That was the week that was
Feature by Stuart Gillespie
Updated Tuesday, 22nd March 2011
A year ago we were given a week which summed up what being a St Mirren fan is all about as we went from the lowest of lows to the highest of highs in the space just four days.
This time last year headed to Hampden for the League Cup final, full of hope, daring to dream that this would be our day. We left gutted, despondent and in despair. A few days later some of us (sadly, not me) headed to Greenhill Road, fearing the worst. Those that were there left on top of the world.
Such is the lot of a Saints fan. You're team bottles a golden opportunity to make history, to give you one of the best days of your life. Then, when you want the ground to open up and disappear, comes a game that you'll remember for the rest of your days.
We'd known for over a month we'd be facing Rangers in the League Cup final. We'd failed to win a single game since the semi win over Hearts, were in the middle of the relegation dogfight and had even found time for two defeats at Ibrox. Yet cup final day is different. Over 10,000 Buddies made the short hop to Mount Florida, former players were cheered on to the pitch and the sun was shining. It felt good.
The first half was OK, but fairly uneventful compared to what was to come. Two things stick out. One was Garry Brady skinning Steven Whittaker but, due to his lack of fitness and pace, Whittaker was able to stroll along and nick the ball back. The other was Michael Higdon getting to the byline and cutting the ball back for Steven Thomson to fire towards goal, only for the foot of Neil Alexander to keep it out.
Things got more interesting after the break. Rangers rallied, but we were able to cope. Billy Mehmet just failed to get on the end of a dangerous looking cross. Then three Thomson's met. Saints' Steven was flattened by Rangers' Kevin and referee Craig had no option but to send him off. The black and white hoards roared their approval.
Things threatened to boil over. Hugh Murray was withdrawn after a booking. Craig Dargo and Andy Dorman came on. Dargo chased on to a ball over the top and fractions before he burst into the box and pulled the trigger, Danny Wilson yanked him back. It was a free-kick, but it was also a second red card. With Rangers losing Steven Davis at half-time and Madjid Bougherra not even started, the planets were aligning perfectly for John Potter to lift the League Cup just before 5pm.
But you just know it wouldn't be that simple - and I had a horrible feeling as soon as Wilson walked we would screw it up. We failed to work the Rangers defence enough, couldn't break down the two banks of eight despite piling forward. Rangers withdrew the ineffectual Boyd and put on Steven Naismith. This won approval from the Saints fans, but I wasn't so sure. A bit of movement up front would cause problems.
With less than 10 minutes to go came the heartbreak. Davie Weir was allowed to stroll out of defence unchallenged and feed Naismith on the right. In turn, he was unchallenged and fired in a cross for the unmarked Kenny Miller to nod home the game's only goal. To lose a goal like that if Rangers had had 11 men would have been bad. To lose when we had two more was criminal.
With a goal advantage, Rangers sat even deeper. They didn't need to. We could have played all day and not scored. This article will not seek to blame individuals - the team and management collectively blew a golden opportunity to make history. This was worse than Hammarby.
At full time, some people - including Mehmet - cried. Others sat with their heads in their hands - as shown in a superb photo on the front of the following day's Paisley Daily Express. Me? I was in the press box, but even if I hadn't been I wouldn't have reacted any differently. I was numb. I was angry, gutted, disappointed and distraught at the same time. I had no urge to cry - for some reason I only get moist eyes when we pull off a momentous result. I just wanted to go home and forget about what should have been a day to remember.
The feeling lasted for a few days. I couldn't use my Saints mug at work. Fortunately, the office's resident Rangers fan was off and I had to go elsewhere on the Monday so could hide. But the numbness, the feeling of emptiness, of not knowing what to do, remained.
On Wednesday night, we were due to play Celtic at Greenhill Road. As I work in Dumfries, I couldn't really go - not that I wanted to either. At half five I made a late decision to join a Saints supporting colleague in the pub for the game. It was us two and a few other Celtic fans watching it.
The first half wasn't brilliant. Celtic, Robbie Keane and all, were unlucky not to score, one particular effort hitting both Paul Gallacher and the post before being saved. But just before the break the ball fell kindly into the path of of Andy Dorman and he fired the ball into the bottom corner for his first goal in months.
The second half began with Celtic looking for an equaliser. But then we broke. Dargo - who was excellent - exchanged passes with Mehmet before teeing up Thomson, who simply drove the ball under Lukasz Zaluska. It was like watching Brazil from 1970. I didn't realise the ball had gone in until my mate cheered - and even then my immediate thought was we'd maybe get a draw.
The Celtic response was to throw on more and more strikers. They were playing 3-1-6 by the end with Aiden McGeady at leftback. After we weathered what little storm there was, it was time for some fun. Murray headed a poor Celtic clearance forward and Dorman beat Mehmet to the ball before smashing it past Zaluska. Now we could relax. Now it was time for some fun. Now it was time for the chants. It was time for me to offer to buy the beers - and I don't drink.
Dargo wasted a chance for a fourth before being replaced by Higdon. His first act? To send in a ball that Thomson raced on to to volley into the net. The scenes of joy were evident on the pitch and in the terraces. So were the chants. We want five. Keano, what's the score? You're getting sacked in the morning - and that was indeed what happened to Tony Mowbray. You can relieve that glorious night at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C1ZTCrHOyTU
After what we'd witnessed on the Sunday, most of us watching assumed we'd be hammered. Instead, we dished out a drubbing of our own. One that none of us will ever forget, no matter where we had watched the game. I pretty much danced my way home and was sorely tempted to do a cart wheel.
A truly bizarre week that captures in just a few days what life is like as a Saints fan - especially as just days after beating Celtic, we lost to Aberdeen...
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