St.Mirren v Celtic 27th January 2013 @ Hampden Park

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Scottish Communities League Cup Semi Final

We’ve been fortunate this weekend to take in two games of football, the latter being the second Semi Final of the League Cup at the National stadium between St.Mirren and Celtic.

The omens weren’t good for the Paisley side having not scored a goal in any of the fixtures between the clubs since Danny Lennon’s appointment at New St.Mirren Park in 2010. However, as the media highlighted all week, you only had to look to Kilmarnock’s win over Celtic in the Cup Final of the same competition last year for some inspiration.

Hampden Park is a stadium I’m very familiar with having attended many games here over the last three decades. I’ve stood on the old terracing, sat in the old Grandstand and also sat in all four of the revamped stands following the refurbishments that took place throughout the 1990’s. I’ve always tended to approach it from the Shawlands/Battlefield side but over the last couple of years have changed that to park closer to the Govanhill/Croftfoot side. Either way it’s a stadium I don’t like going to and am at a loss to explain why as I’ve been at some very memorable games over the years and equally been at some that I’d like to erase from memory!

For this game we timed it nicely getting in to our seats in the North Stand just before kick off. As you can see from the photo above, it was a decent view sitting between the half way line and the 18 yard box of the West Stand end.

St.Mirren included their new forward Esmael Goncalves in the starting eleven and set up with quite an attack minded side. Celtic also fielded a strong team showing they weren’t taking this game lightly with the only notable exception being goalkeeper Fraser Forster who was still out injured so Lukasz Zaluska continued to deputise.

It was the Paisley team who started the brighter, forcing two corners in the first couple of minutes and their early perseverance paid off after just six minutes. On loan midfielder Conor Newton swung the ball into the box and with Scott Brown, Kelvin Wilson and Charlie Mulgrew static, Goncalves met the cross with his outstretched foot and his shot went into the net off the far post. This wasn’t in the script!

Celtic just couldn’t get their game going at all and there seemed to be a reluctance by their players to get involved with nobody making themselves available for passes or overlapping on the wings. Any progress they made was quickly halted by their more determined opponents. The only inspiration the current league champions had came from Captain, Scott Brown. He faded badly in the second half but in the first 45 minutes he was involved in anything positive that Celtic created.

It was Brown who lifted a lovely ball over the top of the St.Mirren defence in the twentieth minute for Gary Hooper. His first touch was sublime and although Samson barely moved his volleyed shot smacked off the top of the bar and out for a goal kick. Minutes later Samaras then saw his header hit the bar from a Matthews cross as Celtic continued their search for an equaliser.

Just as it looked like the Saints would take their lead into the interval, Celtic scored a somewhat undeserved leveller. A ball played to the back post by Brown was met by Gary Hooper who finished off from a couple of yards out, despite protests for offside to ensure the sides went in level at the break.

The half time entertainment was both teams Under 14’s doing the “10 Second Challenge” which consists of 5 boys each taking a turn of running from the half way line to try and score. It finshed 5-4 to St.Mirren and maybe it was an omen!

The second half was only three minutes old when Celtic were awarded a very fortuitous penalty. From a long throw into the box on the right hand side by Adam Matthews, it was headed clear by Jim Goodwin but it landed at the feet of Celtic’s Lassad ten yards from goal. He controlled the ball and got a shot away however, Goodwin, charging out trying to block the shot saw the ball hit him high on the chest and ricochet off his left arm. Referee Willie Collum immediately pointed to the spot and booked the St.Mirren skipper.

Although Saints keeper, Samson appeared to be off his line before the kick was taken, Charlie Mulgrew’s side footed effort was weak and well saved. You could argue that it was maybe justice done.

Celtic probably had more of the possession but were toiling and St.Mirren were comfortable with all that was thrown at them. Just after the hour mark Neil Lennon made his first change replacing the out of sorts Lassad with Kris Commons.

Merely seconds later St.Mirren had the opportunity to take the lead from a penalty of their own after the unfortunate Mulgrew raised his hands when trying to cut out a Teale cross and again Collum had no hesitation in pointing to the spot. Despite some mind games from keeper, Zaluska, Paul McGowan stepped up to send the Pole the wrong way and put the Saints into a 2-1 lead.

You’d have thought this might have sparked a siege on the St.Mirren goal but it never materialised and having gone ahead, five minutes later Steven Thompson extended the lead further. The Celtic defence were all over the place as Carey’s free kick came into the box, it wasn’t cleared properly and the lack of space afforded to the Paisley side was criminal. Izaguirre and Samaras were ball watching and never tracked the run of McAusland, he had time to look up and cross low into the penalty box were Thompson swivelled and buried his shot into the bottom right hand corner of the net. Zaluska got a hand to it and maybe should have done better to keep it out.

Celtic responded with a Mulgrew header that flashed by the post and a shot by Ledley which didn’t really trouble Samson’s goal. Neil Lennon threw on Anthony Stokes to replace the out of sorts Samaras to try and add some fresh fire power but despite some decent touches he couldn’t influence the game.

Commons, then Stokes had chances from free kicks but on both occasions the Saints defence stood firm. As Celtic chased a goal to get them back into the game St.Mirren were still proving a threat on the counter attack.

The only other opportunity of note was a header from Ledley that looped over the bar and out for a goal kick. We left on 90 minutes and missed Charlie Mulgrew scoring from a low 25 yard shot to make it 3-2 and this proved to be the last kick of the ball.

It was a very famous victory for St.Mirren who will now face Hearts in the Final on 17th March and don’t think anyone could grudge them it. Danny Lennon prepared his side well, his tactics were spot on and his players displayed a hunger and desire to win that their opponents were clearly lacking.

We were lucky to get decent seats for this match as the North and South stands tend to be more expensive, however the pricing for three of the four stands on this occasion was £15 for adults and £5 for concessions. The BT South stand is the most impressive and is the more modern of the four. I’ve been fortunate enough to have seen a couple of games sitting there and also been at a wedding reception in the conference suites contained within it.

When the old terracing was replaced in the early 1990’s it was an opportunity to do away with the big track behind both goals. Instead the stands are built pretty much round the shape of the way it was before and it really was an opportunity missed. If you are unfortunate enough to get tickets for rows A to F in the East or West stands (behind the goals) you’ll see very little of the game. The North and South stands are undoubtably the best areas to view any games from.

You could also argue that a 50,000 seated facility is too small for a Scottish National stadium given there are two other grounds in Glasgow that hold the same capacity and more in the case of Celtic Park which holds 60,000. Indeed Murrayfield stadium in Edinburgh, although a rugby ground holds just under 70,000.

With the Commonwealth games now less than 18 months away I am pleased to see that some money is being invested outside the ground with new parking areas and also on enhancing the transport links around it. No matter what way you approach Hampden all routes lead to congestion, street parking can be difficult and your best bet is to park at least a mile away if you want to avoid lengthy journey times to and from the ground.

I would also point out the problems you can face if you are in Section F or G in the East stand as the directions are misleading. You can only access one of these sections from the corner of the North Stand even though both are next to each other! I’ve had the misfortune on more than one occasion to have been informed by stewards based at the North stand side that i’d have to walk away round to the main stand side to access the other section which is a nonsense, not to mention poor design and/or planning!

Hampden does look better now than it ever did though the atmosphere is questionable a lot of the time and it remains an unpopular venue with a lot of people. The way the stands are built may be the reason for this but I’m not sure how you can address this problem now and alter this opinion.

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