Captain Kevin James returned to the team today having recovered from the groin injury that kept him out of the past two games. His replacement for those two matches, Kevin Fotheringham, was himself injured and dropped out.
Saints would have been hoping to make an early breakthrough and they did just that after only two minutes when Jason Scotland scored. With World Cup places up for grabs the Trinidad & Tobago man is looking to hit a run of scoring form and he did well to hold off two challenges before sending a shot wide of the keeper into the net from ten yards. The linesman was flagging to indicate a penalty kick but when the ball hit the net he contented himself with allowing the goal.
However, there was a shock for Saints in 21 minutes when the visitors equalised. It came from a free kick and slack marking at the back allowed Willie Martin to fire home.
The 26th minute brought a surprise double substitution from Saints with both full backs, Goran Stanic and Steven Anderson withdrawn and replaced by Steven Milne and Ryan Stevenson.
With ten minutes to go before the break, Jason Scotland brought out a great save from Stranraer keeper Corr who got down well to his low drive after he had been set up by Milne. The resultant corner brought a goal to put Saints ahead. From the kick, the ball reached John Henry at the far side of the box and he elected to loft the ball back over the goalmouth where Steven Milne met it with his head and sent in a looping header which the keeper nor defender on the line could do anything about as it dropped towards the goal line. It would almost certainly have gone in but Jason Scotland nodded the ball to make sure – pictures later showed that it was the Trinidad man who put it over the line.
Just on half-time, Saints almost increased their lead when a lovely bit of control from Steven Milne allowed him to move onto a long pass and although he dodged one defender, the ball ran loose and into the path of Paul Sheerin who sent a lovely chip over the keeper but unfortunately it drifted judge wide of the post.
The 55th minute saw Stranraer draw level again and it was another soft goal to lose. A free kick on the right was whipped in high and it came off the top of David Hamilton’s head as it zoomed over a helpless Glennon and into the net.
The hour mark brought a roar of encouragement from the home fans when news came through that St Mirren had gone behind at home to Hamilton and almost immediately, Corr needed to produce another great save from a Ryan Stevenson drive from the edge of the box and the former Celtic keeper managed to deny Saints again when he got a slight touch to a Jason Scotland shot to deflect the ball inches past the post, Scotland having produced lovely skill to get into a scoring position. Seconds before that Owen Coyle had come on for John Henry and the Manager almost scored from the resultant corner, his header from point blank range being cleared off the line.
Kevin Rutkiewicz found himself booked in 66 minutes for a foul from behind and he came to our rescue moments later when he blocked a Stephen Swift drive.
It was an open game and Stranraer looked every bit as capable of scoring a third as Saints did.
The 71st minute saw Owen Coyle go into the referee’s book for dissent after he was penalised for clipping a Stranraer defender. The Manager undoubtedly had a point – there had been no contact at all – but he might have been wiser not to continue his rant against the official.
Two minutes later Saints took the lead and the goal had it’s roots in good defending. In conjunction with Darren Sheridan, Simon Mensing did well to break up an attack on the left wing and he quickly fed Ryan Stevenson who sent a splendid pass up the inside right channel which Coyle latched onto and sped away. His low cross was met by Jason Scotland and from 12 yards he produced the most untidy of shots – a ‘sclaff’ in football parlance - but thankfully for the majority in the ground the ball hit the inside of the post and into the net.
Still there remained a nagging worry that Stranraer could get another goal, a feeling not helped by some aimless balls up the park which simply invited more pressure on the men in royal blue.
With the game in its final five minutes, Stranraer almost drew level when a Payne shot deflected wide for a corner kick – the breakaway came after Coyle lost possession upfield – not helped by the lack of a shout from colleagues that a challenge was imminent.
Payne again came close to getting a point for the visitors when he fizzed in a 22 yard free kick which reared up off the surface and Glennon just managed to push it wide.
Saints held on for the win in an entertaining game.
Website Man of the Match: He had to wait until after the game to have it confirmed but JASON SCOTLAND will be delighted at the timing of his hat-trick.
SAINTS: Glennon, Mensing, Stanic (Milne), Anderson (Stevenson), Rutkiewicz, James, Henry (Coyle), Sheridan, Hardie, Scotland, Sheerin.
Subs not used: Winter, Cuthbert
STRANRAER: Corr, Swift, Keddie, Wingate, Henderson, McPhee (Gilfillan), Hamilton, Aitken, Martin (Maisano), Harty, Payne.
Subs not used: Sharp, Morrison.