Manager Owen Coyle gave a broad hint as to his intended starting line-up for next week’s league opener against Clyde with the team he fielded at Forthbank this afternoon for this final warm-up game against Stirling Albion.
A back three of Allan McManus, Kevin James and Jim Weir – Weir looking increasingly likely to deputise for the suspended Kevin Rutkiewicz next week – were flanked by wing backs Andy Lawrie and Goran Stanic, leaving Paul Sheerin, Darren Sheridan and Simon Mensing in the middle of the park with Jason Scotland and Steven Milne leading the line.
The opening ten minutes saw both sides adopt a quick, on-the-ground passing game but neither could create a significant chance and both were thwarted by offside decisions and it was the 11th minute before the first clear-cut chance came along when Steven Milne found himself one-on-one with Hogarth but his lob over the keeper’s head was well wide of goal.
The 26th minute saw Kevin James get the latest in a number of headers in on goal – on this occasion from a Sheridan corner – but Milne just failed to get a touch and the ball was cleared off the line and that exact move was repeated just three minutes later and it was an even more desperate clearance that prevented the goal this time.
Albion’s new Slovakian midfielder Marek Tomana looked lively in the middle of the park but it was Saints who were enjoying the better of the possession and just before the half time whistle they really should have edged ahead when Simon Mensing was played in on goal by a delightful Sheridan pass but the former Clyde man fired the ball across the face of the goal when a direct shot on target would, at the very least, have tested Hogarth.
The start of the second half saw Peter MacDonald on for Steven Milne as Owen Coyle continues the tricky job of getting both the strikers match fit without re-igniting any injury worries for the two players.
Mensing saw a drive from the edge of the box tipped over the bar and former Hearts keeper Hogarth again thwarted Saints when he got behind a Jason Scotland effort, the Trinidad man having done well to create space for the shot after some trickery. In between those two chances Jim Weir was replaced by Martin Hardie with Mensing dropping into a defensive role.
Saints did have the ball in the net in the 69th minute but the referee’s assistant’s flag was raised immediately as MacDonald headed home Paul Sheerin’s cross after good lead-up work by Mensing and Scotland.
Although Allan Moore’s Albion side were never over-run, they failed to test Kevin Cuthbert to any degree at all and the game was entering it’s final stages when the Saints keeper had to make virtually his only significant save of the afternoon, getting down well to push away a Chris Aitken long-range effort.
Jason Scotland was wasteful with a couple of shots and then with eight minutes to go MacDonald got to the by-line but he chose to roll the ball across goal when, with Scotland lurking, some sort of cut back would have been more productive.
The game had a goalless conclusion written all over it although in the dying minutes, Cuthbert stood up well to prevent Colin Cramb and Kevin James and Jason Scotland both had chances for Saints that they could not make the most of.
Saints had the chances to win this one but Owen Coyle will be pleased to have seen his side come through pre-season undefeated. New boys Lawrie and McManus already look right at home, Jim Weir invariably looks the fittest player on the park and more than capable of playing next week if required and it is to be hoped that the injury-free pre-season for Steven Milne and in particular Peter MacDonald are a sign of things to come for the campaign ahead.
SAINTS: Cuthbert, Lawrie, Stanic, McManus, Weir(Hardie), James, Mensing, Sheridan, Milne (MacDonald), Scotland, Sheerin (Stevenson).
Subs not used: McCallum, Doris, Anderson, Dyer, O’Brien