Saints retain Argyll and Bute championship

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After 200 minutes of football, plus a nerve-shredding penalty shoot-out, in mist, rain and scorching sunshine, Saints emerged victorious from this year’s Argyll and Bute Cup in Lochgilphead.

The tournament was once again arranged by Lochgilphead Red Star, who were excellent hosts for the popular eight-team event. Taking part this year were cup holders Oban Saints, hosts and last year’s runners-up Lochgilphead Red Star, tournament regulars Dunoon, Neilston and Tarbert, debutants Kilsyth and Port Glasgow and, making a welcome return after a few years of absence, Campbeltown Pupils.

Group One results
Pupils 1 – 0 Tarbert
Kilsyth 3 – 1 Dunoon
Pupils – Dunoon
Kilsyth 0 – 0 Tarbert
Dunoon 1 – 1 Tarbert
Pupils 0 – 1 Kilsyth
Group Winners: Kilsyth
Runners-up: Pupils

Group Two results
Red Star 0 – 0 Oban Saints
Neilston 0 – 2 Port Glasgow
Neilston 2 – 3 Red Star
Saints 2 – 0 Port Glasgow
Oban Saints 3 – 0 Neilston
Red Star 0 – 0 Port Glasgow
Group Winners: Oban Saints
Runners-up: Red Star

Lochgilphead Red Star 0
Oban Saints 0

Saints were drawn in group two and got proceedings under way against hosts Lochgilphead Red Star on the artificial surface at Lochgilphead High School a little after the scheduled 10am start. The guilty party for the delay was Red Star keeper Luke Kalache who, in true laidback Australian style, had managed to sleep in.

Saints’ first real chance came in the 12th minute when Shaun MacIver sent James Ford racing through on goal but Star goalkeeper Luke Kalache anticipated the danger and came quickly off his line to make a good block,

Kalache made a comfortable save from Lewis Cameron and Fraser MacFarlane and Paul Carmichael both sent headers wide of target before referee Pat O’Donnell brought the first 20-minute period to an end.

Star were quickest out of the traps for the second half and Saints were relieved to see Innes Meikle steer a shot wide of target inside the first minute.

Saints reciprocated with a James Ford effort wide of Kalache’s left-hand post before the big keeper made a good save at his near post to deny Shaun MacIver. MacIver was involved again in the 37th minute latching onto a Matt Rippon pass before firing a low ball from the right across the face of goal, which just evaded Fraser MacFarlane coming in at the back post.

Kalache had the final word coming through a ruck of players to punch clear a Willie Gemmell free-kick leaving both teams to settle for a single point apiece.

Oban Saints 2
Port Glasgow 0

Saints handed a starting place to 15-year-old Aaron McKay for their second game where two goals inside the opening four minutes were enough for the holders to see off Port Glasgow.

Things might have been different had Ruaridh Horne not been guarding the far post to clear a header from a long throw-in off the goal-line in the second minute.

Saints, however, capitalised fully by immediately breaking up the park through player of the tournament Lewis Cameron. James Ford latched onto Cameron’s perfectly weighted pass and lifted the ball over the advancing keeper and into the net.

Within 60 seconds of the restart Saints doubled their advantage from a good move up the right wing. Lewis Cameron, Ruaridh Horne and James Ford were all involved before Ford played a tempting cutback which Shaun MacIver gleefully lashed into the bottom corner.

Saints retained the upper hand but couldn’t add to their tally with a dipping long range effort over the bar from Kerr Newbigging the closest they came before referee Donald McCallum sounded the half-time whistle.

Co-manager Donald Campbell made a brief appearance replacing Shaun MacIver up front for the final 10 minutes.

Lewis Cameron eventually drew a save from the Port keeper in the 32nd minute which he held well low to his right.

The Port number one pulled off a sensational save to deny James Ford in the 39th minute, flinging himself to his left to parry away a right foot pile driver.

Oban Saints 3
Neilston 0

After a brief stoppage Saints kicked off Group Two’s fifth game against Neilston. There was to be no repeat of the lightning quick start to the previous match with Saints managing to worry Neilston keeper Gareth Fulton on just one occasion.

The half-time interval brought a change of personnel with Kerr Newbigging replacing Willie Gemmell in midfield.

An appeal from co-managers Donald Campbell and Willie Gemmell for the goals necessary to secure top spot in the group was answered inside the first minute of the second period when Fraser MacFarlane tucked a neat low finish past the right hand of Gareth Fulton.

MacFarlane should have doubled his tally 60 seconds later but shot straight at Fulton from 18 yards.

Fraser MacFarlane made way for James Ford on the left with 11 minutes remaining but it was down the right wing that Saints got their second goal.

Graham Douglas held a long Robbie McNamara free-kick and quickly threw the ball out to captain Dene Cassells, who launched a counter-attack up the Saints right. Jamie Graham carried the ball almost to the bye-line and fizzed a low ball across the face of goal where Donald Campbell slid in to divert the ball high into the net beyond Gareth Fulton.

Saints added a third with three minutes remaining when Donald Campbell played in Kerr Newbigging who strode forward and thumped an emphatic finish from 18 yards past Fulton’s right hand.

The win guaranteed Saints a place in the semi-finals but left them sweating on the outcome of the final group match to find out whether they would qualify as group winners or runners-up.

Red Star and Port Glasgow fought out a 0-0 draw ensuring Saints took top spot in Group Two.

Oban Saints 1
Campbeltown Pupils 1
Saints win 6-5 on penalties.

A change to the scheduled running order saw Saints contest the first semi-final against Group One runners-up Campbeltown Pupils. A bright start saw Saints come close twice in the opening minutes through unlikely source Alex Craik.From a Fraser MacFarlane corner on the right the former gaffer had a shot deflected behind before he placed a header from another MacFarlane cross wide of target 60 seconds later.

MacFarlane was again closely involved when he was sent sprawling in the Pupils box in the fifth minute under a challenge from Keith Mitchell. Referee Pat O’Donnell had no hesitation in pointing to the penalty spot from where Lewis Cameron calmly gave Saints the lead.

Saints were unable to take full advantage of their early domination and Shaun MacIver drew a save low to his left from Campbeltown’s young keeper before heading a Fraser MacFarlane corner kick over the crossbar.

The half-time interval, coupled with a raft of changes, seemed to disrupt the Saints rhythm and, despite attacking up the Ropework park slope, it was the Pupils who were looking the more likely to add to the scoring.

Pupils came close twice in the opening minutes before a trip in the box by Paul Carmichael handed them an opportunity to level the scoring from 12 yards which was gratefully accepted.

The goal provided the wake-up call that Saints needed but try as they might they could find no way through the stuffy Pupils defence which protected their very youthful goalkeeper well.

Mr O’Donnell’s final whistle signalled the need for a penalty shoot-out where kicks numbers 17 and 18 would ultimately prove decisive.

With the goalkeepers having made three saves and the woodwork already being struck three times, Pupils captain Keith Mitchell rattled kick number 17 off the crossbar giving young Saints full back Ruaridh Horne the chance to clinch a fourth successive Argyll and Bute Cup final for Saints.

The young Pupils keeper made a valiant attempt to keep his side in the tie but Horne’s well placed effort nestled in the bottom, much to the relief of the Saints contingent.

Kilsyth 2
Lochgilphead Red Star 3

The second semi-final was an energy-sapping five-goal thriller which the hosts narrowly shaded. Kilsyth took a first-half lead through Kyle Crawford but were soon pegged back by a Ben Forbes wonder strike.

Red Star took the lead in controversial circumstances when striker Gregor Peacock went down rather easily from what appeared to be a legitimate aerial challenge in the Kilsyth box. Referee Peter Laing was, however, convinced otherwise and pointed to the penalty spot from where Andy Weir successfully converted.

Parity was restored just before the half-time interval when a mistake in the Star defence allowed Kyle Crawford to poke home his second of the match.

Red Star regained the lead midway through the second half through John Kennedy and withstood some intense late pressure as Kilsyth gave everything to force an equaliser.

By now struggling with a leg injury, Star keeper Luke Kalache produced last-minute heroics to tip over a Jamie Kerr free-kick and rise in a packed six-yard box to safely gather the resulting corner kick.

Lochgilphead Red Star 1
Oban Saints 3

Cup holders Oban Saints and tournament hosts Lochgilphead Red Star faced off in a repeat of last season’s final at the Ropework. Star had the advantage of kicking down the slope in the first half and came close to opening the scoring in the second minute when Innes Meikle found the side netting from a tight angle.

Saints survived another scare 60 seconds later when a low cross from the left across the six-yard line narrowly evaded Andy Weir steaming in at the back post.

Star keeper Luke Kalache denied Shaun MacIver with a good save in the seventh minute but could do nothing to prevent Matt Rippon’s ninth-minute strike from giving Saints the lead.

Rippon pushed forward from his midfield holding role to support Scott Maitland’s run on the left and got on the end of Maitland’s cross to find the bottom corner from 16 yards.

Good pressing by James Ford on the 15-minute mark forced a corner kick on the Saints right which the Star defence managed to bundle behind for another corner this time from the opposite flank.

Lewis Cameron’s delivery into the six-yard box looped over the despairing grasp of Kalache and found the head of Shaun MacIver who glanced home from a yard out.

The first half ended with Saints well in control and by now good value for their two-goal lead.

With everybody still with gas in the tank, there were no major half-time changes and only Shaun MacIver was withdrawn to be replaced by Donald Campbell.

Saints continued to look the stronger side after the restart with Red Star lacking the legs to pose any real threat.

Ruaridh Horne made way for Jamie Graham in the 33rd minute and the veteran defender made an instant impact, linking up with Lewis Cameron on the right to set up James Ford for the third goal.

Ford’s sweet low strike from the right edge of the penalty flashed across Luke Kalache and into the bottom corner to dispel any lingering doubts about the final destination of the silverware.

Saints took advantage of their three-goal cushion to give all of their substitutes a run-out and even a late consolation goal for the hosts from a long-range Cameron McDonald strike couldn’t take the shine off an excellent day for the players and new management team Donald Campbell and Willie Gemmell.

The teams retired to the Stag Hotel where former Red Star stalwart Hughie Lindsay presented the cup and trophies to the winning Oban Saints team as well as the match officials – Pat O’Donnell, Donald MacCallum, Jimmy Litster and Peter Laing.

Saints were due to play South Lochaber Thistle on Wednesday evening but the opposition could not get a team to travel to Oban. Instead they managed to arrange a friendly with their under-19 team.

The Oban side begin their SAFL Premier Division programme with a home game against Argyll rivals Dunoon. This match will take place on Saturday August 18 at Glencruitten, kicking of at 2pm. The following Saturday they travel to take on Barrhead Arky at Cowan Park.

Saints have been given a tough game in the first round of the Scottish Amateur Cup where they travel to take on Gartcosh United. This game is scheduled for Saturday September 1.