Jags show strength in depth in league encounter

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This lively league encounter lived up to the old cliche of ‘a game of two halves’.

South Lochaber Thistle were two nil up at half time with Eastwood Parkmount ‘A’ winning the second half by the same scoreline.

Forced into nine changes from last week’s already reshuffled team, the Jags gave a starting debut to Graham Laidlaw and a first start to Archie Bowman in the full back areas as SLT went for a back five – starting the game with nine recognised defenders in the squad.

Unfortunately for the Kinlochleven outfit, the returning Bradley Flannigan, one of those defenders, caught his studs in the turf not two minutes into the game whilst challenging the Eastwood striker resulting in an early debut for Connor Kellett who slotted in with Andrew Moore and Stevie Neil at the heart of the defence.

The heavy grass park made it tough going for both sides and David Wilson was called upon to keep the Jags in the game on more than one occasion with the woodwork helping him out to keep the home side at bay.

Midway through the first half veteran, loyal SLT man, home owner and – for a short time – referee Dave Forbes found Lewis Murphy with a well-taken header. Murphy flicked the ball over the on-rushing defender before scampering around the forlorn Eastwood man before finishing into the bottom corner.

Things went from good to better when renowned caman swinger and hard tackler Michael Rodger lined up a free kick five yards in from the touchline on the Eastwood left 25 yards out. His cross/shot deceived the goalkeeper and nestled in the back of the net, much to the management’s delight.

Unfortunately, the second half didn’t start as the Jags would have hoped with Eastwood scoring within 30 seconds of the re-start.

The Parkmount side were in the ascendency and piling the pressure onto the Jags’ backline.

Man mountain Stevie Neil was winning every header and challenge with a ‘Braveheartesque’ performance. The Oban man’s ability to lead the backline and put his body on the line for his team was integral to keeping the Eastwood forwards at bay.

With the game turning in favour of Eastwood, Kian Cameron was brought on for Bowman with the Jags changing shape to combat the dominant Eastwood.

This seemed to do the trick, but with 15 minutes left to go, the Eastwood winger got free down the right and cut the ball back to the striker. His shot was magnificently saved by the inspired Wilson, only for the keeper to see the other forward nip in and finish on the rebound.

But the Jags held out to the final whistle to come away with a hard-earned and deserved point.

Speaking about the performance, manager Alan Gray said: ‘If we’d been offered a draw before kick-off we would have taken it and, on reflection, it was the right outcome.

‘It is great to see that even with nine players missing from last week’s squad that we could get a team out and they were excellent. It is especially good to see the younger lads coming in and showing up well.’

During the week, Thistle were drawn in the fourth round of the FA Cup against New Farm Loch AFC, a Kilmarnock-based team plying their trade in the Ayrshire Premier Division.

New Farm, first division champions in 2018/19, will host SLT on Saturday December 4.

Alan Gray said: ‘We’re looking forward to going up against New Farm Loch. They are a very good side and will prove a stern test, I’m sure.

‘That being said, with the quality we have in our squad we’ll be a match for anyone at this level when we are firing on all cylinders.’

This Saturday, The Jags host old sparring partners Helensburgh for another league game at the Kinlochleven Astro.