Arbroath FC vs St Johnstone FC
FT: 0 – 2 (Craig 46, Moon 89)
Attendance: c. 750
Monday 4th July 2011
1. The Clubs
Although we don’t see ourselves purely as a St Johnstone blog, we would have been hard pressed to pick a more Saints-centric tie to kick off our adventures – no less than seven of those lining up for tonight’s hosts have also previously turned out for the Saints, with Josh Falkingham even continuing to train full-time with the Perth side.
Although St Johnstone achieved a second consecutive eight-place SPL finish and an appearance in the semi-final of the Scottish Cup (albeit making a painfully limp exit) last season, the club also picked up the dubious distinction of being the lowest-scoring league side in the country. A mass clear-out of strikers followed, along with the loss of out-of-contract defenders Danny Grainger (off to Hearts) and fans-favourite Michael Duberry (Oxford United).
Season 2010/11 saw Arbroath player/manager (and former Saintee) Paul Sheerin guide the club to an instant return to SFL2, winning the SFL3 title and in turn securing the club its first senior honours in its 123-year history. The club will now be looking to consolidate in the second division and possibly push on further.
2. The Ground
Gayfield (no sniggering at the back) is located on the outskirts of Arbroath, next to amusement arcade/living 1970s time-capsule Pleasureland and backing onto the North Sea. It is this latter feature that I imagine makes the ground a tough place for opposition teams to visit during the winter months (i.e. pretty much the whole of the Scottish football season). [EDIT: I’ve been reliably informed on twitter by my friend James, of the exellent Tales From the Pigeon Stands, that Gayfield holds the honour of being the closest league ground to the sea in the UK!]
The ground has a single seated main stand, facing out towards the sea, and terracing running around the remainder of the pitch with a ‘pigeon stand‘ on each side offering some protection from the elements. We were free to move around on the terraces to try out a number of vantage points, or just stare wistfully out to sea.
We drove from Dundee and found the ground easy to locate. Parking was on the waterfront. Entry was £8, however this was for a friendly – the Arbroath FC website states that 2011/12 league games will be £12 for adults. Being an evening match we had both dined before leaving, so didn’t join the lengthy queue for the catering concession located round the back of the main stand.
3. The Game
The game itself, I think it is fair to say in my limited experience, was relatively typical pre-season fare. Although Scottish football has seen the shortest close-season in recent memory, both sides looked rusty in the early stages. Saints started with new signing Carl Finnigan (ex-Falkirk) and a trialist (one of six listed on the team sheet) upfront and only one of last seasons regular defensive line-up (Dave Mackay) in place. All the same, the game was competitive (if scrappy) with Saints’ Kevin Moon coming closest to breaking the deadlock late in the first half, his chip over Arbroath keeper Darren Hill unfortunately rebounding off the bar.
The second half started brighter for Saints with substitutes Sean Higgins (ex-Dundee) and Stevie May combining to set up Liam Craig for the opening goal. Arbroath continued to exact pressure, with a mazy run from Sheerin and a number of saves forced from St Johnstone keeper Peter Enckelman, though ultimately it was Kevin Moon who got a second and final goal for Saints in the dying minutes of the game.
4. The Banter
Both sets of fans were quiet on the night. Mike got plenty of amusement out of the fact that the linesman on our side of the ground looked no older than 14. My personal highlight came late in the second half when your humble correspondent got a touch of the ball – a stray clearance looked to be heading out into the terraces until I brought it nonchalantly back under control with a beautiful first touch … though unfortunately the following poorly taken short pass back may have invoked the disdain of Saints’ young midfielder Liam Caddis. That or he was confused why the ballboy was bigger than him and on the wrong side of the fence.
5. The Verdict
Ultimately it’s a little unfair to make judgements on either side in a pre-season friendly, especially the first one. I’m a little haunted by our excitement about Cleveland Taylor on his Saints debut at Forfar last pre-season, and with so many new faces and trialists a cohesive team performance is not always likely. That said, it was good to see Callum Davidson back in a Saints shirt. He looked lively, covering the length of the pitch from left back and at one point making an opportune run up the left after switching places with Craig, who had been driven back but ultimately couldn’t get the ball to Davidson. Trialist striker Danijel Subotić looked promising and was subsequently invited to participate in St Johnstone’s subsequent friendlies in Ireland against Drogheda and UCD.
Arbroath look like a strong, physical, side who are comfortable playing together and more than capable of holding their own against full-time opposition. Sheerin has brought in some new faces, including former Scotland midfielder Brian Kerr, but appears to have been able to keep the core of last season’s succesful side together. I look forward to returning to Gayfield once the season is underway to see Arbroath in league action.