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IT WAS a case of third time lucky for Oban Saints last Saturday as their Glencruitten pitch was declared playable, if still slightly frosty, to allow their twice previously postponed Scottish Amateur Cup fourth round replay against Greenock High School Former Pupils to finally go ahead. The tie must still have been in doubt up until the eve of the match when the seemingly endless rain finally decided to relent for a spell. Full marks to Argyll and Bute Council groundsman Ian Hay for preparing such a good playing surface under trying conditions.
Oban Saints manager Alex Craik made five changes to the starting eleven which came from behind twice to force a 2-2 draw at Battery Park, Greenock, five weeks previously.
The visitors also welcomed back some regulars who had missed the previous match, making four changes to their starting eleven and naming a strong four-man bench.
Referee Thomas Lacy got proceedings under way on a crisp afternoon with the visitors kicking off attacking the Mossfield end where the low sun threatened to pose problems for Saints keeper Graham Douglas.
Saints were first to threaten in the third minute after Willie Gemmell had cut out a Kenny Munro cross from the left intended for strike partner and scorer of the High’s second goal in the previous match Craig Boyd. From the clearance from Graham Douglas Myles McAuley nodded down to Keith Millar who sent Scott Maitland scurrying up the left wing. Maitland fed skipper Donald Campbell 22 yards out, who opened up his body for a curling shot across Neil Flack which beat the High keeper’s left hand but bounced inches wide of target.
In the eighth minute referee Lacy rather harshly adjudged Paul Carmichael to have fouled Craig Boyd in winning a header 35 yards from goal. Saints knew what to expect from the resulting free-kick but fortunately Greenock dead ball expert Barry Munro sent an excellent effort just wide of the junction of post and bar.
The 10th minute signalled the beginning of a spell of Saints pressure starting when Matthew Kelly and Donald Campbell combined well on the right for the skipper to send a cut-back to Ally McKerracher, whose first-time shot was saved by the legs of Neil Flack at the expense of a corner kick. McKerracher’s delivery from the right was headed behind at the back post by Stuart Higgins. The second delivery was cut out at the front post by Lewis Graham with the third effort again failing to clear the front post but falling kindly for Scott Maitland, who struck the crossbar with a left-foot effort from the corner of the six-yard box with Neil Flack rooted to the spot.
The High couldn’t clear their lines and Saints kept the pressure on with Craig MacEwan winning a free-kick 25 yards from goal on the left. Willie Gemmell’s flighted delivery picked out Craig’s clever back-post run with last season’s top scorer cushioning a half volley a foot wide of Neil Flack’s left upright.
The visitors forced their first corner kick in the 16th minute with Thomas MacFarlane getting up well at the back post to head Barry Munro’s delivery from the right just over the Saints crossbar.
The D & K Lafferty-sponsored Oban side responded with another flurry of chances which saw Neil Flack get down well to save from Craig MacEwan before Myles McAuley and Scott Maitland linked up well on the left setting up Ally McKerracher for a shooting opportunity which he sent wide of Flack’s left-hand post.
Craig MacEwan then cut in from the left and teed up Donald Campbell who smacked the outside of Flack’s left-hand upright with the keeper beaten.
Barry Munro’s 29th minute corner kick from the left after Steven MacLeod had headed behind a Craig Boyd cross was only partially cleared, allowing Lewis Graham to nip in ahead of Ally McKerracher and send a decent effort over the top of the Saints cross bar.
The High goal continued to lead a charmed life as Scott Maitland raced up the left wing on the half-hour mark and picked out Donald Campbell in the box who threaded a left-foot shot through the legs of Lewis Graham but unfortunately yet again wide of Neil Flack’s left-hand post.
The visitors enjoyed their best spell of the first half after 37 minutes when Willie Gemmell produced a solid block to deny Kenny Munro after the High danger man had beaten Paul Carmichael on the bye-line to turn and fire in a left-foot shot from eight yards.
Munro was put through again two minutes later by namesake Barry with Graham Douglas bravely smothering the ball at the feet of the High striker.
Saints dead ball expert Willie Gemmell had two opportunities before the half-time interval, with the first being deflected off the Greenock wall and over the crossbar before the second from 22 yards beat the four-man wall but bounced wide of Neil Flack’s right-hand post.
With nothing to show for their first half supremacy Saints knew they had to maintain the high tempo in the second half and were immediately back on the attack after the restart. Greenock goalkeeper Neil Flack, a Scotland cricket international, twice denied Donald Campbell inside the opening two minutes, firstly blocking with his legs at the near post and secondly diving full length to his left to fingertip a net-bound effort around his left-hand post.
Saints eventually made the breakthrough in the 51st minute when an audacious piece of skill from Craig MacEwan left Stuart Higgins for dead just short of the bye-line on the left of the Greenock Box. The trick gave MacEwan time and space to measure a dinked cross over the heads of David McLean and Lewis Graham for Ally McKerracher, who beat Robbie Davis to loop a header from eight yards into the postage stamp corner beyond the despairing dive of Neil Flack.
McKerracher threatened to double his tally two minutes later, bursting through the inside-left channel before being denied to a vital interception by David McLean.
Two-time Scottish Amateur Cup winners Greenock weren’t about to give up their place in this season’s competition without a fight and tested Graham Douglas in the 57th minute with a deflected Kenny Munro shot which looped up into the grateful arms of the Saints keeper.
There was a brief stoppage on the hour mark for treatment to Greenock midfielder Michael O’Donoghue before inspirational skipper and last season’s player of the year Kevin Brown almost hauled his side level in the 65th minute, exploiting a rare slip in a solid performance from the Saints defence to send a free header wide of target. From the goal kick, Saints raced to the other end where Donald Campbell passed up yet another good opportunity, again shooting wide of Neil Flack’s left-hand post.
Saints gaffer Alex Craik decided to freshen things up in midfield, introducing Kerr Newbigging for his first appearance of the season at the expense of Keith Millar. At the same time the High brought on veteran of many campaigns Chris McAllister to bolster the attack in favour of Craig Boyd. McAllister soon set about making a nuisance of himself and headed a deep Kevin Brown cross from the right wide of target.
An accidental clash between Paul Carmichael and Barry Munro left the Saints man nursing an ankle injury from which he couldn’t recover, forcing the introduction of Craig Campbell in a straight swap at the back in the 75th minute.
Graham ‘Sugar’ Douglas kept his clean sheet intact with a sensational save to deny Kenny Munro, who cut in from the right and unleashed a fierce 78th-minute left-foot shot which Sugar threw himself to his right to parry away at full stretch.
Craig MacEwan’s first match back since sustaining a cracked rib in the third round replay against Falkirk Community on November 11 came to an end in the 80th minute when he was replaced by Daniel McCuish making his home debut.
McCuish was quickly into the action showing no sign of being overawed by the occasion and linking up well with Kerr Newbigging to send Ally McKerracher through for a left-foot shot from the corner of the six-yard box which cleared the head of David McLean but unfortunately also the crossbar.
McKerracher blazed over again with five minutes remaining on the clock after Donald Campbell had skilfully taken down a Kerr Newbigging diagonal ball on the corner of the 18-yard box.
Saints finally made the tie safe in the 89th minute with a swift counter-attack from a Greenock free-kick cleverly won by Chris McAllister 10 yards inside the Saints half. With everybody expecting a straight ball into the box, David McLean rolled the ball short to Kenny Munro, who was immediately closed down by the quick reactions of Ally McKerracher, who slid in at full pace to dispossess the Greenock striker.
Saints then broke quickly with Daniel McCuish threading a perfectly timed pass for Donald Campbell to race through one-on-one with Neil Flack. The Saints skipper rounded the Greenock keeper and, from a tight angle, clipped the ball left-footed into the unguarded net for Saints’ second goal.
Referee Lacy, whose job was made easy by both sets of players, brought another cracking Scottish Amateur Cup tie to an end after three added minutes, signalling Saints’ progress to the fifth round and another away tie with familiar foes East Kilbride Rolls Royce which will take place this Saturday with a 2pm kick-off. Venue still to be decided.