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Oban Saints 2
Central Scottish 1B
Oban Saints warmed up for their impending Scottish Amateur Cup trip to Rothienorman with a less than convincing home win against Central Scottish Amateur Football League Division 1B basement boys Craigneuk, who battled hard throughout the 90 minutes at Glencruitten last Saturday afternoon.
Two early strikes from leading goalscorer Craig MacEwan were enough to clinch Saints 10th consecutive league victory, making it 10 out of 10, with a far from 10 out of 10 performance in a dour encounter which did little to excite the home support.
Now in sole charge due to management colleague Donald Campbell’s work commitments in deepest, darkest Warwickshire, Willie Gemmell made five changes to the starting line-up from the previous week’s trip to Clydebank.
Graham Douglas and Scott Maitland were once again available for selection while James Ford and teenagers Gavin Forgrieve and Aaron McKay were all promoted from the bench. Also making welcome returns to the squad after long absences were Kerr Newbigging and Fraser MacFarlane.
The visitors kicked off attacking the Mossfield end, but it was Saints who mounted the game’s first meaningful attack through Aaron McKay on the left who was unfortunate to over-run the ball when poised for a cut-back for the waiting Craig MacEwan in the second minute.
The home side took the lead when Scott Maitland worked the ball forward on the left to Craig MacEwan who had the feet taken away from him on the corner of the box by Brian Totten.
With everybody waiting for a cross to the far post, and prompted by Scott Buchanan on the sidelines, Matty Kelly’s quick thinking picked out the near post run of Craig MacEwan who stabbed the ball past Graeme Divers to open the scoring.
James Ford’s trickery on the right after Myles McAuley had won the ball well in the centre circle took him almost to the byeline in the 21st minute. Ford’s low cross along the six yard line was fractionally too heavy for Aaron McKay who couldn’t adjust his feet for what would have been a tap-in at the back post.
Sixty seconds later goalkeeper Graeme Divers, one of six changes to the Craigneuk line-up from when the sides met at Dalziel Park on the opening day of the season, had a moment to forget when a Craig MacEwan shot from 25 yards bounced just in front of him and squirmed from his grasp and into the net for Saints second goal.
MacEwan should have made it three in the 25th minute when he somehow managed to plant his header from another good James Ford right wing cross inches wide of Graeme Divers’ left hand post from four yards range.
Ford and MacEwan combined again to good effect with 10 minutes of the first half remaining when MacEwan did well to hook the ball back from the bye-line to Ford who then tee’d up Gavin Forgrieve for a shot which flew across the face of goal and just wide of the far post.
James Ford continued to cause problems for the visiting defence and a swashbuckling 40th-minute run took him into the Craigneuk box where, surrounded by defenders, he slipped the ball to Craig MacEwan. The Saints leading marksman tried to walk the ball into the net but was denied by Graeme Divers who smothered the ball at MacEwan’s feet.
After an excellent first half performance, the Saints faithful would be expecting some of the same in the second half, but unfortunately it just didn’t materialise as the league leaders turned in a below par performance that didn’t please manager Willie Gemmell with the big Scottish Amateur Cup fourth round tie away to Rothie Rovers coming up this weekend.
The home side started brightly enough with a Craig MacEwan effort being defleced for a corner.
Saints huffed and puffed their way through the opening stages of the second half with everything being done at too slow a pace, unlike the first half where he passing was crisp and accurate.
On the hour mark the gaffer made his first changes of the match replacing youngsters Aaron McKay and Gavin Forgrieve with the more experienced Ross Maitland and David Beaton.
This almost paid dividends right away but Craig MacEwan sent a header just wide of target.
Credit to Craigneuk they never gave up, but the Saints defence, well marshalled by skipper Dene Cassells were giving nothing away.
James Ford, who had a good game for Saints, threaded a great pass through for David Beaton who managed to get a shot on target which keeper Graeme Divers did well to push for a corner. From the resultant kick MacEwan sent a header crashing off the bar but with the ball bouncing around in the box there were no Saints players on hand to capitalise on the rebound and the ball was booted clear.
The manager wanted to give his bench some valuable game time with Kerr Newbigging replacing Matty Kelly in the 73rd minute. Matty had played for the Central Scottish AFL Select team on the Tuesday night so he was due a rest.
Craigneuk came more into the game as the half wore on, but they never really threatened Graeme Douglas in the Saints goal.
With the clock ticking away Ruaridh Horne and Beaton and reasonable chances to put a better reflection on the scoreline but these were missed with the final score ending in a 2-0 win for Saints.
Co-manager Gemmell said: ‘I was delighted with the first half performance, but the second half was disappointing. We didn’t keep up the intensity we had in the first half and our passing was poor.
‘However, in saying that, the boys have been tremendous this season, they’ve worked really hard and done everything we’ve asked of them so perhaps I’m being a bit too critical, but they know we can’t afford to have that second half performance against Rothie Rovers on Saturday or we’ll be out the cup.’
With nearest title rivals Blantyre RGM being held to a 2-2 draw by fellow promotion chasers Lesmahagow, Saints 10th consecutive win sees them stretch their lead at the top of Central Scottish Amateur Football League Division 1B to 13 points.
Saints players Lewis Cameron and Scott Maitland trained with the Scottish international squad at the Falkirk Stadium on Sunday before Tuesday night’s friendly match against Camelon Juniors.
Oban Saints GG team return to action on Saturday with a home game against Kilbarchan Thistle.