Nein, nein, nein

Dene Cassells heads over the Lesmahagow bar. Photograph: Derek Black.

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Central Scottish AFL Premier Division
Lesmahagow 9
Oban Saints 1

Following three covid-19 related fixture cancellations, Oban Saints finally made their Central Scottish Amateur Football League Premier Division debut at a sun-drenched Glebe Park, Lesmahagow, last Saturday afternoon.

Despite missing a number of key players, Saints made the 240-mile round trip with a squad they thought were capable of competing against fellow Premier Division new boys Lesmahagow.

Unfortunately for Saints, their lack of match sharpness and squad depth cost them dearly against a rampant Lesmahagow side which had already netted 25 times in their opening four league and cup fixtures.

After matching their hosts for 30 minutes, Saints fell behind to a penalty kick successfully converted by Graham Gracie following a controversial award by referee Dougie Gunning.

Saints spurned the chance to equalise when Nathan Wharton saved Donald Campbell’s spot kick before Alex Craik put the ball past his own keeper to give the hosts a flattering two goal half-time lead.

A succession of uncharacteristic second half errors from Saints were ruthlessly exploited by the free scoring hosts who were clinical in their finishing and relentless in their pursuit of goals to add to their already impressive tally finally running out 9 – 1 winners.

Lesmahagow took the lead after a coming together of bodies controversially resulted in a penalty kick being awarded to the home side. If anything, Lewis Cameron looked to be the victim rather than the perpetrator in the challenge, however, referee Gunning saw it the other way. Graham Gracie found the bottom corner from the penalty spot sending Murdo MacKenzie the wrong way.

An aggrieved Saints responded with a Martin Bonar shot wide of target after good work from Lewis Cameron and David Beaton before Mr Gunning levelled up the penalty count spotting a foul on Craig MacEwan inside the box.

Donald Campbell’s spot kick was hit at a good height for Nathan Wharton who got across well to his right to make the save and preserve the home side’s advantage.

The first half ended disastrously for Saints, setting the tone for a calamitous second period. Lewis Cameron’s dangerous free-kick to the Lesmahagow back post was well defended by Jack Turley whose clearing header found Scott Gray on the left. Gray’s punt upfield for Graham Gracie to chase was watched by Alex Craik whose attempt to hook the ball back over his head came off his shin and looped over Murdo MacKenzie into the net.

The two goal half-time deficit was extremely harsh on Saints and no real indication of what was to follow in the second half. Straight from the re-start, Scott Gray’s diagonal ball picked out Jordan McCrorie’s back post run and only an excellent save from Murdo MacKenzie denied the pacy winger.

Gray and McCrorie combined again in the 52nd minute with McCrorie nipping in at the near post to poke the ball past MacKenzie.

Lesmahagow skipper Darren Smith’s 60th minute block stopped a net-bound Lewis Cameron effort before another long ball caught out the Saints’ rear guard. Alex Craik’s indecision in dealing with the danger was exploited by Graham Gracie who pounced to steer the ball away from MacKenzie and into the net.

A groin strain ended young Kyle Cooper’s involvement in proceedings after 64 minutes with his place being taken by Rory Dowd who was also making his competitive debut.
The hosts made a triple substitution withdrawing Darren Smith, Marc McGinty and Scott Gray and sending on Johnny Logan, Robbie Kilpatrick and Nathan McConnell.

Logan’s impact was almost instant and his 69th minute run on the left beat Steven MacLeod with Murdo MacKenzie making another stop at his near post to deny the substitute. MacKenzie, however, was unable to hold Logan’s shot with Graham Gracie on hand to lift the ball over Dene Cassells on the goal line to complete his hat-trick.

Saints gave another youngster a debut, rewarding Cammy Clark for his recent solid second team performances with an appearance for the closing 20 minutes at the expense of Martin Bonar.

Clark was heavily involved in Saints consolation goal providing the cross from the right wing which Lewis Cameron poked home from close range.

The Saints’ toe-hold in the match only lasted 60 seconds as goal machine Gracie curled a free-kick left footed from the corner of the box around the four-man Saints’ wall and over the head of goalkeeper MacKenzie.

When you are down, fortune seldom favours you and Saints found this to be true when Jordan McCrorie’s off target 79th minute free-kick took a massive deflection sending it past the wrong-footed Murdo MacKenzie for goal number seven.

Substitutes Johnny Logan and Daryl Meikle combined to rub more salt into the wounds of Saints when MacKenzie let another Logan shot squirm away from him and into the path of Daryl Meikle for a tap-in.

Derrin Mackenzie’s untracked run from midfield to reach Johnny Logan’s pass saw the substitute round MacKenzie before rolling the ball into the empty net for the host’s ninth and final goal of the afternoon.

Referee Gunning, who this season is donating half of his fee for every match to The Beatson Cancer Charity, thankfully brought proceedings to a close before Lesmahagow could hit double figures leaving Saints gaffer Willie Gemmell with much to ponder ahead of this Saturday’s home encounter with 2015 Premier Division Champions Harestanes at Glencruitten 2, kick-off 1.30pm.

Any doubts about the size of the challenge facing Saints in their debut Premier Division season will have been dispelled by this humbling at the hand’s of the league’s early pace setters and the gaffer and his charges must re-group quickly.

Top of the manager’s agenda will be getting a full strength team on the park, coupled with a swift return to the commitment levels which won Saints promotion to the Premier Division.

A bad day at the office continued for the Oban Saints squad as it took them seven hours to get home from Lesmahagow after an accident at Luss closed the A82 and the boys had to make a detour on the narrow A814 which was gridlocked for hours.

The squad eventually made it to the single track road which took them over Glen Douglas and back onto the A82 at Inverbeg and finally back to Oban at 11pm – a day the club will want to forget.

Dene Cassells heads over the Lesmahagow bar.
Match report and photograph: Derek Black.