Carmichael on fire as Saints and Vale of Leven share the honours
OBAN Saints welcomed regular visitors Vale of Leven Juniors back to Oban for a preseason friendly last Saturday. To the relief of all, the heavy rain which put a dampener on last year’s meeting was nowhere to be seen and the match went ahead in pleasant conditions on an excellent Glencruitten 1 surface.
Holidays, injuries and work commitments severely restricted Alex Craik’s options with the gaffer having to rely on an extremely youthful bench to back up an experienced starting eleven. In goal for Saints was Graham Douglas who has reclaimed the number one jersey from recently retired Thomas McCulloch. An untried central defensive partnership of Jamie Graham and David McPhee slotted in between full backs Matthew Kelly and Scott Maitland. The midfield had an extremely experienced look with skipper for the day Donald Campbell taking a central role alongside Willie Gemmell and, fit again after missing most of last season, Keith Millar. Up front Paul Carmichael led the line flanked by Fraser MacFarlane and Dean Smith. On the bench were youngsters Kenneth Black, Jay Cooper, Gavin Forgrieve and Sol Smith with the Gaffer naming himself among the substitutes to significantly increase the average age.
The visitors, under new manager Brian Brown, brought a strong 20-man squad with the full intention of giving each player at least 45 minutes of game time.
Saints kicked off attacking the railway end and the first half motored along at a good pace with the visitors creating the better of the openings in the early exchanges. Right sid- ed midfielder Richard Stewart twice headed off-target with Andrew Biddulph and Allan Macpherson also sending shots over the crossbar. Former Haldane United man Macpherson was renewing acquaintances in the middle of the park with Scottish Amateur international colleague Donald Campbell who fizzed a shot wide of the postage stamp corner after good approach play on the Saints left.
Neither keeper was tested until the 19th minute when Saints opened the scoring after another good move on the left. Scott Maitland played the ball up to Paul Carmichael who held the ball up well and laid it back to Fraser MacFarlane. The diminutive winger found the overlapping Scott Maitland who threaded a well-weighted ball, sending Paul Carmichael through on goal. Vale keeper Robert Tiropoulous advanced to his six-yard line but was beaten from just inside the 18-yard box by Carmichael who cleverly tucked a low shot inside the keeper’s left-hand post.
Making his first appearance in pre-season Dean Smith brought the first save of the match from Robert Tiropoulous who got finger tips to Dean’s shot from the edge of the D to turn the ball over his crossbar.
The visitor’s found the net in the 33rd minute with their first effort on target when Ben Craig turned well on the 18-yard line and beat Graham Douglas low down to his right.
Four minutes later Douglas produced an excellent finger tip save to deny Andrew Biddulph after the Vale striker got the better of Jamie Graham with a neat turn on the edge of the box.
At the other end an Allan Macpherson foul on Matthew Kelly gave Willie Gemmell a free-kick opportunity 22-yards out but the Saints dead ball expert failed to trouble Tiropoulous in the Vale goal sending his effort high over the crossbar.
Five minutes before the interval Willie’s pinpoint passing accuracy opened up the Vale defence for Paul Carmichael who had his progress unceremoniously halted by Tiropoulous at the expense of a penalty kick. The big keeper guessed correctly but was beaten by the pace on Donald Campbell’s spot kick which fizzed past his left hand into the bottom corner of the net.
Tiropoulous denied Saints a third goal with an excellent finger tip save to deny Donald Campbell after another good move on the left before referee John Stobo blew for half-time.
The visitors made wholesale changes for the second half with only left-back Stephen Griffen and goalkeeper Robert Tiropoulous re- emerging from the pavilion after the half-time interval.
The second half began in disastrous fashion for Saints who conceded twice inside three minutes. A 46th minute corner kick from the right was met by Greg Ross who squeezed a header between Graham Douglas and Scott Maitland at the front post. Barely 60 seconds later the visitors took the lead for the first time when a cross from the Vale right evaded Matthew Kelly allowing Robbie Dolan a shot on goal. Graham Douglas narrowed the angle well but could only parry Dolan’s effort into the path of Andrew Clark who had the simplest of tasks in rolling the ball into the unguarded net.
To compound the misery for Saints Donald Campbell aggravated the groin strain picked up in the D&K Lafferty tournament and had to leave the field for what looks likely to be an extended spell on the sidelines. Donald’s replacement was young Kenneth Black who slotted in at left back with Scott Maitland moving into midfield.
After a rocky start Saints steadied the ship against the reinvigorated visitors and drew level in the 55th minute. Paul Carmichael, who was on fire all afternoon, controlled a long ball from Willie Gemmell and held off the challenge of Adam Monaghan before picking out Scott Maitland’s back post run. Robert Tiropoulous came off his line to intercept Scott’s run and did well to turn the ball behind for a corner kick. Fraser MacFarlane delivered an excellent cross from the right which was met perfectly on the penalty spot by Paul Carmichael who powered a sensational header into the top corner much to the delight of the Saints bench.
The remainder of the second half ebbed and flowed without too many clear cut chances. Scott Maitland had a goal bound shot deflected wide for a corner after good work on the right by Matthew Kelly and Fraser MacFarlane before Graham Douglas tipped over a 25-yard effort from Andrew Clark.
Before the corner kick could be taken gaffer Alex Craik withdrew Fraser MacFarlane and Dean Smith replacing them with two more of Saints’ promising youngsters Jay Cooper and Gavin Forgrieve. The personnel change also brought about a change of formation to a 3-5-2 with Willie Gemmell dropping into the back three alongside Jamie Graham and David McPhee.
The new look Saints defence coped well with Vale’s twin strike force with new boy McPhee comfortable alongside the experienced Gemmell and Graham. In the midfield old head Keith Millar marshalled youngsters Kenneth Black and Gavin Forgrieve who will have benefited greatly from playing against such experienced opposition. Saints made their final change with 15 minutes remaining, giving a debut to young Sol Smith who replaced Matthew Kelly on the right of the five man midfield.
Vale central midfielder David McNaught fired a 25-yard effort over the crossbar after a good 83rd minute passing move had opened up the Saints’ defence.
With one minute of the 90 remaining referee Mr Stobo strangely penalised Sol Smith for a foul on Robbie Dolan wide on the Vale left. The award mystified the Saints players whose incredulity would have quickly turned to anger had Graham Douglas not produced the save of the match to deny Mark Butler from close range. Butler’s cushioned effort from the six-yard line had Sugar at full stretch to push the ball wide. Butler could scarcely believe his luck but pursued the ball and played it back across goal where the combined efforts of Willie Gemmell, Jamie Graham and Keith Millar kept the ball away from the waiting Andrew Clark before Sugar finally pounced to smother the ball and calm the nerves.
Mr Stobo brought a sporting contest to an end with honours even and both sides satisfied with a good workout.
Manager Alex Craik was happy with the performance but needs to get more of his experienced players back in action. He said: ‘The league starts in three weeks and some of our senior players haven’t kicked a ball yet.
‘We need to get them back to match fitness quickly otherwise we could struggle at the start of the season.’
Saints continue their pre-season schedule with training on Monday and Wednesday before the visit of South Lochaber Thistle next Saturday. Kick- off will be 2pm on the rugby pitch. Referee: John Scott.
Paul Carmichael, who put in a tireless performance for Saints all afternoon, opened the scoring with a well-taken goal.
Saints keeper Graham Douglas makes a fine save late on in the game.
Jamie Graham turns away from Ryan Kerr.