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Oban Saints got their preparations for the 2017-18 season under way last Saturday in traditional style with the 24th playing of their annual tournament kindly sponsored by D&K Lafferty Contractors Ltd. Once again the tournament attracted top quality participants in the form of regulars Alloa Athletic, Dundee United and trophy holders Hamilton Academical who, together with hosts Oban Saints and tournament debutants South Lochaber Thistle, entertained the large crowd of spectators to a feast of football in pleasant weather conditions.
Due mainly to their early involvement in the new style SPFL League Cup Alloa Athletic, Dundee United and Hamilton Academical were represented by their under-20s development league teams, with Saints getting in on the act with the inclusion of youngsters Kenneth Black, Jay Cooper, Gavin Forgrieve and Ruaridh Horne, who would all go on to acquit themselves well in considerably more experienced company.
The-eleventh hour withdrawal of Berwick Rangers left event organiser David Buchanan with a major headache so Oban Saints extend their grateful thanks to Kinlochleven-based South Lochaber Thistle who stepped in at extremely short notice to fill the void.
Dundee United and Hamilton Academical got proceedings under way at Mossfield with Accies claiming a comfortable victory to get their trophy defence off to the best possible start. After a goalless first half, Accies made the breakthrough when United keeper Josh Donaldson parried a Conor Scullion free-kick over his crossbar for a corner kick. The in-swinger from the Accies left was headed home by player of the tournament Lewis Ferguson. Ferguson, son of Glasgow Rangers legend Derek, ghosted in at the back post and sent a downward header through the legs of the helpless Donaldson, giving the United keeper no chance from such close range. Lewis Smith completed the scoring with an excellent run through the inside right channel, holding off the close attentions of Scott Reekie to fire a low finish across Donaldson and into the bottom corner.
The first match at Glencruitten was contested by South Lochaber Thistle and Alloa Athletic and saw the Alloa youngsters edge out the tournament’s late stand-ins thanks to the only goal of the game, and Alloa’s only goal of the day, from Scott Sinclair.
Saints entered the fray at Mossfield against Alloa Athletic. The Oban side started in positive fashion with Donald Campbell testing Alloa keeper Christopher Smith with a left-foot shot from 22 yards. Smith pushed Campbell’s stinging shot over his crossbar with Paul Carmichael heading the resulting corner wide of target at the back post. The bright start for Saints was rewarded in the third minute after a good move on the left. Craig MacEwan sent Paul Carmichael through the inside left channel where he was forced to the bye-line by Ivan Bengono. The Saints striker got the better of the Alloa central defender to cut the ball back to Scott Maitland who flicked a left-footed finish across the face of goal and inside Christopher Smith’s left hand post.
Saints continued to dominate and reached half-time well in charge and a goal to the good.
With four minutes remaining, Craig MacEwan rattled the Alloa crossbar from a Kerr Newbigging cross after Donald Campbell and Fraser MacFarlane had linked up well on the right.
At Glencruitten, Hamilton Academical recorded the biggest winning margin of the day against a rusty South Lochaber Thistle side who hadn’t trained since winning the West of Scotland Amateur Football League Iain Thomson Memorial Trophy at the end of last season. Tournament joint top scorer Lewis Smith bagged a brace to help see off an already tiring Lochaber side with three further goals being added by two of Accies’ six triallists.
Saints remained on Mossfield for their second match which saw a comfortable victory over the tiring South Lochaber Thistle. Manager Alex Craik made six changes, which included debuts for youngsters Kenneth Black, Gavin Forgrieve and Ruaridh Horne. Saints opened the scoring after five minutes when Donald Campbell collected a pin-point Willie Gemmell pass on the edge of the Thistle box. Donald turned away from his marker and fired a low shot on target which keeper Bradley Cameron got a hand to but couldn’t prevent from finding the bottom corner.
An in-swinging Fraser MacFarlane corner from the Saints left dipped agonisingly over the outstretched foot of Jay Cooper at the back post before the early Saints pressure bore fruit once more. Last season’s top scorer and player of the year Craig MacEwan turned in the box and lashed a right-foot shot into the postage stamp corner giving Bradley Cameron no chance.
Saints made it three just before the interval when Donald Campbell hooked a left-foot finish into the roof of the net after good build up play on the right from Jay Cooper and Craig MacEwan.
Manager Alex Craik shuffled the pack once again at half-time replacing Paul Carmichael, Willie Gemmell and Craig MacEwan with Matthew Kelly, Fraser MacFarlane and Scott Maitland. The pace dropped slightly in the second half with Saints maintaining the upper hand but failing to add to the scoring.
Dundee United put the disappointment of losing their opening match behind them edging out Alloa Athletic at Glencruitten with Logan Chalmers netting the only goal of the match, sending him on his way to becoming the tournament’s joint top scorer.
South Lochaber Thistle, who have joined the Greater Glasgow Premier Amateur Football League for the coming season following the demise of the West of Scotland Amateur Football League, completed their gruelling four consecutive match schedule at Mossfield against a Dundee United side who were now hitting their stride. The Terrors completely dominated the match, taking the lead through a Louis Appere header from a first-half set piece. Thistle had nothing left in the tank by this stage and the Tannadice Park men ran out comfortable winners with further goals added by Declan Glass and Scott Reekie.
With both sides on maximum points, the Saints versus Hamilton Accies encounter at Glencruitten was already looking like the tournament decider. Unfortunately for Saints, who have yet to get their pre-season training properly under way, the superior fitness of Hamilton’s young professionals was to prove too hot to handle.
A deflected 15th-minute shot from yet another of the Accies triallists completely deceived Graham Douglas in the Saints goal with the Saints keeper only able to parry the ball into his own net.
Two minutes later a swift attack on the left turned the Saints defence with Accies skipper Marc Kelly poking home a low Rico Quitongo cross at the near post to double the advantage for his side.
Still reeling from this quick-fire double, Saints conceded again on the stroke of half-time. Kerr Newbigging was penalised by referee Pat O’Donnell for a shirt pull in the box with Marc Kelly stepping up to send Graham Douglas the wrong way from the penalty spot.
Saints steadied the ship and coped with everything that Accies could throw at them until eight minutes from full time when Lewis Smith found space on the left of the Saints box to turn and drill a low shot into the bottom corner past the right hand of Graham Douglas. The 4-0 victory placed Accies firmly in pole position needing only to avoid a heavy defeat in their final fixture to retain the trophy.
Saints final match against Dundee United was to prove the second place decider. Saints started strongly and were denied by United keeper Fraser Currid who made three excellent saves in the opening minutes of the match to deny Saints.
Somewhat against the run of play United opened the scoring after 12 minutes when Logan Chalmers sent a looping header back across goal which eluded the despairing dive of Graham Douglas and nestled in the bottom corner.
United doubled their advantage in the 15th minute when Dylan Henry turned the ball in at the back post after a good move on the right had opened up the Saints defence.
Jay Cooper and Scott Maitland made way for Paul Carmichael and David McPhee for the second half which got off to the worst possible start when a Keith Millar clearance took a wicked deflection and ended up in the Saints net.
Kenneth Black, Donald Campbell and Paul Carmichael combined well on the Saints left, setting up a shooting chance for Fraser MacFarlane who was foiled by a smart save from Fraser Currid.
Paul Carmichael burst through the middle onto a Donald Campbell pass in the 29th minute and, with the United defence appealing in vain for an offside decision, knocked the ball past Fraser Currid only for the United keeper to haul him down. Referee John Stobo pointed to the penalty spot from where Donald Campbell sent Currid the wrong way to give Saints restored hope.
The Saints fightback was extinguished five minutes later when Logan Chalmers curled a delightful left-foot finish into the top corner, leaving Graham Douglas rooted to the spot.
The agony was completed for the tiring Saints when a 36th-minute Logan Chalmers cross from the right was slammed into the net from close range by Graham Taylor.
In the final match at Mossfield, cup holders Hamilton Academical, who needed only to avoid a heavy defeat at the hands of Alloa Athletic to clinch a fourth tournament success, cruised over the line with two more triallists netting in a 2-0 victory.
Tournament organiser David Buchanan thanked the visiting teams for their continued support for the tournament and congratulated winners Hamilton Academical and player of the tournament Lewis Ferguson on their success. David also thanked the sponsors, the spectators, many of whom had travelled considerable distances to be there, the Argyll and Bute Council grounds staff who had prepared the two pitches perfectly, and, finally, the match officials Jimmy Litster, Pat O’Donnell, Jim Pearson and John Stobo without whom the event couldn’t take place. David then called upon Councillor Jim Lynch to present the winning team with their individual trophies and the winning captain Marc Kelly with the D&K Lafferty Cup.