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A sensational stoppage time save from fit again goalkeeper Graham ‘Sugar’ Douglas helped Oban Saints to victory against reigning Scottish Amateur Football League Premier Division Champions Goldenhill at the Donald Dewar Centre, Drumchapel, last Saturday afternoon.
Back in the starting line-up after shrugging off knee and elbow injuries, ‘Sugar’ put the icing on a typically refined performance with a 93rd minute point blank save to deny Goldenhill striker James Gallagher an equaliser and lift Saints to second place in the league table, just one point behind leaders St Joseph’s FP with a game in hand.
Management duo Donald Campbell and Willie Gemmell opted for experience for this major league test as the business end of the season looms. Matthew Kelly dropped back into defence to replace youngster Ruaridh Horne at right fullback, while Matt Rippon stepped up from the bench to take the midfield berth vacated by Kelly.
Saints lined up with Graham Douglas in goal behind a back four of Matthew Kelly, Steven MacLeod, captain Dene Cassells and Scott Maitland. Willie Gemmell and Matt Rippon occupied the holding midfield roles with a three of James Ford, Lewis Cameron and Craig MacEwan supporting central striker Donald Campbell. On the bench were David Beaton, Dougal Graham, Ruaridh Horne, Fraser MacFarlane and Keir MacLean.
Saints kicked off attacking the Linkwood flats end in heavy rain which would last the 90 minutes. After several weeks warming the bench, James Ford had the first sight of goal after 90 seconds. After making a good run from the right to get on the end of a Donald Campbell flick-on, Ford raced through on goal, only to see Kevin Maxwell get a vital touch to deflect his shot from 18 yards over the crossbar.
Ford continued his early promise, drawing a foul from Goldenhill’s new signing Michael Anderson in the third minute. The big left-sided defender took up his position in the box and made a good clearing header from Lewis Cameron’s free-kick ahead of the lurking Dene Cassells.
Goldenhill danger man James Gallagher, who helped himself to four goals in last season’s corresponding fixture on the way to an incredible 76-goal haul for the season, was sent through by a ball over the top from Martin Lawlor after four minutes. Thankfully, the Gowdie striker was unable to make the connection he was looking for and Graham Douglas made a comfortable save low to his left.
The hosts continued to look threatening with quick service from midfield, however, good openings for former Petershill Juniors man Ryan Deas and Scott Davidson were spurned with wayward shots well off target. Davidson came close in the eighth minute, flashing a low drive across Graham Douglas but wide of his right hand post as Goldenhill countered after a promising Saints move had broken down on the edge of the Gowdie box.
The action continued to rage from end-to-end with Craig MacEwan sending a twelfth minute cross from the left fractionally behind Donald Campbell who couldn’t direct his header on target. The hosts immediately raced to the other end where James Gallagher set Scott Davidson, a recent signing from Cumbernauld Juniors, up for another shot high over the crossbar.
Davidson’s pace on the right continued to give Scott Maitland, who was nursing a bruised instep, a difficult time. Fortunately Davidson’s end product once again failed to trouble Graham Douglas when he fired over from an excellent diagonal pass from Martin Lawlor.
Graham Douglas was called into action after 20 minutes when he dealt comfortably with a Kevin Maxwell free-kick from 30 yards after Willie Gemmell had been penalised for a foul on Martin Lawlor.
Sixty seconds later James Ford and Lewis Cameron linked up well on the right where Cameron sent a tempting ball across the six-yard box but just too far in front of Donald Campbell and Craig MacEwan arriving in the middle.
Saints currently boast the meanest defence in the Scottish Amateur Football League and key to their improvement in that department this season has been the form of Steven MacLeod. Another quick break from the home side in the 28th minute was foiled by MacLeod who made a telling interception to head a Ryan Deas cross from the left into the gloves of Graham Douglas.
A foul on Lewis Cameron on the half hour mark gave Willie Gemmell an opportunity with the dead ball from 28 yards. The co-gaffer’s search for his first goal of the season continued when Goldenhill keeper Ross Clark, taking no chances with the slippery ball, leaped to his right to punch Gemmell’s effort away.
Craig MacEwan won a corner kick on the left in the 33rd minute from where Lewis Cameron picked out Dene Cassells on the six-yard line. The skipper got the better of Kevin Maxwell in the air but sent his header flying over the crossbar.
Two minutes later, Matthew Kelly and James Ford linked up well on the right with Kelly’s low cross finding its way to Craig MacEwan at the back post after a clever dummy by Donald Campbell. MacEwan’s stabbed shot was well held by Ross Clark low to his right.
Dene Cassells headed another glorious chance over the bar in the 38th minute when, once again, he picked out a ball from the corner flag by Lewis Cameron.
With five minutes of the first half remaining, Saints were once again caught on the break from deep inside the Goldenhill half. Last season’s player of the year James Gallagher made a driving run through the inside left channel on the end of a Martin Lawlor pass but was halted by a perfectly timed sliding interception from Steven MacLeod.
Goldenhill keeper Ross Clark made an excellent save to deny Scott Maitland just before the interval standing up well at his near post to push a thumping Maitland left foot shot behind for a corner kick. Lewis Cameron sent in another good delivery which Willie Gemmell, under pressure from Martin Lawlor, headed behind at the back post bringing to an end an entertaining but goalless first half.
The second half was only two minutes old when Saints made the breakthrough. Scott Maitland made good ground on the left and laid the ball off to Donald Campbell. The co-gaffer sent Craig MacEwan into the box who got the better of Jack Bennett and, from a tight angle, found the gap between the keeper and his near post.
Straight from the re-start, a gap opened up for James Gallagher whose fizzing low drive along the wet 3G surface was well held by Graham Douglas at full stretch to his right.
Ross Clark in the Goldenhill goal continued his safety first policy in the slippery conditions by punching clear a rasping Craig MacEwan shot in the 52nd minute after Scott Maitland had robbed Jonathon Dyer on the half-way line.
The hosts made their first change in the 54th minute replacing Kevin Maxwell with Adam Calder before David Matthews found his way into Referee Thomas D’Alessandro’s book for a late challenge on Craig MacEwan.
A Donald Campbell flick-on from a ball played up by Matt Rippon in the 58th minute sent Lewis Cameron through on goal with Jack Bennett in pursuit. Cameron appeared to be tugged back by Bennett but still got a shot away which beat Ross Clark but came bouncing back off the post into the grateful arms of the Goldenhill keeper.
Last season’s Scottish Amateur Cup runners-up took full advantage of this let-off by drawing level 60 seconds later. From a hotly disputed free-kick wide on the right and just inside the Saints half, Goldenhill were given too much time and space to work the ball into the Saints box. Jonathon Dyer wriggled away from Scott Maitland’s challenge and sent a low shot across Graham Douglas and into the bottom corner of the net.
Before play could re-start, Steven MacLeod’s complaints to the referee earned him a yellow card for dissent.
On the hour, Craig MacEwan made a good near post run to glance a Lewis Cameron free-kick from the left just over the Goldenhill crossbar.
Donald Campbell’s touch unusually let him down in the 67th minute when, with defenders trailing behind and just the keeper to beat, he let the ball get too far ahead of him and scuffed a low shot which Ross Clark gathered comfortably.
Michael Anderson took the bookings count to three for a heavy challenge on Lewis Cameron in the 71st minute before Goldenhill midfielder Martin Lawlor was replaced by pacy wide man Reace Syed.
Adam Calder showed good strength to hold off Dene Cassells in the 77th minute, however, the Saints skipper’s attentions forced the Goldenhill substitute wider than he would have liked and from a rapidly narrowing angle his left foot strike only found the side netting.
With ten minutes remaining, there was a loud appeal for a penalty from the Saints contingent when Scott Maitland was upended on the corner of the Goldenhill box. Mr D’Alessandro was unsympathetic to the Saints appeals and awarded a free-kick just outside the penalty area. It was the home side’s turn to have their appeals for a decision turned down when the referee awarded a corner kick from Willie Gemmell’s free-kick which Goldenhill were adamant had come off a Saints head. Having spurned two first half chances, Dene Cassells made it third time lucky piling in at the back post to head home a perfect Lewis Cameron delivery and restore Saints’ lead.
James Ford’s productive return to the starting line-up came to an end when he was replaced by David Beaton in Saints’ only change of the afternoon.
The home side gave a debut to another new signing, Thomas Halpin, who took over the centre forward’s role from Ryan Deas for the closing stages.
Goldenhill pressed hard for an equaliser in the little time that remained but the Saints defence, well screened by Willie Gemmell and Matt Rippon, never looked to be under any real threat.
Mr D’Alessandro added three minutes for stoppages which Saints tried to run down by taking the ball to the corner flags where possible. There was one final chance for the home side in the 93rd minute when Ross Clark raced 40 yards from his goal line to beat Donald Campbell to a bouncing ball and launch a final assault on the Saints goal. The up and under from Clark fell kindly for James Gallagher in the Saints box who was denied at close range by an excellent blocking save from Graham Douglas with Steven MacLeod heading the ball towards the edge of the box.
The danger didn’t end there as Reace Syed was first to the loose ball which Matthew Kelly blocked on the six-yard line with the re-bound eventually finding its way to Donald Campbell. The co-gaffer knocked the ball up to Lewis Cameron who was brought down by Jack Bennett in the final act of an enthralling encounter which Mr D’Alessandro brought to an end before the free-kick could be taken.
This Saturday, March 9, Saints play their fourth successive away league fixture when they travel to Toryglen to face Rutherglen in the Scottish Amateur Football League Premier Division.