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Scottish Amateur Football League Premier Division
Inverclyde AFC 0 Oban Saints AFC – 2
A goal apiece from carpet fitters Donald Campbell and Lewis Cameron floored old rivals Inverclyde at Battery Park, Greenock, last Saturday, February 23.
Donald Campbell’s strike just before the interval was added to by top goal scorer Cameron with 15 minutes remaining giving Saints a hard fought victory, their first in Greenock for more than five years.
The match preparations of Saints management duo of Donald Campbell and Willie Gemmell were dealt a serious blow on the eve of the game when goalkeeper Graham Douglas was forced to withdraw from the squad with a knee injury. With back-up keepers Ben Pollock and Thomas McCulloch also unavailable an SOS call was made to veteran net minder David Dunlop.
The legendary keeper, who made his debut as a teenager, was happy to oblige, stretching his Saints career to an incredible 32 years.
Saints also had captain Dene Cassells, Dougal Graham, Jamie Graham, Craig MacEwan and Kerr Newbigging missing, which meant another opportunity for some of the club’s promising youngsters to join the squad.
Saints lined up with David Dunlop between the sticks behind a back four of Ruaridh Horne, Steven MacLeod, Willie Gemmell and captain for the day Scott Maitland. Matthew Kelly and Daniel Croarkin, back from injury, occupied the holding midfield roles with a three of David Beaton, Lewis Cameron and Fraser MacFarlane supporting central striker Donald Campbell. Matt Rippon and James Ford provided the experience on the bench, alongside teenagers Kenneth Black, Aaron McKay and new signing Cameron Hill.
Weather conditions were tricky, with heavy rain driving across the park. Stand in skipper Scott Maitland defied convention and elected to play with wind advantage in the first half, raising a few eyebrows on the sidelines.
Saints started brightly with Lewis Cameron winning a corner kick on the right inside the first minute. Fraser MacFarlane’s short corner kick to Matthew Kelly was swung in towards the back post where Donald Campbell drew the first save of the game from Inverclyde keeper Robbie Laverty.
David Beaton’s pace took him away from Ross McWilliams on the Saints left after ten minutes, with only the quick reactions of Laverty denying the supporting Matthew Kelly as the Inverclyde keeper came out to the edge of his box to gather safely.
A straight ball over the top from the impressive Jamie Campbell gave the Saints defence their first test and sent Jonathan McGilp racing through on goal, however, keeper David Dunlop stood up well and parried away McGilp’s effort from 22 yards.
Inverclyde right back Ross McWilliams made a vital sliding interception to deny Fraser MacFarlane in the 19th minute with the Saints wide man poised to pull the trigger on the end of a perfectly weighted Donald Campbell through ball. From the resulting corner kick, Greg Wilson’s clearing header fell to Matthew Kelly on the edge of the box but he sent his effort looping over the crossbar from 20 yards.
The home side received an early setback when Craig Ellis limped off injured after 20 minutes, to be replaced by Nick Jack.
David Dunlop may not be as agile as in his heyday, but his reactions were still sharp enough to get down to his right hand post and clutch a good 25 yard effort from Inverclyde midfielder Michael McKitrick.
In a good spell for the Greenock men, Martyn Paton lifted a clever ball from the left into the box looking for Neil McCole but Scott Maitland did well to hook it away with the Inverclyde striker ready to pounce.
Donald Campbell’s link-up play once again opened up the home defence in the 35th minute, this time sending Ruaridh Horne through. The young fullback was forced wide by the combined efforts of Fraser Gunn and Martyn Paton and saw his low cross intended for David Beaton cut out at his near post by Robbie Laverty.
The wind gave Laverty an anxious moment in the 38th minute when his clawing effort to deal with a wind assisted Scott Maitland cross from the left dropped inches wide of his left hand post, bouncing behind for a corner kick.
Another overlapping run and cross from Ruaridh Horne was cleared by central defender Fraser Gunn who fell awkwardly in the process requiring treatment from the Inverclyde physio before he could continue.
A delightful turn and flick from Daniel Croarkin paved the way for Saints opening goal on the stroke of half-time. Croarkin’s flick on the turn opened up space on the right for Ruaridh Horne to run into and send a cross to the far post for Fraser MacFarlane. The scorer of the previous week’s opener against Neilston this time turned provider and laid the ball back into the path of Donald Campbell whose net bound strike took a deflection off the unfortunate Fraser Gunn lifting the ball over the dive of Robbie Laverty and into the net.
The hosts received their second injury blow of the afternoon three minutes into the second half when Gunn’s painful ankle injury finally proved too much to bear for the big centre half who was replaced by Tom McKitrick.
The change of ends saw a change in the balance of play as the hard-working hosts took a grip of the midfield keeping Saints pressed back in their own half.
The woodwork came to Saints rescue in the 56th minute when Martyn Paton peeled off at the back post to take down a right wing cross and send a half volley crashing off the underside of the crossbar which David Dunlop was happy to see Willie Gemmell head behind on the rebound.
A flurry of changes the hour mark saw Matt Rippon and Cameron Hill replace Daniel Croarkin and David Beaton, with James Buchanan and Stewart Morrison also entering the fray for the hosts.
Making his first appearance for five months, Matt Rippon put in a good half hour shift in the middle of the park.
Debutant Cameron Hill made a nuisance of himself on the right wing and fired a low cross towards the six-yard line in the 68th minute looking for Matthew Kelly. Tom McKitrick intercepted Hill’s cross diverting the ball into the path of Donald Campbell who had his shot from 15 yards blocked on the line thanks to the combined efforts of Greg Wilson and Michael McKitrick.
Two minutes later, Fraser MacFarlane flashed a dangerous cross from the left into the six-yard box but Robbie Laverty got his fingertips to it, taking the ball away from the on-rushing Cameron Hill.
Saints doubled their advantage in the 75th minute with a sweeping move from inside their own penalty area. Steven MacLeod, who with Willie Gemmell formed a solid barrier in front of David Dunlop, headed clear an Inverclyde corner kick from the right. Cameron Hill carried the ball to the half-way line and sent a diagonal ball to Matthew Kelly on the left. Kelly linked up well with Fraser MacFarlane whose low cross to the near post was thumped home by Lewis Cameron for his 19th goal of the season.
Ruaridh Horne’s troublesome hamstring forced him off before play could re-start. He was replaced by James Ford who was returning to the scene of his Saints debut 11 months previously.
Ford was joined five minutes later by young Aaron McKay who took over the wide left berth vacated by Fraser MacFarlane.
Referee John McNab, who handled proceedings well under the scrutiny of a Scottish Football Association referee assessor, issued the only caution of the afternoon to Inverclyde’s Nathan Connelly for a late, heavy challenge on James Ford in the 82nd minute.
With five minutes remaining, David Dunlop rolled back the years with an excellent finger tip save to turn a Jamie Campbell effort round his left hand post and preserve his highly-prized clean sheet.
James Ford tricked his way past Nathan Connelly on the left in the final minute of the 90 and, from the bye-line, cut the ball back to Lewis Cameron whose tame effort from 18 yards was halted on the goal line by Inverclyde skipper Greg Wilson.
Saints are on the road again this Saturday with a trip to the Donald Dewar Centre in Drumchapel to face reigning Scottish Amateur Football League Premier Division Champions Goldenhill.