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Campbeltown Pupils 0
Oban Saints 4
SAFL Premier Division
Last Saturday’s Argyll derby defied the winter weather, and was the only Scottish Amateur Football League Premier Division fixture to do so. With the grass at Kintyre Park out of action, the match went ahead on the excellent all-weather surface at Kinloch Green, which itself had survived a liberal coating of snow on the eve of the match.
Saints took full advantage of their fellow title-chasers’ inactivity climbing to second place in the table, one point behind leaders and reigning champions East Kilbride Amateurs on the back of a hard-fought but ultimately convincing win over their Argyll rivals.
Despite a bright start from Saints with Dene Cassells twice sending Paul Carmichael racing in behind the Pupils defence with measured passes from the back, Saints were unable make an early breakthrough with the Pupils weathering the early storm.
The home side were working hard to close down their opponents all over the park, disrupting Saints’ usual measured build-up and forcing them to go long more often than they would have liked.
Frustration got the better of Paul Carmichael in the 13th minute when a lunging challenge on speedy young left winger Ryan Deans earned him a ticking off from referee Litster who resisted the temptation to produce a card. From the free kick on the left just inside the Saints half, Pupils skipper Keith Mitchell could only find the head of his opposite number, Paul Kerr, who easily cleared the danger.
In a more adventurous spell from the hosts, Liam Renton drew a good save from Thomas McCulloch low down to his left and Paul Kerr made a vital interception to cut out a Ryan Deans cross after the winger had shown Matthew Kelly a clean pair of heels. A turn and shot from the edge of the box by Gary Grumoli in the 18th minute slipped
past Thomas McCulloch’s left hand post before Saints earned some respite with a corner kick won by Brian Mackay on the Saints left.
At the other end, an excellent delivery right into the heart of the six-yard box was bundled goalward by Brian Mackay but without the power to beat Robert Coffield in the Pupils’ goal, who gathered the bouncing ball ahead of Mackay and Dene Cassells.
In the 22nd minute, Myles McAuley and Brian Mackay combined to set up a shooting opportunity for Ross Maitland but he couldn’t keep his 22-yard effort down and cleared the crossbar by two feet.
A 25th-minute run along the edge of the box by Ryan Deans was ended unfairly by Scott Maitland, giving Gary Grumoli a chance to test Thomas McCulloch from the dead ball. The big Saints keeper read Grumoli’s intentions well and made a comfortable save before launching a counter-attack with Liam Renton doing well to edge out Paul Carmichael and usher the ball behind for a goal kick.
Saints’ lack of fluency continued to frustrate and another unnecessary challenge from Paul Carmichael, this time on Keith Mitchell, earned the Saints’ striker the game’s first yellow card.
The visitors took the aerial route in the 33-minute with David McArthur sending a long straight ball into the Pupils’ box. Ellis Robertson won the header but couldn’t get any distance on his clearance, with Ross Maitland picking up the loose ball and seeing a goal-bound shot blocked by a forest of legs on the six-yard line.
Somewhat against the run of play Saints took the lead in the 36th minute. A perfectly weighted through ball from Brian Mackay sent Paul Carmichael through on goal. Paul rounded keeper Coffield and, from an acute angle, sent the ball high into the net past the despairing dives of Coffield and Lee Allan on the goal line.
As you might expect from a local derby, some of the tackles were a little feisty and Jamie Burns was lucky to escape a card after cynically taking out Matthew Kelly.
Saints doubled their advantage just before the half-time whistle with easily the best move of the match. Brian Mackay and Craig MacEwan passed their way through the Pupils’ midfield on the right. With space in front of him, MacEwan raced forward and worked a terrific one-two with Paul Carmichael. Carmichael’s deft back heel on the corner of the 18-yard box was perfectly into MacEwan’s path and he curled a delightful finish beyond Coffield’s right hand and into the net.
The two-goal half-time deficit was harsh on the Pupils, who had worked hard but full credit to Saints, whose superior quality eventually created the openings which they ruthlessly capitalised on.
The home side kicked off the second half but it was the visitors who settled quickest and took control of the vital midfield area.
Saints were first to threaten with Ross Maitland winning a corner off Grant Grant and sending in another excellent delivery from the left which Dene Cassells climbed well to meet but couldn’t direct on target, thumping his header 12 inches over the crossbar.
The Oban side remained in control but had to be mindful of the threat posed by Pupils on the counter-attack.
A slip on the left by Scott Maitland allowed Pupils to launch a diagonal ball looking for Ryan Deans with David McArthur making a vital headed interception at the expense of a corner kick.
Ross Maitland kept up the quality of his deliveries with another great corner in the 59th minute just begging to be headed home. Paul Carmichael was the miscreant on this occasion, glancing his header wide of Coffield’s right-hand post.
Pupils were very much still in the match at this stage and the feeling on the Saints bench was that a third goal was required to make the game safe. To this end manager Alex Craik decided to freshen things up by bringing on Donald Campbell and Marc Maccallum to replace Paul Carmichael and Matthew Kelly.
The Pupils’ robust style cost them cautions for Jamie Burns and Lee Allan, with the card for Burns ultimately to prove extremely costly.
With 13 minutes remaining, Saints made a triple substitution bringing on Jamie Graham, Willie Gemmell and Martin Bonar to replace Scott Maitland, Myles McAuley and Ross Maitland respectively.
Willie Gemmell made an instant impact, badly mistiming a challenge on Jamie Burns before he had a chance to get up to the pace of the match. Mr Litster considered the challenge worthy of a yellow card but, unfortunately for Pupils, he also showed a second yellow to Burns for his violent reaction to the challenge from Gemmell. The red card finally extinguished any faint hopes Pupils had of getting back into the match with Saints threatening to run riot in the closing stages.
Marc Maccallum made his obligatory once-a-match lung-
bursting run from the back in the 81st minute, bringing a fine save from Robert Coffield, who shovelled the ball round his left post for a corner kick.
With Ross Maitland off the field Willie Gemmell took responsibility for the dead ball and didn’t disappoint with a tempting delivery into the six-yard box which Craig MacEwan and Marc Maccallum both went for. Both beat Liam Renton to the ball, which nestled in the bottom corner past Coffield’s right hand. Skipper Maccallum, whose goals are rare, immediately claimed the score with MacEwan countering that he had got the vital touch.
A poll on the Saints official Twitter account later awarded the goal to the skipper, ultimately denying Craig the match ball.
Saints kept up the pressure on the beleaguered Pupils’ defence with Martin Bonar keeping alive a deep Craig MacEwan cross from the left and flashing a left-foot drive narrowly wide of the junction of post and bar.
In the 87th minute, Paul Kerr chased down a seemingly lost cause on the right, keeping the ball in play and cutting back to Brian Mackay just inside the box. A tired-looking tackle from behind by Ellis Robertson sent Mackay sprawling and had Mr Litster pointing to the spot.
Regular penalty taker Donald Campbell deferred to Craig MacEwan, who slammed the ball high to Coffield’s left to put the visitors 4-0 up.
There was no let-up from Saints in the closing minutes and only some good saves from Coffield and Saints own wayward finishing kept the scoreline down before Mr Litster blew for full time.
A special mention for the referee who handled a full-blooded encounter well, getting all the big decisions correct and remaining firmly in control, even when tempers briefly threatened to boil over.
Manager Craik was delighted with the result and peformance of his team. He said: ‘We knew it was going to be a difficult match with Pupils looking for revenge after we beat them earlier in the season. Once we settled down and started knocking the ball about, we played some good stuff and fully deserved the three points.’
Saturday sees Saints defend the Jimmy Marshall Cup won last season when they travel to take on Port Glasgow OBU at Parklea, kick-off 2pm.