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South Lochaber Thistle sealed promotion to the top division of the Greater Glasgow Premier League with a hard fought victory over Erskine side, Newshot, at the weekend.
The match was always likely to be a tense affair with the visitors in fourth place needing a win to leave themselves a glimpse of promotion while the Jags knew a win would guarantee at least an automatic promotion and consign their long time rivals to another season of second division football.
The tension was not eased by SLT playing at the unfamiliar venue of Lochaber High School due to problems with the water at their Kinlochleven home ground.
This nearly lead to disaster when kick off had to be delayed to find corner flags. In the end, the club was very grateful to Fort William FC stalwart Colin Wood who sourced the poles necessary to placate the referee.
With everything now in good order, it was Thistle who took the game to visitors.
Forward Iain MacLellan, skipper Martin Munro, towering midfielder Andrew MacLean and veteran Dave Forbes were stroking the ball around with aplomb, barely allowing the pedestrian Newshot a kick of the ball.
Even impish winger Sean Noble was imposing himself, making himself known to the opposition keeper in forceful style, chasing a ball over the top.
This became the pattern for the remainder of the half. The superior ball playing of SLT dominating the midfield, centre halves Callum Boyd and Kieran Lopez, the latter in a man of the match performance, comfortably dealing with anything which came their way.
Full backs John Ferguson and Barna Tot soaked up the pressure and played around the lacklustre opponents’ wide players in neat triangles.
The match was a hard fought encounter. The referee was looking to let the game flow as much as possible but a booking was given to Munro for what seemed an innocuous challenge whilst there were several other tackles which went unpunished, including a scything lunge which left the Jag’s skipper on the floor.
Midfielder Shaun Hendrie was then forced off with a twisted knee, replaced by Cameron Grant who continued the important role of anchoring the midfield.
Between this dogged display of Newshot, the constant downpour of the weather and a tendency to become over-elaborate in the final third, chances went begging.
Forbes blasted a free kick wide, MacLellan had two chances which were either nicked away at the last moment or held up on the soaking surface. The visitors also know Munro of old and set about denying easy supply to the flying winger.
This descent into attritional football suited the Erskine side who have built a history of success upon such functional football. This allowed them to begin to fashion some chances of their own. Tiny dynamo Fraser Black was propelling his troops forward and several long range chances flew over the Thistle bar.
As the second half opened, the match settled into this pattern. The ball being trapped in the middle and neither side really being able to capitalise.
However, as the game entered the final third, an injury to Black and the replacement of Noble with a dead leg by Daniel Mackintosh allowed SLT to shake things up as Newshot lost direction.
Mackintosh and Munro swapped sides and it was this that allowed them to exploit the space out wide as the visitors tired. Munro gathered and set off on a trade mark run, slipping the ball into MacLellan who was able to plant a header in the midst of a tussle to open the scoring for 1-0.
Things were to get even better as MacLellan turned provider, this time Munro slotting the ball home at the back post to send the crowd into ecstasy.
Next week SLT will be looking to extend their unbeaten run in Fort William when they host a promotion party with Helensburgh FC coming to town.
This first versus second encounter will settle where the league title finishes up after a long season and will be played at Lochaber High School.
Team -Dunlop. D, Tot. B, Lopez. K, Boyd. C, Hendrie. S (Grant. C), Noble. S (Mackintosh. D), Maclean. A, Forbes. D, Munro. M (Capt), MacLellan. I Subs: Brown. A, Grey. A, Tot. E
Man of the Match: Kieran Lopez
Keiran Lopez and Calum Boyd sweep across the field. Picture Iain Ferguson, alba.photos
NO F22 SLT V NEWSHOT 05