Two games back to back prove just too much for Oban Saints
ON THE basis that they do more than their fair share of travelling during the season, Saints don’t normally play away from home in pre-season. However, the invitation to take part in the 120th anniversary celebrations of one of Scotland’s oldest surviving amateur football clubs proved too good to turn down. Saints therefore took to the road last Saturday and headed for the pretty conservation village of Rhu at the mouth of the Gare Loch.
Three clubs took part in the competition, Saints, their old friends, Greenock High School Former Pupils, and hosts, Rhu Amateurs, with the teams playing each other once in matches lasting 70 minutes.
The Oban side were missing skipper, Marc MacCallum, Thomas McCulloch, Craig MacEwan, Keith Millar and Dean Smith, but still managed to take a squad of 16 players to the competition.
First up on the well-prepared but steeply sloping and very soft playing surface were Saints and Rhu. Saints made the breakthrough in the 12th minute. Jamie Graham made a good run cutting in from the left wing and slipped the ball to Lewis Cameron whose low cross from the left of the box was deflected into his own net by a Rhu defender.
After a raking Willie Gemmell pass from the back, Lewis and Jamie linked up again in a similar position to win a free kick when Jamie was tripped just outside the box. Lewis curled the free kick around the wall towards the keeper’s bottom left-hand corner and, despite the keeper getting both hands to it, he was unable to keep the ball out of the net.
The Oban side were completely dominant in this first period and added a third when another long pass from Willie Gemmell picked out Lewis Cameron’s run through the inside left channel.
With the defence beaten, a first time flick with the outside of his right boot from Lewis caught the keeper advancing totally by surprise and the ball nestled in the bottom corner of the net.
The Rhu defence was charitable with Ross Maitland the grateful recipient pouncing on a wretchedly short back pass to roll the ball into the net past the stranded keeper to make the score 4- 0 at half-time.
Manager, Alex Craik, deployed all four substitutes at half-time sending on David McArthur, Matthew Kelly, Kevin Keen and Shaun MacIvor to replace Jamie Graham, Paul Kerr, Lewis Cameron and Allan Mackay.
Saints started the second half casually and were made to pay after just sixty seconds when Stuart McGillivray sprung the Saints offside trap for an easy finish past Daniel Cassells.
On the hour mark, Saints got their fifth goal when Shaun MacIvor made a good run to get on the end of a terrific defence splitting pass from Donnie Campbell leaving the Rhu defence appealing in vain for offside as he rounded the keeper and steered the ball into the unguarded net.
Referee, James Gallacher, brought the first of his three matches to an end allowing Saints a ten minute breather before facing the fresh legs of West of Scotland Amateur Cup holders, Greenock High School Former Pupils.
Saints started the game against old friends the ‘ High’ with the same line-up as the first match with the exception of Jamie Graham who made way for David McArthur at left back. The Central Scottish Amateur Football League Premier Division outfit were to prove an entirely different proposition to that posed by the hosts and a very even opening thirty five minutes ensued.
Saints were almost caught out in the tenth minute by a swift High counter attack, but were saved by a timely Paul Kerr tackle on Stephen Burden at the expense of a corner. However Saints failed to clear the danger from the corner kick from the High left and Michael McColgan bundled the ball over the line from close range.
Two minutes later, Saints were back on level terms after Ross Maitland had won another corner on the right this time from a Donnie Campbell pass inside the full back. Once again Ross delivered a good out swinging cross which was met by a terrific diving header into the net from Allan MacKay.
In the 23rd minute, Willie Gemmell picked up the only yellow card of the entire afternoon when referee Gallacher, who handled proceedings well throughout, finally tired of his incessant questioning of decisions.
The luck of the tournament draw saw Saints end the first half on 105 minutes of continuous high tempo football, but with their opponents on just 35 minutes, the pendulum was about to swing very much in High’s favour.
Low cross Four minutes after the restart there was nothing Daniel Cassells could do to prevent the High regaining the lead when a low cross from the right was turned in at the back post by Michael McColgan.
Greenock killed the game off when Stephen Burden delivered a corner from the right which was cleared but only as far as Burden whose first time left foot strike from the corner of the box fizzed past Daniel Cassells into the bottom corner of the net.
Moments later, Saints slipped further behind when a terrific Gordon Smith strike from the edge of the D flew past Daniel Cassells giving the big Saints keeper no chance. On 57 min- utes, Saints had some good buildup on the left, but with the ball screaming out to be cut back to Donnie Campbell on the edge of the box, Allan MacKay elected to shoot from a tight angle sending his shot over the junction of post and bar. From the goal kick, the High again went long where Dene Cassells completely misjudged his attempted clearance slicing it into the path of the onrushing Gordon Smith who eagerly gobbled up the chance to make it 5 - 1 to the High.
To their credit, Saints kept plugging away in a match they were now clearly not going to get anything from, but mental fatigue was setting in and failure to maintain their shape was presenting the High with chances to further extend their advantage.
On the hour mark, Kevin Keen and Matthew Kelly came on to replace Ross Maitland and David McArthur with young Matthew facing a baptism of fire in an unfamiliar left back role against the very experienced Barry Munro.
Saints managed two more attempts of note in the closing fifteen minutes with Myles McAuley testing the keeper with a powerful run and shot and Donnie Campbell having a decent long range effort tipped over, but the match finished without further scoring leaving Saints to hope for a home win in the final match.
The hosts put up a far better showing in the final match and were worthy of a share of the points against their more illustrious opponents. However Greenock prevailed thanks to a first half Stephen Burden strike earning them the handsome Murdoch Gardening Services Trophy. Saints received some consolation for their afternoon’s work in the shape of the Player of the Tournament trophy awarded to Lewis Cameron.
Manager, Alex Craik, was happy enough with day. He said: ‘It was hard going playing two 70 minute games back to back but good for fitness levels. We played realy well against Rhu and for the first half of the game against Greenock, but they are a good side and when we began to tire and lose our shape they punished us. I would have liked to have played them first when both teams were fresh.’
Saints face another busy day next Saturday when they travel to Lochgilphead for the Argyll and Bute Cup before the league season kicks off on the following Saturday with a home game against newly-promoted East Kilbride.
BACK OF THE NET: Saints’ striker, Alan MacKay, on the ground, heads home Saints’ equaliser against Greenock HSFP last Saturday.
WINNER: Oban Saints striker, Lewis Cameron, was voted Player of the Tournament