Depleted Oban Saints battle to stay in Scottish Cup

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A DEPLETED Oban Saints, with two 17-year-olds and a considerably older member of the coaching staff on the subs bench, forced a highly creditable Scottish Amateur Cup fourth round draw at Battery Park, Greenock, last Saturday. The well below full strength Saints side twice battled back from a goal behind against Central Scottish Amateur Football League Premier Division Greenock High School Former Pupils to force a replay at Glencruitten this Saturday.
A crippling combination of injuries, work and family commitments forced Saints manager Alex Craik to keep up his unwanted record of naming a different starting 11 for every match so far this season.
Saints got proceedings underway at a dry but overcast Battery Park, Greenock, playing into the cold wind blowing in off the Firth of Clyde. The makeshift Saints, trialling a new 3-4-2-1 formation, made a solid start against opponents Greenock who were also missing a few regulars.
Shaun MacIver forced the first corner kick of the match in the eighth minute after a powerful run from inside his own half from Myles McAuley. MacIver’s delivery from the left was headed clear by Greenock stalwart Chris McAllister under pressure from Craig Campbell.
The ‘High’ responded immediately with their first corner kick after Matthew Kelly was penalised for a foul on Lewis Graham on the half-way line. Another Greenock stalwart, Barry Munro, sent the free-kick into the Saints box and it was headed behind by Craig Campbell. Dead ball expert Munro’s corner kick from the right was watched closely by Graham Douglas as it drifted inches over his crossbar.
Munro tried his luck from the opposite flank in the 11th minute after Alex Craik had headed a speculative Michael O’Donoghue long ball behind. David Smith’s headed clearance from the six-yard line only got as far as Kevin Brown on the edge of box who was quickly closed down by Matthew Kelly and Myles McAuley. McAuley set off on another driving run which was only halted by a vital sliding interception from Lewis Graham midway inside the Greenock half.
Home keeper Neil Flack showed good reactions in the 20th minute, getting down smartly to his left to stop a Shaun MacIver left foot strike from the corner of the 18-yard box.
As the half wore on, the home side gained the upper hand in terms of possession with Saints content to sit in and look to hit on the counter-attack. Despite enjoying the lion’s share of possession, the ‘High’ were unable to unlock the solid looking Saints back three who were well screened by a hard-working midfield.
The home side came close to breaking the deadlock in first half stoppage time from a corner on the left after Steven Mac Leod had headed a speculative Kevin Brown long ball behind.
Barry Munro’s in-swinger to the back post was headed back towards the edge of the box by Chris McAllister and Brown produced a far more threatening delivery which found the head of Harry Donaldson on the six-yard line. Fortunately for Saints, Donaldson, who had stolen in ahead of Myles McAuley, could only guide his header into the grateful hands of Graham Douglas keeping the scores level at the break.
In the 48th minute, Willie Gemmell worked the ball forward to Myles McAuley who looked to have played Shaun MacIver in with a defence splitting pass. MacIver’s efforts in rounding Neil Flack and tucking a neat finish into the bottom corner were, however, in vain as Mr Caldwell gave the benefit of an extremely close offside call to the home side, much to Saints’ frustration.
To compound the agony, the scoreline didn’t remain blank for much longer with the ‘High’ getting their noses in front after 52 minutes.
Ryan McCorkindale’s run into the box was forced left by Alex Craik, with the Greenock striker digging out a cross from the bye-line which looped over Graham Douglas to be poked home at the back post by Ryan Corr who held off the attentions of Scott Maitland to open the scoring.
Saints struck back almost immediately with Scott Maitland and Shaun MacIver combining to force a corner on the left straight from the re-start.
So often chipping in with vital strikes already this season, Willie Gemmell added to his growing list of telling contributions, curling an equaliser direct from the corner flag just inside the far post.
The thrills and spills kept coming and just three minutes after the equaliser Harry Donaldson was felled in the Saints box by Craig Campbell with Mr Caldwell pointing to the penalty spot. A lengthy stoppage ensued as Donaldson, who was unfortunately unable to continue, received treatment. He was replaced by Craig Boyd.
The visitors were relieved to see Kevin Brown strike the crossbar with his spot kick with Alex Craik heading the rebound to the edge of the box where Myles McAuley won a free-kick for a push in the back by Thomas MacFarlane.
At the midway point of the second half, 17-year-old Daniel McCuish made his debut as a replacement for David Smith who had put in a good shift in the middle of the park alongside skipper Willie Gemmell.
The home side regained the lead in controversial circumstances after 72 minutes. After a tussle with Daniel McCuish on the Greenock right, Chris McAllister sent a long ball into the box which Craig Boyd appeared to handle under pressure from David McPhee. Referee Caldwell saw nothing wrong and ignored the loud Saints appeals allowing Ryan Corr on the edge of the box to lob the loose ball back towards goal. A backpedaling Steven MacLeod got his head to the ball, but only succeeding in sending it back to Boyd who, from six yards, beat the combined efforts of Graham Douglas and Alex Craik to find the bottom corner.
In a bid to get back into the match Saints were committing more players forward and were relieved to see Graham Douglas make a good save after a smart 79th minute turn and shot from Craig Boyd.
The extra endeavour from Saints paid dividends with just ten minutes remaining. Daniel MacCuish slipped a perfect ball through the inside left channel for the overlapping run of Scott Maitland who beat the advancing Neil Flack with a low left foot finish drilled into the bottom corner.
The deserved equaliser gave Saints the lifeline they needed and they almost snatched a winner in the 83rd minute with MacCuish again the architect. The Saints youngster sent Shaun MacIver racing through but, unfortunately, MacIver was unable to get the ball out from his feet allowing David McLean to make a vital interception on the 18-yard line.
Sixty seconds later, the ‘High’ had their chance to seal victory with the gaffer proving the Saints’ saviour getting a crucial touch to deny Kevin Brown inside the Saints box.
Saints had to endure the five minutes of stoppage time added on by Mr Caldwell with ten men thanks to a needless red card picked up by Shaun MacIver.
The young striker, who lead the line extremely well on his first outing since recovering from an operation, needlessly lashed out at Greenock second half substitute Lee Curran in retaliation for a trip ten yards inside the Saints half.
The remaining minutes of what was a very entertaining Scottish Amateur Cup tie were played out with little incident leaving Saints the more satisfied of the two to have secured another cup reply for the Glencruitten faithful to enjoy.
Saturday’s game will take place at Glencruitten with a 1.30pm kick-off.
The game has to be finished on the day so extra time and penalties, if required, will determine who goes through to the fifth round. Referee in charge is Peter Laing from Lochgilphead.

Results and fixtures

LAST Saturday’s results: Scottish Cup fourth round – Greenock HSFP 2, Oban Saints 2; Premier Division One – Rosehill Star v Campbeltown Pupils postponed; Premier Division Two – Cardross 1 Lochgilphead Red Star 9; Tarbert 2, East End United 11.
This Saturday’s fixtures: Scottish Cup fourth round replay – Oban Saints v Greenock HSFP; Premier Division One – Campbeltown Pupils no game; Premier Division Two – Port Glasgow OBU v Lochgilphead Red Star; Tarbert v Duncanrig.

Youths’ results and fixtures

LAST weekend’s results: Dunoon v Under 13s postponed; Dumbarton Riverside v Under 14s postponed; Under 15s no game; Under 16s 6, Milton 3. Scoring for Saints were Lennon Campbell (3), Aidan MacPhee (2) and Jordan Norman; Dunoon 2, Under 17s 8. On target for Saints were Cameron Kerr (4), Sol Smith (3) and Keir MacLean
This weekend’s fixtures: Under 13s v Greenock United; Under 14s v Ardencaple; Baljaffray v Under 16s; Ardencaple v Under 17s.