only got worse for them at the very start of the second half.  Hearts first proper touch of the second half was the restart after St Mirren possession at the start of the second half concluded with Thompson’s low volley (below) off a Dummett centre.  Rather annoyingly this was a goal that I missed.  Unsurprisingly, St Mirren looked at their most comfortable during this period.

If anything St Mirren looked the more likely team to get a third, as their formation sucked the life out of Hearts.  McGowan had a shot at goal that went over before St Mirren got that third.  The other Newcastle loanee Connor Newton dispossessed one of the Hearts players, passed the ball to Goncalves, who completed the one two with Newton in lost of space.  Newton smashed the ball past Goalie MacDonald.

A brace of substitutions with 15 minutes to go seemed to spark a late Hearts rally – one that brought their second goal as Stevenson once again shot past Samson.  Stevenson could have had a hat-trick had the woodwork not come to St Mirren’s aid.  In a funny sort of way, while I thought that Hearts were slight favourites because of their experience, St Mirren showed a lot of nous by taking the ball into the corners – this I think ate up at least 3 minutes at the end of the game.

The foul on Carey right at the end essentially extinguished Hearts chances seconds before Craig Thompson confirmed St Mirren’s maiden League Cup win and first trophy since the Scottish Cup win in 1987.  In the short term, this should provide a fillip in St Mirren’s quest to move up the table.  St Mirren sits 5 points behind Kilmarnock and Aberdeen in 8th and 9th place respectively (and a point behind Hearts in 10th).  Overhauling those teams should be a viable target for the rest of the season – starting next Saturday with the visit of the Champions elect Celtic.

In the longer term this victory can provide St Mirren with the financial foundations to build on as well as a new status as a team familiar to the winners circle.  Providing of course that the key players from Sunday are able and willing to stay and that the issues with the side (lack of a commanding central defender and a defensive midfielder) are resolved.

For Hearts the future is less certain, they may feel that this was the cup that got away from them.  Also at a time when Hearts may be still in financial trouble, the disparity in prize money may give them problems.  They should however take positives from that start.

From a supporters point of view there are three things that stick in the mind.  Firstly there was the atmosphere in Paisley a couple of hours before the game.  Walking through Paisley on my way to catch the train, there was a lovely chilled buzz around the place.  Secondly, the atmosphere at the game itself was incredible.  Certainly better than the atmosphere in the 2010 final, while thirdly the atmosphere after the game back in Paisley…  well you will have seen the pictures of some of the players celebrating… 

One other thing comes to mind, at the “reception” in County Square Renfrewshire Council continued the tradition of somehow screwing up a part of the “Reception”.  When St Mirren won the Scottish Cup in 1959, the players had some trouble getting from the bus to the Council headquarters (at that time in County Square), on Sunday a stage was erected…  and was populated by a bunch of photographers, not the players. 

Now, where is that cloud that I came off of...

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