Saints march into last 16 of Scottish Cup

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Oban Saints were made to dig deep at Tarbolton Public Park on Saturday to battle their way through to the last 16 of the Scottish Amateur Cup.

Hosts Tarbolton Amateurs of the Ayrshire Amateur Football Association Premier League used the difficult conditions to their advantage to keep the tie hanging in the balance until the dying seconds.

The match was played on something resembling a ploughed field and referee Steven Nicholls was in two minds as to whether the surface was fit for play. Indeed, had it not been for some vigorous forking from the groundsman and the rain which had fallen steadily for days abating in time for kick off, the match would surely have been postponed.

With the exception of injury victim Paul Carmichael, Saints Gaffer Alex Craik stuck with the same starting 11 which had fired six past Ferguslie Star at Glencruitten on the previous Saturday.

Dene Cassells returned to replace Carmichael alongside David McArthur in the centre of defence. Last week’s absentees Donald Campbell, Jamie Graham, Myles McAuley and Marc Maccallum joined Martin Bonar on an extremely strong bench.

With the strong wind and low sun at their backs, Saints took the match to their hosts from the first whistle. Ross Maitland failed to work Tarbolton keeper Allan McKelvie with a first minute shot from 18 yards which cleared the crossbar by some distance.

The tall shot stopper was tested in the third minute after a long throw from Willie Gemmell was flicked on by Craig MacEwan. Dean Smith reacted first to MacEwan’s header but saw his effort stopped by the feet of McKelvie.

A heavy challenge on MacEwan by Tarbolton full back Evan Armstrong gave Gemmell a chance to show his dead ball prowess from 25 yards.

After a slight delay for some shirt pulling on Cassells by Johnny Dunlop, which attracted the attention of referee Nicholls, Gemmell’s low shot left McKelvie rooted to the spot but unfortunately slipped wide of big keeper’s right hand post.

Saints had their hosts pinned back inside their own half and made the breakthrough after 12  minutes with  Gemmell claiming the assist.

MacEwan won another free-kick on the left which Gemmell swung into the packed penalty box. McArthur got in between Blair Kennedy and Brandon Hendren, and from eight yards out glanced Gemmell’s delivery into the bottom corner of the net past McKelvie’s right hand.

After 15 minutes of being pinned back inside their own half, a Matthew Kelly foul on Jason Scobie inside the centre circle gave the hosts their first chance to get forward. The long ball from Evan Armstrong was, however, too heavy for Stephen Brodie and drifted harmlessly through to Thomas McCulloch.

The route one football employed by the hosts against the wind was relatively comfortable for the Saints back four to deal with and it took until the 22nd minute for Tarbolton to create their first chance of note.

Again from a long ball Brodie turned well away from Cassells and carried the ball through the inside right channel and into the Saints box.

Cassells’s close attentions forced Brodie wide and his low shot was blocked at the near post by McArthur at the expense of a corner. MacEwan beat Iain Philips and Steven Richardson to head the corner clear, with Cassells leading the charge from the back before being stopped in his tracks by a crude challenge from Scobie.

From the free-kick Ross Maitland put Tarbolton’s McKelvie under pressure forcing the keeper to concede a throw-in on the Saints right. Gemmell found the head of MacEwan on the six yard line and his downward header was blocked by the feet of McKelvie on his goal line.

The rebound looked perfect for Smith, however before he could poke the ball into the net he was pulled back byDunlop. McKelvie pounced on the loose ball and the unsighted Mr Nicholls dismissed the penalty claim, adding insult to injury by taking Smith’s name for his protestations.

As the clock ticked down towards the half time interval, Saints became less of an attacking threat, too often looking for an extra touch on the boggy surface which favoured the hosts more direct style.

Smith did manage to test McKelvie in the 37th minute with the big keeper making a good save to his right to turn Cassell’s 20-yard effort behind for a corner.

Saints knew that the second half wind advantage would bring an aerial bombardment from the hosts, however they failed miserably to deal with the first test and conceded the equaliser 40 seconds after the restart.

From the Saints kick off MacEwan and Brian Mackay drove at the heart of the Tarbolton defence with the final ball from Mackay just beyond MacEwan leaving McKelvie an easy task to collect at the edge of his box. The kick from the hand of the keeper carried almost to the Saints 18-yard line where McArthur missed his header allowing Brodie to run in behind and lift the ball over Thomas McCulloch and into the net to make the score 1-1.

With their first half efforts undone in an instant, Saints knew they were in for an extremely difficult 45 minutes or so.

The inevitable lump up the park again caused panic in the Saints defence with McArthur heading out for a throw-in. This then brought another useful weapon into play for Tarbolton, with Phillips launching a Rory Delap-style low trajectory long throw into the danger area which Scott Maitland managed to turn behind for a corner. The corner kick from the right was met at the near post with a spectacular overhead kick from Brodie which flew narrowly wide of McCulloch’s left hand post.

At the other end a powerful run from Mackay forced a corner on the Saints right which sparked a stramash in the Tarbolton box. In a frantic spell Cassells, Gemmell, Mackay and Smith all had efforts blocked by the Tarbolton defence before McKelvie finally safely gathered a tame shot from the edge of the box from McArthur.

After only 10 second half minutes, manager Alex Craik rang the changes bringing on the experienced Marc Maccallum, Myles McAuley and Donald Campbell to replace Matthew Kelly, Smith and Ross Maitland.

There was panic in the Saints defence once again in the 64th minute with McCulloch having to claw away an in-swinging corner from the left at his near post.
Campbell sent Mackay up the left wing with 20 minutes to go where Mackay’s perseverance won another corner. Gemmell’s delivery was short to the near post looking for MacEwan who made a good run but sent his hooked shot wide of the post.

Gemmell then made way for Jamie Graham which signalled a change to a 3-5-2 formation with Graham slotting in at the back alongside Maccallum and Cassells.

The front pairing of MacEwan and Campbell linked up in the 81st minute creating the opening which would lead to Saints second goal. MacEwan showed good strength to hold off Dunlop and hook the ball over his head for Campbell to run on to.

Campbell made his way into the box where his run was held up by Armstrong. Campbell turned and ran across the box drawing an injudicious challenge from Armstrong which sent Campbell sprawling in the mud. Mr Nicholls had no hesitation in pointing to the penalty spot from where MacEwan gave Saints the lead tucking the ball neatly into the bottom corner of the net.

MacEwan had a shot just wide of target before referee Nicholls announced four minutes of stoppage time. The added minutes gave the hosts some renewed hope however that was quickly snatched away from them when they conceded the second penalty kick of the afternoon.

Campbell sent the every willing Mackay racing up the left wing and into the edge of the box where he was hauled down by the unfortunate Armstrong. MacEwan once again made no mistake from the penalty spot to finally calm the nerves on the sidelines and send Saints through to Friday’s seventh round draw.

Manager Alex Craik was a relieved man after the match. He said: ‘We were expecting a tough match and that is exactly what we got. However, the boys battled for every ball on a pitch that resembled a ploughed field.

‘The conditions meant that free flowing football was at a premium but we did enough to get through to the last 16 of the  national competition.’

Saints return to league duty on Saturday with a home game against Drumchapel Colts who beat the Oban side 2-1 earlier in the season. The match will take place at Glencruiten with a 2pm kick-off. Referee in charge is John Stobo.