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Oban Saints and good friends Vale of Leven served up an entertaining pre-season friendly in pleasant conditions at Glencruitten last Saturday.
The light overnight rain served to soften the rock hard turf a little, however, the going remained distinctly firm.
Both teams had healthy 17-man squads to choose from with plenty of changes of personnel guaranteed as the respective management teams tried to give everybody as much game time as possible.
Saints made a good start and came close to opening the scoring after seven minutes. Myles McAuley joined the attack from his holding midfield position and was played in by Craig MacEwan. Vale goalkeeper Ben Fulton did well to force McAuley away from goal and by the time the Saints midfielder got his shot away Vale captain Adam Monaghan was back on the goal line to block the effort and clear the danger.
The bright start from Saints was undone in the 12th minute when they failed to deal with Vale’s first corner kick of the match. From a Benjamin Craig cross from the right wing, Ruaridh Horne appeared to head an attempted clearance behind, off Vale striker Ryan Kerr, however referee Jimmy Litster ruled in favour of the visitors. Saints failed to clear Ross Lyden’s corner kick from the left and, after a stramash in the six-yard box, Scott Gallagher prodded the ball home from three yards.
Vale were denied a second goal after 20 minutes when Saints were caught out by a swift counter attack. Willie Gemmell got back to make a crucial sliding interception on Mark Butler before Scott Maitland made an equally vital block on the six-yard line to deny Scott Gallagher.
Saints were enjoying good spells of possession without putting the visiting defence under too much pressure. A 24-minute Willie Gemmell pass sent Craig MacEwan away on the left wing forcing Mark Meechan to come out from the middle of the three man Vale defence and block MacEwan’s attempted cross behind for a corner kick.
Fraser MacFarlane’s delivery to the near post was hooked behind for a second corner by Vale’s 2017-18 player of the year Adam Monaghan. MacFarlane this time aimed for the back post where he narrowly failed to pick out Paul Carmichael’s late run.
The equaliser came from a good move on the right in the 26th minute.
Ruairidh Horne made an overlapping run and picked out James Ford in the box with a low cross. Ford turned away from Mark Butler and sent a sweet left foot strike from 12 yards high into the net past Ben Fulton’s right hand.
Despite Saints dominating for the most part the visitors remained a threat on the break and Paul Carmichael had to spread himself well to block a Ryan Kerr back post header from a Benjamin Craig right wing cross in the 35th minute.
Fraser MacFarlane looked to have timed his run well to get in behind the Vale defence and onto a Craig MacEwan 42nd-minute through ball but Mr Litster gave the benefit of a very tight decision in favour of the visitors.
MacFarlane was not to be denied a goal and gave Saints the lead on the stroke of half-time.
James Ford continued to tease the Vale defence on the right forcing Josh Grace into a hurried clearance which Scott Maitland returned with a measured cross into the danger area. MacFarlane’s perfectly timed run met Maitland’s cross with a glancing header which flew past Ben Fulton’s outstretched right hand and into the net off the inside of the post.
It was a much-changed line-up that emerged from the visitors’ changing room for the second half with manager Brian Brown giving all six substitutes a chance to shine.
Saints management duo Donald Campbell and Willie Gemmell made just the one change with Matthew Kelly replacing Gemmell alongside Myles McAuley in the middle of the park.
Kelly was immediately involved in the action tussling with Ross Lyden midway inside the Saints half. In the aftermath tempers on both sides briefly threatened to boil over but Mr Litster was quickly on the scene to restore order with a quiet word for both players and the award of a free-kick for the visitors.
The changes seemed to re-invigorate the visitors and after eight second-half minutes Vale substitute Andrew Clark came close to an equaliser curling a decent effort narrowly wide of the postage stamp corner.
In the 55th minute Saints introduced Jamie Graham, Dougal Graham and Matty Rippon at the expense of Ruaridh Horne, Dene Cassells and James Ford.
They were joined four minutes later by Donald Campbell who replaced Fraser MacFarlane.
Vale pounced on a misplaced Saints pass in the centre circle in the 68th minute sending the lively Andrew Clark through the inside left channel. Saints’ number one Graham Douglas got his angles spot on to make a good save at his near post.
Youngster Kenneth Black replaced Scott Maitland at left back for the final 20 minutes and made a crucial early contribution. Richard Stewart sent a long throw-in from level with the penalty spot on the Vale left bouncing across the face of the Saints goal. Black’s challenge on Andrew Biddulph at the back post was just enough to deny the Vale substitute a clean header on goal with ball slipping harmlessly wide of target.
Black was also involved at the other end forcing a corner kick on the left from which Saints were unable to profit due to a foul on Vale substitute keeper Andrew Campbell.
Another surging Myles McAuley run won an 85- minute free-kick on the left with the rap on the ankle from Craig Cowan enough to force McAuley to sit out the closing stages.
Lewis Cameron’s delivery into the box was knocked down by Paul Carmichael but Kenneth Black’s foul on Alan Deans ended the threat on the Vale goal. Saints ended the match strongly with Adam Monaghan making another goal-line clearance in stoppage time this time to deny Donald Campbell.
Lewis Cameron kept the pressure on and slipped in Jamie Graham whose charging run into the box was unceremoniously halted by Richard Stewart.
Referee Litster had no hesitation in pointing to the penalty spot from where Lewis Cameron tucked the ball calmly into the bottom corner sending Andrew Campbell in the opposite direction in the process.
There was barely any time left on the watch and Mr Litster brought a good workout for both sides to an end immediately after the restart.
The Saints management duo were happy with the display. Donald Campbell said: ‘I thought we played some good football, especially in the first half.
We have a good squad this year and we’re trying to give everybody as much game time as we can. It will take time for the boys to settle into the new playing system but they’ve been working hard at training and it seems to be paying off.’
Saints continue their pre-season build-up on Saturday when they take on Stirling and District premier division side Kincardine.
The game will again be on the rugby pitch with a 2pm kick-off. Referee in charge is Martin Rae.