v Hamilton Accies
I’m a cynical man by nature. You’ve probably noticed. It’s what two ex-wives and a lifetime of poor choices crammed into 30-odd years will do to you. Sometimes (ok, often) this cynicism comes out in my work. It’s just so easy most of the time, especially in Scottish football where every player has at least one massive defect in their game. Otherwise they wouldn’t be playing here.
From time to time I come across a narrative that can warm even my black heart. So before I even get to the heart of the matter I want to issue a thank you.
Thank you Radoslaw Cierzniak. You, for a fleeting moment, made me believe in atonement once again.
For those of you who don’t know what I’m on about, here’s Cierzniak’s howler in the recent Dundee derby. I’ll even provide the link because I can’t live in a world where my readers haven’t seen this clip. It’s too funny. Go ahead and watch, I’ll wait…
Hilarious, isn’t it? Huge mistakes can befall even the very best goalkeepers. The problem for Cierzniak is that he’s had a habit of doing this throughout his United career, with the current campaign being particularly blunder-prone.
He was saved some of the vilification from Wednesday’s defeat by his teammates being equally as inept as he was. Afterwards the fans forums were awash with angry supporters using harsh typing strokes to vent their frustrations. Not many players were spared the ‘get rid of’ hypotheticals, and Cierzniak certainly wasn’t one of them.
Fast forward to Saturday. The last time Jackie McNamara experimented with deputy goalkeeper Michał Szromnik it proved to be an even bigger disaster. Therefore it was no surprise to see Cierzniak still between the sticks for the visit of Hamilton. In theory this was the perfect game for the keeper, and the rest of the side for that matter, to rebuild their shattered confidence. Because if anyone deserved to wallow in self-pity more than United, it was Hamilton.
Unfortunately, the early exchanges indicated Accies had discovered some defiance and were hell-bent on turning this afternoon into Martin Canning’s First Win Day (it needs a catchier title). They had also done their homework with regards to the opposing custodian. Only three minutes had lapsed when Louis Longridge cut in from the left hand side and shot a speculative effort which was right down the throat of Cierzniak. It was a routine stop and yet there was a brief horrifying nano-second when it looked as if the keeper was going to be deceived by the direction of the shot. Thankfully he soon righted himself and got both arms and his body behind the ball, though he did need to gather at the second attempt.
This looked even more bleak when Ali Crawford tried something similar less than ten minutes later. Once more Cierzniak looked completely at odds with the most mundane save in goalkeeping. He was overcompensating by trying to get as much of his body as possible behind the ball. Clearly midweek was praying on his mind. This was sure to end in disaster.
Then came a moment that, in hindsight, I’m probably reading too much into. I’d certainly be surprised if anyone else noticed. A cross from the right was fired toward the back post. I’d expected it to travel on its merry way until Cierzniak’s mitts suddenly appeared in front of it, clutching it out of the sky. Under the circumstances I’d have expected him to stay on his line, or worse, hesitate and be caught in no man’s land. It wasn’t spectacular. It just demonstrated the kind of confidence I hadn’t, and wasn’t expecting to see from Cierzniak.
From there it was The Radoslaw Redemption (dibs on naming rights). Reining in my joyousness a little, I would admit he and the team were very fortunate to still be in the game prior to him being thrust front-row centre. Nigel Hasselbaink had an effort cleared off the line, Stephen Hendrie hit the post, and Ryan McGowan blocked a Darian MacKinnon shot in a very similar manner to the way Kevin Thomson was penalised for a penalty the Dundee derby. The Hamilton players protested furiously for a foul, but nothing was given.
Then, it was Rado time.
He’d already built his confidence with a miraculous (read: lucky) save from Longridge at the back post. The Hamilton midfielder read a looping high ball in the area perfectly and was on-hand at the back post when it fell back to earth. He tried to side-foot volley his effort through Cierzniak’s legs. Without the advantage of replays at the time of writing, I’m not entirely sure which body part it hit – muchos respect if it collided with the only part of the male anatomy that takes up space between the legs – all I know is that it dropped to ground immediately after, with enough sting taken out of the shot that he was able to turn around and gather before it crossed the goal-line.
From there it was less about luck and more about brilliance. Keeping his poise, concentration and professionalism not to snigger at Callum Morris being treated like a rag-doll by Jason Scotland, Cierzniak met the striker’s powerful drive with a well-executed two handed stop high to his right.
One minute later he produced the triple save which marked out this performance as something really special. Well, technically it wasn’t a triple-save since they weren’t one after the other. They all just happened to come in the space of 30 seconds.
It began with Ali Crawford’s free-kick. In truth, it was the kind of effort which deserved a goal. Beautifully curled over the wall and heading for the top corner, Crawford was already practising his post-match, gracious match-winner speech with the media. That was until Cierzniak dived across goal, extended his hand and, with his fingertips, pushed the ball onto the post. The ball rolled across the goal-line and United were able to clear.
But not for long.
Hamilton regained possession and worked it over to the right hand side. Again Scotland went for the shot on the angle and fired in a low effort which Cierzniak was equal to.
But he wasn’t done yet.
United again made a hash of the clearance and it fell for Ali Crawford around 14 yards out, not far from the penalty area. He hit a daisy-cutter which looked to be finding the far post before Cierzniak again sprawled across his line and pushed wide for a corner.
It took every ounce of the small professionalism I had not to raise myself up in the press box and start banging my hands together in appreciation. Instead I stared wide-eyed at the writers around me, but since I’m not an actual journalist and therefore don’t have a membership to this exclusive boys club, I never got any acknowledgement of my wonder. In fact, Cierzniak’s heroics barely seemed to have registered with them.
Four minutes later United finally managed to resemble a football team and put together a very good passing move which culminated in Chris Erskine swishing the ball into the far corner of the net from the edge of the area.
United had their long awaited victory, and The Football Critic had his first five-star performer.
Take a bow, Rado. You deserve it.
Of that I am certain.
The Football Critic
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