Saints lose out in dramatic end to cup final

Craig MacEwan, No 8, stabs the ball home from close range to make the score 1-1. Match report and photos: Derek Black

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LAST Friday night at Fullarton Park, Tollcross, Oban Saints had the Scottish Amateur Football League Jimmy Marshall Trophy snatched from their grasp thanks to a 93rd-minute equaliser and a penalty shoot-out defeat to Premier Division One Easthall Star. Saints will lament a succession of missed opportunities to make safe a game which they dominated for the most part, however, the dogged determination of Star to take something from a season which saw them relegated for the first time in their 26-year history was not to be denied.
After struggling for numbers over the past few weeks, Saints manager Alex Craik’s biggest problem was who to leave out as a full squad reported for Saints’ fourth Jimmy Marshall Trophy final appearance in five seasons.
After the traditional introduction of players and match officials to Scottish Amateur Football League President Matt Armstrong, Saints kicked off playing into the low sun and were given an immediate warning that they were in for a game. Star worked a throw-in from just inside their own half on the left quickly up to pacy left winger Colin Gilmour, who cut inside Matthew Kelly and flashed a low left foot shot across Thomas McCulloch and inches wide of the Saints keepers’ left hand post.
From the goal-kick Saints moved the ball quickly up to Paul Carmicheal wide on the left, who lifted an exquisite right foot shot into the postage stamp corner past a helpless Donald Grant. Assistant referee Steven Wylie was quick to raise his flag and referee Jimmy Litster disallowed the goal.
Saints continued their pursuit of a quick reply to the Easthall Star opener with Craig MacEwan and Paul Carmichael both having shots blocked by the Star defence. Paul’s fifth minute blocked effort won a corner kick on the right from which Fraser MacFarlane picked out the head of Dene Cassells nine yards out. Dene’s classic downward header bounced just inside the six-yard box beating Donald Grant’s right hand but crashing back off the crossbar to be thumped clear by Alec Gilmour.
Easthall Star took the lead in the eighth minute from a quick break on the right wing. Daniel Cameron outmuscled Myles McAuley in midfield and fired a low ball across the face of goal where Colin Gilmour nipped in ahead of Matthew Kelly to slam into the net.
The lead lasted just eight minutes before Saints deservedly restored parity through top scorer Craig MacEwan. Craig cut into the box from the left but was halted by a well-timed challenge from Star central defender Martyn Hutchinson, who would go on to pick up the Man of the Match award for an accomplished defensive performance.
Fraser MacFarlane swung in the resulting corner kick from the left which was headed down by Paul Carmichael inside the six-yard box with Craig MacEwan reacting quickest to poke the loose ball into the net from four yards.
An injury for Martyn Hutchinson in the 19th minute caused a lengthy stoppage giving both sets of players an opportunity to take on water in what was an extremely warm Glasgow evening.
Star central midfielder Andrew Malcolm’s long throw-ins provided his team with a useful weapon, however, the Saints defence remained untroubled coping well with the aerial danger. On the half hour mark referee Litster denied Saints a penalty kick when Star keeper Donald Grant appeared to have a hold of Craig MacEwan’s right leg when the Saints striker had the goal at his mercy. MacEwan was sent sprawling eight yards from goal but Mr Litster was unmoved and waved play on.
Saints kept up the pressure with a quickly-taken Matthew Kelly throw-in on the right to Willie Gemmell. Willie’s delivery into the box was glanced on by Myles McAuley seven yards out but unfortunately wide of the keeper’s right hand post.
The visitors had another penalty kick appeal dismissed by Mr Litster in the 36th minute. Dene Cassells made a strong run out from the back but was dispossessed midway inside the Star half. With Cassells out of position Easthall looked to counter but Willie Gemmell dropped deep to cover and launched another Saints attack. Willie’s long ball from the back picked out Donald Campbell wide on the right who sent a cross into the box looking for Myles McAuley.
Before he could get his head to the ball Myles took a boot to the face which somehow neither the referee or his assistant Mr Wylie considered to be dangerous play.
Saints kept pressing and rattled the crossbar for the second time in the 38th minute. Donald Campbell’s right foot shot from 18 yards left Donald Grant rooted to the spot but came crashing back off the bar.
Saints failed to produce the flash of inspiration necessary to break down the resolute Star defence during the five additional minutes allowed by Mr Litster and survived a rare Star foray forward when Matthew Kelly slid in to take the ball away from Colin Gilmour as he raced into the Saints box on the left.
Saints gaffer Alex Craik resisted the temptation to make any half-time changes contenting himself with an appeal for an increased sense of urgency from his starting 11.
The long ball was giving the Saints rearguard serious problems and on one occasion Daniel Cameron came in from the right wing to round Thomas McCulloch on the edge of his box and aim a shot on target which Dene Cassells somehow managed to get back to block the line.
Saints manager Alex Craik finally decided changes were necessary to regain the initiative and withdrew Fraser MacFarlane and Myles McAuley in favour of Ross Maitland and Brian Mackay just before the hour mark.
An incisive pass through the inside left channel from Willie Gemmell sent Scott Maitland in behind the Star defence but his tempting low cross along the six-yard line found no takers in navy blue.
Pushing forward in search of an opening, Saints continued to live dangerously at the back with Marc Maccallum having to make an important block to deny Craig Smith a clear run on goal.
An unfortunate 70th minute slip by Scott Maitland allowed second half Star substitute Ross Campbell to run in behind and fire in a fierce shot which Thomas McCulloch did well to parry at his near post. The big Saints stopper made it a double save by denying another of Star’s second half substitutes, veteran striker John McDonald.
A flurry of chances came and went for Saints including Donald Campbell dinking a lob over Donald Grant which drifted just over the crossbar, and Craig MacEwan glancing a near-post header from a Ross Maitland corner kick also over the bar.
Saints finally got their noses in front in the 76th minute when Brian Mackay, Paul Carmichael and Craig MacEwan carved open the Star defence for Donald Campbell to slot a low finish past Donald Grant and into the bottom corner of the net.
Ross Maitland had an immediate opportunity to put some daylight between the teams but shot straight at Donald Grant when sent clear on the right by Donald Campbell.
With five minutes remaining Alex Craik made his final change sending on David McArthur to replace Matthew Kelly at right back.
On the opposite flank Scott Maitland continued to support the attack and fired an 86th-minute left foot shot from a tight angle just over the crossbar.
Saints looked the more likely to add to the scoring and had a great chance to kill the game off in the 90th minute when Donald Campbell led a break-away from a Dene Cassells clearing header. Donald had Paul Carmichael and Ross Maitland in support, who worked a one-two, with Ross electing to try and lob the keeper when perhaps a return ball to Paul might have been the better option.
In the 93rd minute Saints conceded a free kick just inside their own half and 10 yards in from the right hand touchline.
Keeper Donald Grant ran forward to add his height in the Saints box for Martyn Hutchinson’s delivery but it was late replacement Glen Gilmour who got his head to the ball ahead of Marc Maccallum and sent a looping header out of Thomas McCulloch’s reach and into the net for a dramatic last gasp equaliser.
The Star players naturally celebrated wildly but had goalkeeper Donald Grant to thank for keeping his composure and remaining close to his line for the re-start to safely clutch Willie Gemmell’s perfectly executed lob from the halfway line just underneath his crossbar.
Mr Litster brought the match to a close signalling the need for a penalty shoot-out to decide the winners.
Having won three penalty shoot-outs since their last defeat against Hillington in the 2013 Jimmy Marshall Trophy final Saints had every reason to feel confident, however luck was to desert them this time around.
Veteran Ross Maitland accepted the unenviable task of taking the first penalty but will most certainly not want to include this particular episode in his memoirs when he finally hangs up his boots at the end of this season. After successfully dumping Star goalkeeper Donald Grant on his backside Ross sent his effort two feet wide of the post to get Saints off to the worst possible start.
Man of the match Martyn Hutchinson had some of the shine taken off his own excellent performance when Thomas McCulloch dived to his right to save the first Star penalty and quickly even the score.
Second half Saints substitute David McArthur left Donald Grant rooted to the spot to notch the first successful kick but Colin Gilmour immediately restored parity sending Thomas McCulloch the wrong way in the process.
Donald Grant guessed correctly for Willie Gemmell’s effort but was beaten by pace as the ball crashed into the top corner past his left hand. Ross Campbell went to the opposite side where Thomas McCulloch made his second save to hand the initiative to Saints.
This season’s top scorer Craig MacEwan also went to the keeper’s right where Donald Grant produced the first of his vital saves. Late substitute Craig Stewart arrowed his effort low and just inside Thomas McCulloch’s right hand post with too much pace and accuracy for the keeper who guessed correctly.
All square at two successful kicks each the shoot-out now effectively entered sudden death where Star drew first blood when Donald Grant threw himself to his right to stop Donald Campbell’s effort. The pressure was now all on Star left-back Dean Scott who retained his composure to tuck the ball low into the bottom corner past Thomas McCulloch’s despairing left hand and seal a famous victory for Easthall Star.
Despite falling well short of the standards set in their march to a second successive Scottish Amateur Cup semi-final just six weeks ago, Saints will be deeply disappointed not to win a match which they dominated almost entirely.
Full credit must go to a determined Easthall Star side who dug deep to force a last gasp equaliser and held their nerves to prevail in the penalty shoot-out.
Scottish Amateur Football League President Matt Armstrong presented firstly Martyn Hutchinson with his Man of the Match award, both sets of players with their respective winners and runners-up medals and finally Easthall Star Captain Alec Gilmour with the Jimmy Marshall Trophy.
Oban Saints would like to express their sincere thanks to all those who sent messages of support and especially to the hardy band of supporters who made the 200-plus mile round trip to Glasgow’s east end to lend their support in person.