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An 84th-minute winner from striker Michael McGowan in Scotstoun last Sunday afternoon gave reigning champions St Joseph’s FP the points they so desperately need if they are to have any chance of holding off the challenge of Goldenhill and retain their Scottish Amateur Football League Premier Division crown.
Saints survived a fourth-minute scare when Scott Smith failed to capitalise on a missed clearance by Dene Cassells. Thankfully for Saints, Smith, who was a stand-out performer for the Scottish Amateur Football League Select at Tarbert the previous day, placed a very presentable chance from 18 yards just wide of Graham Douglas’s right-hand post.
Saints replied in kind 10 minutes later when Paul Carmichael sent an attempted lob from the edge of the box over the St Joe’s crossbar after a well-weighted ball over the top from captain Donald Campbell.
Despite the warm sunshine, the game zipped along at a good pace and although there was little at stake for Saints there remained a competitive edge to every challenge throughout the afternoon.
Slightly against the run of play Saints made the breakthrough in the 23rd minute with a passage of play started by Dene Cassells on his own 18-yard line. Making just his second start on the season, Cassells slid in well to beat Kieren O’Brien to a Colin Gailey through ball. Steven MacLeod latched onto the interception by Cassells and sent the ball up the right wing for Kerr Newbigging to chase. St Joe’s striker Ryan Halpin tracked Newbigging’s run and knocked the ball out for a throw-in which Newbigging took quickly to Paul Carmichael who turned and fired a low cross along the six-yard line for Donald Campbell to turn in at the back post.
St Joe’s struck back when Michael McGowan threaded a 35th-minute pass through for a suspiciously offside looking Ryan Halpin. Referee Flanigan, however, ignored the loud Saints appeals and allowed play to continue with Steven MacLeod having to look lively to nip in and turn the ball behind for a corner kick. Mr Flanigan made matters worse for Saints by failing to spot Ryan Halpin’s use of his left arm to control the ball when rolling Willie Gemmell and tucking a John Paul Seagrave knock down from Martin McComish’s corner kick into the bottom corner from six yards.
Both sides created further half chances before the interval which arrived after treatment for a head knock sustained by Keith Millar in making an excellent goal-line clearance to deny Ryan Halpin a tap-in from a Michael McGowan knock down.
Saints started the second half in positive fashion with Steven MacLeod having a rare shot on goal from 25 yards which Scott Urquhart saved well low down to his right.
Ryan Halpin lasted just five minutes of the second half before being replaced by veteran striker Stephen Dallas, the former Hibernian striker, who would use his considerable experience to keep the Saints back four on their toes.
In the 52nd minute, Donald Campbell and Craig MacEwan linked up on the Saints left for Campbell to send a cut-back to Paul Carmichael who was denied a strike on goal by an excellent Keiran Greene sliding interception.
That proved to be the final involvement for Scottish Amateur Football League Select skipper Greene, who was spared any further exertions and replaced on the left of the St Joe’s back four by Kearn Docherty.
Also showing no ill effects from his earlier head knock was Keith Millar, whose tenacity in the centre circle dispossessed Colin Gailey and sent Donald Campbell through the inside left channel for a shot from 20 yards which Scott Urquhart saved well.
Saints gaffer Alex Craik rang the changes after 70 minutes, sending on Matthew Kelly and Fraser MacFarlane to replace Jamie Graham and Paul Carmichael.
As the second half wore on, the hosts pressed hard for the winning goal which they desperately needed to keep them in title race while Saints remained a threat on the counter-attack.
A driving run on the right wing in the 75th minute by Fraser MacFarlane left Donald Campbell and Craig MacEwan groaning in frustration at the cut-back which failed to come as MacFarlane took one touch too many and carried the ball behind.
MacFarlane fared better seven minutes later, teeing up Shaun MacIver for a shot from the corner of the box which flew just over the crossbar.
Michael McGowan, who remained a handful for the Saints defence, gained the reward for his endeavours with just six minutes remaining. An under the weather Matthew Kelly, who had been deployed in an unfamiliar left-back role, was robbed by the industrious McGowan, who cut in from the right and sent a sweet left-foot strike into the bottom corner past the despairing right hand of Graham Douglas.
Before the restart, the gaffer joined the fray in place of Kerr Newbigging and took the left-back berth, pushing Kelly into more familiar midfield territory.
Saints almost struck back immediately but were denied by an excellent save by Scott Urquhart. Willie Gemmell sent a long throw-in from the left onto the six-yard line where Craig MacEwan sent the ball spinning towards goal with the outside of his right boot. Scottish Amateur Football League Select keeper Urquhart showed lightning quick reactions to throw himself to his right and palm the ball away at full stretch.
At the other end, Stephen Dallas came close to adding a third for the home side with a 90th-minute header over the crossbar before Mr Flanigan brought proceedings to a close after three added minutes.
Despite the disappointment of a seventh defeat of the league campaign, Saints can console themselves that they once again ran reigning champions St Joe’s very close and, with better luck on the day, may well have secured a share of the points.
Saints play their penultimate away fixture of the season this Saturday when they travel to Seedhill, Paisley, to face Alba Thistle.
Alba still have a chance of pipping St Joe’s and Goldenhill to the Premier Division title so Saints can expect another difficult afternoon on the road.