Saints 3-0 Falkirk (23.7.16)

Falkirk were the visitors to Perth today in what marked the opening competitive fixture at McDiarmid Park for season 2016/17.

Following the Bairns’ shock opening day defeat to Stirling Albion they knew another defeat this afternoon would deal a fatal blow to their hopes of qualifying for the next round of the tournament as group winners.

Saints on the other hand have been in good pre season form and opened their League Cup campaign with a convincing 3-1 win in Elgin last Saturday.

Tommy Wright made two changes to the side which played at Borough Briggs with Alan Mannus, who played in Tuesday’s friendly against Bradford City, replacing Zander Clark in goal while Tam Scobbie started in defence in place of Keith Watson, who is still recovering from a minor injury.

With Scobbie moving into central defence alongside Steven Anderson it meant that Joe Shaughnessy was moved into the right-back spot. In midfield, Blair Alston played on the right, Swanson on the left, with stand-in skipper Chris Millar and Liam Craig in the middle. Graham Cummins once again partnered Steven MacLean in attack.

It meant that among the eleven players starting the match that four of them (Blair Alston, Tam Scobbie, Liam Craig and Joe Shaughnessy) were coming up against their former team.

Once the teams kicked off the sides seemed to be seizing each other up for the opening fifteen minutes. However it was Saints who started to look the more confident in attack with Chris Millar and Steven MacLean putting some initial pressure on Danny Rogers’ goal.

On 16 minutes Danny Swanson was fouled inside the area and referee Bobby Madden blew for a spot kick. Up stepped the designated penalty kick taker, Liam Craig, but his powerful strike was blocked by Rogers at his right-hand post.

Tom Taiwo responded for the Bairns within a minute but his effort sailed over the bar after being struck from just outside the area.

On 24 minutes Saints were awarded another penalty. This time Danny Swanson was tasked with trying to find a way past Rogers and he duly did. 1-0 Saints.

Ten minutes later and St. Johnstone were unbelievably awarded a third penalty of the afternoon when Madden gave it for shirt pulling on Graham Cummins.

Danny Swanson converted again, this time sending Rogers the wrong way.

After the interval Falkirk tried to take the game to Saints in the hope of finding a way back into the match. Former East Fife starlet Nathaniel Austin came on at the break to give the Bairns’ an attacking threat and he was involved in some link up play with Mark Kerr inside the Saints area early on but this was broken up by Steven Anderson who was able to clear.

On 52 minutes, after some gradual pressure from the away side, John Rankin won a corner with a long-range drive that Alan Mannus managed to turn round the post. The resultant corner by James Craigen flew over the six yard area and out for a goal kick.

Two minutes later and Craigen hit a left-foot shot from just outside the area flying past Mannus’ left-hand post.

Soon after Craig Sibbald and Austin combined in the box to try and find a way past Mannus but Tam Scobbie managed to cut out a pass and attempt to clear. However, the ball found its way back to the feet of Sibbald but the midfielder blazed over from close range.

On 60 minutes a misjudged pass from Steven MacLean on the right side of the pitch was intercepted by Kerr who mounted a counter attack from the half-way line. He and Baird exchanged passes before a goal-bound effort from Kerr was blocked by Joe Shaughnessy at the last moment.

But Saints, who had a lot of the ball in the second half but could not create anything clear-cut, began to look more dangerous. Graham Cummins, who’s work rate was a constant problem for the Falkirk defence, won a corner. Swanson’s looping cross was headed away and found the feet of Steven Anderson on the corner of the area and despite being trailed by two Falkirk defender he managed to take the ball wide and float in a brilliant ball to the backpost which Rogers somehow got a hand to and tip over for a corner.

From the following corner Swanson managed to find Steven MacLean in the box and his knock down, which looked net-bound, was prodded home by Joe Shaughnessy less than a yard from the goal line. Both players tried to claim the goal and despite the match announcer initially awarding the goal to MacLean, it was later corrected to Shaughnessy.

On 69 minutes Chris Kane came on to replace Graham Cummins and a minute later man-of-the-match Danny Swanson made way for Michael Coulson to make his competitive debut for Saints.

There were efforts for Sibbald and Coulson at either end of the pitch before Tommy Wright replaced Blair Alston with Paul Paton on 72 minutes for Saints’ final substitution of the match. Paton came up against Falkirk’s John Rankin for the first time since they both left Tannadice this summer.

With 8 minutes left, Michael Coulson came close with a drive after good work from Kane, and moments later ‘Kano’ himself almost got onto a cross by Brian Easton to add a fourth but Saints saw the remaining minutes of the game out comfortably.

Next up for Saints is a trip to Glebe Park on Tuesday evening to face League One Brechin City.

Saints starting XI: Mannus, Scobbie, Alston, Anderson, Millar, MacLean, Swanson, Shaughnessy, Easton, Craig, Cummins. Subs: Clark, McKay, Coulson, Paton, Kane, Thomson, Comrie.

Falkirk starting XI: Rogers, Leahy, Muirhead, Rankin, Taiwo, Kerr, Baird, Sibbald, Gasparotto, Craigen, Watson. Subs: Mehmet, Kidd, McCracken, Hippolyte, Austin, Miller, McHugh.

Attendance: 2,725

Man of the match: Danny Swanson