Oban Saints field young side in pre-season friendly
LOBBYISTS for summer football received a stark reminder that the Scottish weather is no respecter of seasons as Saints and Vale of Leven Juniors played out an entertaining friendly match in foul weather conditions at Glencruitten last Saturday. As was the case when Vale came visiting last year, heavy rain on the eve of the match necessitated an early morning pitch inspection which Glencruitten 1, normally reserved for matches with the oval ball, passed with flying colours with the immaculately prepared surface holding up well during the match.
Injuries and holiday commitments, including those of manager Alex Craik, gave the Saints line-up an unfamiliar look, particularly on the bench, where in charge for the day assistant manager Donald Campbell named youngsters Jay Cooper, Daniel Croarkin, Fraser MacFarlane and 15-year- old Lewis Buchanan alongside experienced trio Graham Douglas, Sean Ford and Elliot Dougal.
Despite the absence of eight or nine key players, the starting XI was a strong one and included welcome returns from long injury lay- offs for Martin Bonar and Myles McAuley. The versatile Martin slotted in at right full back, making up the back four alongside Jamie Graham, Willie Gemmell and Scott Maitland. Myles took up his usual position in the middle of the park, with Paul Kerr and young Matthew Kelly for company. Captain for the day Donald Campbell joined Ross Maitland and Dean Smith in attack with goalkeeper Thomas McCulloch completing the starting XI.
Saints settled quickly into their stride with Donald Campbell and Dean Smith combining well on the left to carve out an opportunity for Ross Maitland who sliced an excellent chance horribly wide from just inside the Vale box.
The visitors took the lead in the sixth minute from an innocuous looking deep cross from the right wing by Adam Monaghan. Thomas McCulloch elected to stay on his line allowing Monaghan’s cross to reach Scott Cowan who outjumped Jamie Graham at the back post to head the ball back across goal for Craig Cowan to nod into the net from three yards out.
Despite the early reverse Saints continued to impress against their semi-professional opponents and presented Vale keeper Scott Morrison, who played for Arbroath last season, with his first test of the afternoon in the ninth minute.
Scott Maitland made good progress on the left wing but, finding his path blocked by full back Devine, cut the ball back to Paul Kerr. Paul picked out Ross Maitland, who shifted the ball to his right opening up the angle for a low shot from 22 yards which Morrison at full stretch tipped round his left hand post for a corner.
Ross took the kick from the right and found the head of Martin Bonar who was unable to repeat his scoring feat from last year’s fixture, with Scott Morrison initially parrying Martin’s effort before gathering safely at the second attempt.
The movement of the Saints front three was keeping the Vale defence on their toes with Donald Campbell producing good work on the left in the 25th minute to set up a chance for Ross Maitland. Unfortunately Ross couldn’t get the ball under control on the edge of the six-yard box with the loose ball breaking towards Dean Smith who could only turn a very difficult opportunity wide of Morrison’s right hand post.
Morrison made a fantastic double save three minutes later to deny Donald Campbell and Dean Smith. Donald made a powerful run at the heart of the Vale defence before unleashing a shot which Morrison saved low down to his right. Dean Smith was first to the loose ball but the big keeper was quickly back on his feet to block Dean’s effort at his near post at the expense of a corner kick.
Ross Maitland once again found the head of Martin Bonar from the corner flag whose knock down fell kindly for Donald Campbell who unfortunately couldn’t keep his shot down, sending the ball soaring high over the crossbar from 10 yards out.
The Oban side eventually got their reward for their first half exertions deservedly drawing level five minutes before the break. Myles McAuley threaded a perfectly weighted through ball for Donald Campbell’s run through the inside left channel. Last season’s top scorer made no mistake, calmly passing the ball into the bottom corner of the net past the Vale keeper’s despairing left hand.
McAuley was involved again at the other end when he was penalised by referee Litster 28 yards from his own goal. Lee McGeachy curled the free kick around the Saints’ wall drawing an excellent save from Thomas McCulloch diving full length to his left to send the teams into the half-time interval on level terms.
With manager Alex Craik on holiday, team affairs were in the hands of assistant manager Donald Campbell who used the second half to give his entire bench a good run out. Graham Douglas came on to replace Thomas McCulloch in goal and continued the good form he showed in the D&K Lafferty Cup two weeks previously.
Notwithstanding the raft of changes made by both sides and the worsening weather conditions, the second half maintained the high tempo of the first 45.
The hour mark was the signal for Saints to make five changes, withdrawing Martin Bonar. Matthew Kelly, Paul Kerr, Myles McAuley and Dean Smith and introducing a mixed bag of youth and experience consisting of Jay Cooper and Fraser MacFarlane, who had featured in the D&K Lafferty Cup, debutant Daniel Croarkin, Sean Ford and Elliot Dougal.
With 20 minutes remaining Saints made their final change introducing 15- year- old Lewis Buchanan for his first-team debut replacing Ross Maitland on the right wing.
Donald Campbell almost doubled his tally making a good run from the right in the 77th minute to meet a defence splitting diagonal pass from Willie Gemmell. Donald’s first time shot left the keeper flat footed but slipped narrowly wide of the far post.
The Saints youngsters were certainly not overawed by the occasion and showed up well against their more experienced opponents with Jay Cooper coming close to netting a late winner cutting in from the left and forcing Vale keeper Morrison into a smart save at his near post.
Referee Jimmy Litster, who had enjoyed an easy afternoon’s work, brought a good natured contest to an end with honours even and plenty of positives for both sides to take into their next warm-up fixtures.
Saints’ next opponents, St Anthony’s, are also from the Junior ranks and visit Glencruitten 1 this coming Saturday afternoon. Kick- off is 2pm with referee Martin Rae in charge.
Willie Gemmell and Dean Smith appeal for a penalty in the first half but referee Jimmy Lister, who had a good game, wasn’t interested.
Martin Bonar clears the ball from Vale of Leven goalscorer Craig Cowan.
Saints’ keeper Thomas McCulloch makes a great save diving low to his left hand side.
15-year- old Lewis Buchanan and Fraser MacFarlane in action.
Young Daniel Croarkin played well on his debut.