Saints are a Thorn in the flesh

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Pre-season friendly
Oban Saints 1
Thorn Athletic 0

Former Scottish Amateur Football League rivals Oban Saints and Thorn Athletic met last Saturday at Oban’s Community 3G pitch in the first friendly match between the sides.

League and cup encounters between the two have always been highly competitive, giving an extra edge to this eagerly anticipated friendly meeting which should stand both sides in good stead when the real action starts in August.

Thorn will feel they deserved to take something from a game which they dominated for long periods and if it wasn’t for an inspired performance from goalkeeper Murdo MacKenzie and a defensive master class from Dene Cassells and Steven MacLeod they would certainly have done so.

With manager Willie Gemmell and assistant Ross Maitland both unavailable, secretary David Buchanan and coach Peter MacCallum were in charge of team affairs and had former managers Alex Craik and Donald Campbell alongside them on the touchline.

Saints kicked off in something approaching 30 degree heat attacking the Glencruitten end and full credit to both sets of players who, despite the high temperature, maintained a high tempo.

Saints opened the scoring in the 16th minute when Matty Kelly stepped inside Jack McDougall on the Saints right and threaded a diagonal ball for Cammy Hill to run onto. Hill outpaced Thorn right back Martin McInnes before drawing keeper Ryan Ward and squaring to Martin Bonar. Always with a keen eye for goal, Bonar made good ground to get up in support of central striker Hill and with the goal at his mercy made no mistake from ten yards.

Martin Bonar is congratulated by team-mates Cammy Hill, Rory Dowd and Matty Kelly after his goal. Photograph: Derek Black.

The visitors were almost back on level terms straight from the re-start through skipper Ryan Crawford. The Scottish Amateur International midfielder was given time and space to fire off a sweetly struck right foot shot from 35 yards which had goal written all over it.

Saints keeper Murdo MacKenzie, standing in for the unavailable Graham Douglas, had other ideas, however, and produced the first of a string of excellent saves leaping high to his right to push Crawford’s effort over his crossbar.

On the half hour mark, Myles McAuley was penalised for a late challenge on Ryan Crawford 28 yards from goal. Saints were relieved dead ball expert Paul Young was on the touchline, however, Muir McCluskey lifted a left footed strike worthy of his gaffer over the Saints wall forcing Murdo MacKenzie to make another fine save high to his left.

Five minutes later it was Saints turn to try to exploit a dead ball situation. Scott Maitland and Cammy Hill linked up well on the left with Hill finding the feet of Rory Dowd whose jinking run towards goal was halted unceremoniously inches outside of the Thorn box.

With no Lewis Cameron available, Rory Dowd took responsibility for the free-kick. The young midfielder successfully curled his free-kick around the Thorn wall but was left cursing his luck when his effort came crashing back off Ryan Ward’s left hand post before being thumped to safety.

Saints’ temporary management team of Buchanan and MacCallum made their first change for the closing stages of the first half sending on Alex Craik to replace Kerr Newbigging at right back. Craik kept his place for the start of the second half and would go on to have a telling influence on proceedings.

The visitors were quickly on the attack at the start of the second half, but it was Saints who came closest to adding to the scoring with a swift counter-attack. Matty Kelly sent Cammy Hill away on the right with the big striker drawing an excellent save from Ryan Ward low down to his right.

There was a welcome sight for Saints loyal home support when Donald Campbell made his first appearance in almost a year, replacing Martin Bonar in midfield for the closing half hour.

The former co-manager, who has re-joined the playing staff and is currently working his way towards full match fitness, used his experience to good effect alongside Myles McAuley who put in another excellent midfield performance.

Saints came close to doubling their advantage in the 74th minute after good work on the right involving Donald Campbell, Matty Kelly, Gavin Forgrieve and Cammy Hill sent Kelly racing towards the bye-line. Kelly got there before Jack McDougall but sent his cutback too close to Ryan Ward with Rory Dowd and Scott Maitland waiting.

Kerr Newbigging rejoined the action for the closing 15 minutes replacing Matty Kelly.
Murdo MacKenzie continued his heroics between the posts with another fine save low down to his left to push away a Muir McCluskey free-kick.

Kenny Black replaced the injured Gavin Forgrieve with 16-year-old Kyle Cooper also getting a run-out up front in place of Cammy Hill who had put in a good shift against an experienced Thorn defence.

Alex Craik made another terrific interception to deny Thorn what would have been a deserved equaliser, however, to lose their clean sheet at the last gasp after such a solid defensive performance would also have been harsh on Murdo MacKenzie and his defence.

It’s Caledonian League Premier Division opposition again this Saturday, July 31, when Stenhousemuir Community come visiting in Saints penultimate friendly match before the new season kicks off on Saturday August 14. This Saturday’s game will be played at Glen 2 with a 2pm kick-off.

Match report and photographs: Derek Black