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Oban Saints and Letham served up a cracking Scottish Amateur Cup tie in front of a bumper crowd of 200-plus spectators in Perth.
A successfully converted penalty from Craig MacEwan five minutes from time to equalise Sean Ferrie’s 58th-minute opener earned Saints a hard-fought draw with the sides now set to go again this Saturday at Glencruitten.
Hosts Letham are very much at the heart of their community and the excellent turnout of spectators must have given them a major confidence boost in their bid for a first Scottish Amateur Cup quarter-final place. The crowd was also swelled by a hardy band of Saints fans who had travelled from Oban and Lochgilphead.
Letham were unbeaten in 26 matches coming into Saturday’s clash with Saints. The visitors run of seven straight victories since the turn of the year made the tie a fascinating prospect. Packed with incident and fizzing at a frenetic pace, the match was a fantastic advert for amateur football.
Saints gaffer Alex Craik had his plans thrown into disarray when Matthew Kelly pulled up with a thigh strain during the warm-up, forcing a shuffle in the back four. David McArthur moved to right back, with Jamie Graham being promoted from the bench to partner skipper Marc Maccallum in the centre. Scott Maitland took up his customary left back slot, giving the back four a solid look in front of goalkeeper Graham Douglas, who was making just his second appearance of the season. Elsewhere, there were no changes to the side that had defeated Arkleston Barrhead in the Jimmy Marshall Trophy on the previous Saturday. Paul Kerr and Willie Gemmell anchored the midfield behind Brian Mackay with Ross Maitland, Donald Campbell and Craig MacEwan completing the line-up. The coach named himself on a strong bench alongside Martin Bonar, Dean Smith and fit again Paul Carmichael.
Saints settled quickly and established control of the vital midfield area and threatened after seven minutes. Donald Campbell picked out Brian Mackay’s run through the inside left channel with a pass which Brian latched onto, outpacing Robbie Green’s covering run. Brian cut inside Gavin Smith and shot across Steven McEwan beating the keeper’s left hand but also the the far post.
Saints’ measured approach was countered by the host’s more direct style ensuring a busy afternoon for Marc Maccallum and Jamie Graham.
A 15th-minute barge into the back of Brian Mackay by Michael Rylance 28 yards out and wide on the right gave Saints a set piece to exploit. Unfortunately Ross Maitland, so often on the money from this position, sent his cross too close to Steven McEwan who made a comfortable catch.
Saints regular number one Thomas McCulloch was unavailable for this fixture but Graham Douglas proved to be an able deputy continuing the excellent form he showed against Arkleston Barrhead.
The strong start from Saints began to fade and the hosts were looking increasingly dangerous. In the 20th minute Dale Smart raced in behind Jamie Graham and sent a shot across Graham Douglas but well wide of his left hand post. Barely 60 seconds later, Dale Smart managed to get an effort on target but Douglas was excellently positioned to make another vital save.
Saints responded with a good ball from the halfway line from Jamie Graham which Donald Campbell controlled and laid off to Willie Gemmell who snatched his shot well off target.
Letham rattled the woodwork in the 32nd minute when an excellent volley from Gavin Anderson from 22 yards crashed back off the crossbar.
Quick thinking from Willie Gemmell in the 37th minute set up Craig MacEwan for a golden opportunity. Sean Ferrie felled Donald Campbell 10 yards inside the Letham half and, while the home side were still getting set for a high ball into the box, Willie slotted a pass through the inside left channel for Craig MacEwan. Craig made a good turn on the 18-yard line to open up space but from eight yards sent the ball just wide of Steven McEwan’s left hand post.
Saints followed this up two minutes later with another good move through the midfield involving Willie Gemmell, Brian Mackay and Donald Campbell. Donald eventually worked the ball to Ross Maitland on the right of the Letham box with the Saints wide man testing Steven McEwan at his near post.
The improvement from Saints continued towards the interval with Paul Kerr having another shot from the edge of the box which the Letham defence did well to charge down. With one first-half minute remaining, Ross Maitland forced a corner on the right chasing down a David McArthur pass. The out-swinger from Ross found Willie Gemmell at the back post whose left foot volley was blocked behind for another corner by Sean Ferrie. The big Letham skipper thwarted Saints again, diving to head clear Ross Maitland’s corner.
The referee blew for half-time with Letham, unusually at this level, retiring to the pavilion leaving Saints and Mr Taylor to get their breath back on the touchline.
Saints started the second half well with Donald Campbell volleying a Ross Maitland cross just over the bar. In an attempt to re-invigorate the Saints attack, manager Alex Craik withdrew Ross Maitland, replacing him with Paul Carmichael. However, before Paul could make any kind of impact Saints would find themselves behind. In the 56th minute, Dale Smart scooped a free kick from 19 yards over the crossbar after Jamie Graham had been penalised for holding. Just two minutes later, Smart put in a far more punishing ball with an in-swinging corner from the right which Benn Blyth glanced on at the near post. The ball bounced across the face of the Saints goal to William Carle who headed back in the opposite direction for Sean Ferrie to nod home from four yards.
Paul Carmichael’s height and strength were beginning to have the effect the gaffer was looking for and on the hour mark he helped a Willie Gemmell long throw tantalisingly across the face of goal but unfortunately with no takers in navy blue.
Dale Smart continued to ask questions of the Saints defence, shooting wide of the post and then straight into the grateful arms of Graham Douglas as Letham probed for a second goal to kill the tie.
Saints proved they are no slouches themselves from set plays when Donald Campbell won a free-kick 28 yards from goal and wide on the right. Willie Gemmell found the head of Craig MacEwan at the back post with the Saints top scorer crashing a header off the post which Letham scrambled behind for a corner. Willie Gemmell’s in-swinger from the left was gathered by Letham keeper Steven McEwan under pressure from Craig MacEwan and David McArthur, amid loud appeals from the Saints duo that he had carried the ball behind his goal-line. Mr Taylor, who was well placed, was not moved and waived play on.
Paul Carmichael’s persistence won a 75th-minute free-kick 28 yards out and slightly left of centre. Willie Gemmell fancied his chances and almost caught out Steven McEwan at his near post with the Letham keeper scrambling across his goal-line to turn the ball out for a corner.
With 12 minutes remaining Saints were incensed when Mr Taylor turned down what appeared to be a stonewall penalty appeal. Paul Carmichael cut inside from the right and was barged into by substitute Jordan Turnbull. Once again the Saints appeals fell on deaf ears with Mr Taylor having words with the gaffer and taking the name of skipper.
Saints kept up the pressure with Brian Mackay shooting wide and then winning another deadball opportunity for Willie Gemmell. Willie once again aimed for the bottom corner a ploy which bore exactly the same result as previously with the Letham keeper once again equal to the task.
With five minutes remaining Saints were rewarded for their perseverance with Mr Taylor again playing a prominent part. Paul Carmichael chased a ball up the right wing which Michael Rylance attempted to shepherd out for a goal kick. The ball barely had the momentum to reach the bye-line and Mr Taylor penalised Rylance for obstruction. Willie Gemmell’s free kick couldn’t clear the near post and was headed out for a throw-in. Willie took the throw looking for Donald Campbell. However, Jordan Turnbull nipped in ahead of Donald, controlling the ball with his hand which Mr Taylor, again well placed, spotted and awarded Saints a penalty kick. Top scorer Craig MacEwan kept his head and sent Steven McEwan the wrong way to level.
Alex Craik then made his final change, replacing Willie Gemmell with Dean Smith, who joined Craig MacEwan up front.
The pace remained relentless with both sides trying to force a last-gasp winner. Mr Taylor, who had an excellent game, allowed an additional four minutes which had nerves jangling on the side lines. Letham launched a series of long balls into the Saints box which were repelled finally setting up a 94th-minute breakaway led by Brian Mackay. Brian nipped in front of Gavin Anderson to intercept a long throw on the Saints 18-yard line and raced to the halfway line. Faced by Michael Rylance. Brian sprayed a diagonal pass to David McArthur who carried the ball to edge of the Letham penalty area, electing not to shoot but to play in Dean Smith. The Saints bench willed the net to bulge alas Letham keeper McEwan spread himself well to stop Dean’s shot.
The replay to decide who will face Barca-Milton 97 of the Lothian and Edinburgh Championship in the quarter-finals takes place at Glencruitten this Saturday.
Manager Craik said after the match: ‘This was a cracking game played at a blistering pace. We probably had the better of the clear-cut chances, but a draw was a fair result. Hopefully, we’ll get a big crowd for the replay and, if last weekend’s match is anything to go by, then they are in for a treat.’
Saturday’s match has a 1.30pm kick-off. Extra time and penalties will be played if required to see who goes on to play Barca Milton in the quarter finals.
The referee is Thomas Gilchrist from Motherwell.