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South Lochaber Thistle (SLT) clinched the Greater Glasgow Premier League Division Two title in style with a hard fought 2-1 win over Helensburgh.
Playing at Lochaber High School for the second week in a row, the Kinlochleven-based outfit knew promotion was ensured for both teams but the destination of the league title had come down to this final fixture.
Second-placed Helensburgh knew only a win would do, but arrived off the back of a 14-game unbeaten league run which had seen them get the better of the Jags 3-2 in the return fixture in May.
SLT were forced to juggle the starting line up with two midfielders, veteran general Dave Forbes and combative dynamo Shaun Hendrie missing through suspension and injury respectively.
However, in a tough, tense game, this did not seem to unsettle the home team. Cameron Grant began the game busily, stroking the ball around confidently and controlling play which had begun at a furious pace.
Midfield lynchpin Darren Duncan found himself in unfamiliar territory for the opening salvo of the game. Surging forward, he drove a rasping effort which dipped and flew agonisingly wide of the Helensburgh upright.
Things were to get better for the Jags, however, when seasoned striker Danny Mackintosh, giving an accomplished performance up front opened the scoring.
Surging into the box, he looked up aiming for a cross to the far post. Seeing no one there, he opted for a coolly taken finish from the cutest of angles.
As the half wore on, the game became quite physical. Skipper Martin Munro was in his usual scampering form and his opposing full back, Ryan Jones, struggled to shackle him and would later be booked for a sliding challenge which left Munro poleaxed on the turf.
Helensburgh were not downhearted at losing the opening goal and David Sinclair capitalised on hesitation in the Thistle defence as he leapt to meet a lofted ball for the equaliser.
The pace dropped considerably at the start of the second half which allowed Thistle to stretch the game and opened up space for Sean Noble to get in behind the defence.
But it was the rangy, towering presence of Andrew Maclean who made the biggest impact. He’d been busy all afternoon in a man of the match performance, but as players tired and spaces opened up, he galloped into the box and produced a cultured finish to edge the Jags 2-1 ahead.
As Helensburgh pressed for the equaliser, the fresh legs of Mikey Rodgers and Erik Tot, on for the injured Mackintosh, allowed Thistle to craft a number of excellent chances and the away team goalkeeper did well to only concede two goals.
As the referee blew for full time, there were jubilant scenes. This is South Lochaber Thistle’s first league title in only their third year in existence and seals back-to-back promotions.
Founder and manager Alan Gray said: ‘It’s been hard work and it couldn’t have happened without the players who have given their all. Every week, without fail, they give up their time and money to be part of this club.
‘The president and assistant Gabor Tot have been amazing behind the scenes. The introduction of Rebecca Small and Albie Robertson Senior has made match days so much easier and, along with Peter and Ailsa Janzen, he gives his time to coach our local primary school children on a Friday afternoon.
‘Rebecca has been one of, if not the, best signing this club has made. I, for one, know we wouldn’t have got where we are without her work this season.
‘Finally, without the help, support and understanding from Lynne Cameron, Madison and Lewis I would not have been able to devote so much time to the club to get it where it is and give these players the opportunity to have football week in, week out. We’ve also seen the introduction of the women’s team and schools’ football too.
‘I am unbelievably proud of what we have all achieved. Thank you everyone.’
South Lochaber Thistle. Photograph: Abrightside Photography. NO F23 SLT title win 01
Jags players celebrate lifting the Division 2 trophy. Photograph: Abrightside Photography. NO F23 SLT title win 02
Captain Martin Munro holds the trophy aloft. Photograph: Abrightside Photography. NO F23 SLT title win 04.
Manager Alan Gray happy to get his hands on the trophy. Photograph: Abrightside Photography. NO F23 SLT title win 05
Manager Alan Gray is hoisted in the air by the players. Photograph: Abrightside Photography. NO F23 SLT title win 03
SLT Captain Martin Munro in a flying tackle with Danny Johns. Photograph: Iain Ferguson, alba,photos. NO F23 SLT title win 07
Andrew Maclean puts away the winning goal for SLT. Photograph: Iain Ferguson, alba.photos. NO F23 SLT title win 06