Saturday 7th February 2015 - Stagecoach West Region Super League Division One
(Report by Peter Ferguson)
Del Esplin surges into the penalty area in the first half.
Glencairn reached the mid point of their league season with a trip into Ayrshire to play their first ever league match away to Ardeer Thistle, and the match ended in a goalless stalemate which really was of no use to either side. The Glens will look on this as two points dropped as they had enough chances to win the match comfortably including a saved penalty kick, but Ardeer will also look to good opportunities which could have earned them all three points in their battle to climb out of the relegation zone.
There was only one change to the starting XI for Glencairn after the last competitive match two weeks ago, with striker Denis McLaughlin making his first league start for almost two years after a serious knee injury, with Thomas Kilmartin taking his place on the substitutes' bench instead.
After a cagey opening to the match with the home side shading the game territorially, The Glens started to take a grip on proceedings and started to work Ardeer's experienced goalkeeper Paul McCann. Andy Neil strode forward from left back and fired a shot over the bar from 25 yards in the 13th minute, and a minute later McLaughlin set up Ross McNeil for a shot which McCann parried down low and a home defender hooked the ball to safety.
McLaughlin's clever footwork set up a chance for Jonny Boal in the 19th minute but he was blocked out by a good defensive challenge. Glencairn kept going though, and seconds later Graeme Brown's cross from the right flashed across the face of goal with no takers in the middle. A lovely pass by Marc Russell picked out the run of Brown into the penalty area in the 21st minute, but the right back fired his shot a yard past the junction of crossbar and post.
Ardeer's first effort on target came in the 23rd minute, as strikers Lee Munro and Ross Stewart combined well, the latter firing in a shot which Glencairn no.1 JC Hutchison parried for a corner. A minute later at the other end McCann saved again from McNeil in similar fashion to earlier after the striker had been set up by Del Esplin.
The half hour mark saw Hutchison make an excellent save to deny Stewart again, diving low to his right to tip a goal-bound shot round the post when a goal seemed certain. Glencairn continued to have the bulk of the pressure, but Ardeer were using their big pitch well on the break, and Neil had to make an important block to deny Scott Reid in the 37th minute.
Glencairn were given a golden chance to take the lead just before the interval when McNeil was toppled just inside the penalty area and the referee whistled for a spot kick. The normally reliable Ross Ballantyne stepped up to take the kick, but he scuffed his shot somewhat and McCann saved, with Boal firing the rebound effort over the bar from 12 yards.
Thistle defender Kevin Ramsay was shown the first yellow card of the game in the 44th minute for a late challenge. Ardeer were obviously encouraged by the penalty save, and almost took the lead on the stroke of half time, with only a brilliant block by Russell denying Munro right in front of goal.
Half time : 0-0
Glencairn were forced into a half time change with Andy Neil feeling unwell, and he was replaced at left back by the experience of Willie Galloway. The shape of 4-4-2 remained the same, and The Glens took the game to their hosts right from the start of the second half. McNeil found his way to the bye line and fired across goal, but once again nobody could convert in front of goal.
A corner from the left by Boal in the 47th minute was met by the head of Russell, but the ball flashed half a yard wide of the near post. The home side were pinned back inside their own penalty area as Glencairn looked to get the vital breakthrough, but they were met by stubborn resistance from the Ardeer defence and goalkeeper. Sean McGuire was particularly prominent for Glencairn, playing with great energy and determination to drive his team forward.
The pattern of the first half continued, however, with Ardeer looking dangerous on the break, with Stewart the main threat. Stewart was released on the left in the 52nd minute but he didn't have the pace to take himself away from the defence, so laid the ball back into the path of Toni Paton who fired wildly over the bar from 20 yards.
Glencairn should have been in front in the 55th minute when Boal pounced on a defensive lapse and cut the ball back into the path of top scorer McNeil, but the normally deadly striker fired over the bar from six yards out in front of goal.
The Glens' frustration was beginning to grow, and Galloway was shown a yellow card for an unnecessary flick of his boot after being fouled. Ardeer started to sense that, having survived the early second half onslaught, the game could be there for the taking. After a defensive mix-up led to Reid's shot being deflected over the bar, the home side had the best chance of the game in the 70th minute. Stewart was released clean though on goal and only had Hutchison to beat, but the big stopper stood up long enough to intimidate the striker and made a brilliant block with his leg to keep the scoreline blank.
Ross McNeil fired a free kick over the crossbar in the 73rd minute (pictured below) before Boal made way for the return to action of Kris Irvine from the substitute's bench. With the match on a knife-edge, things got a bit tousy out on the pitch, and Steven Tan of Ardeer was joined in the referee's book by Irvine after a skirmish involving several players on the halfway line.
Ross McNeil fires in a second half free kick.
Glencairn made their final throw of the dice with ten minutes remaining, Thomas Kilmartin replacing McNeil up front. Another mild skirmish ensued in the 81st minute after a late challenge by Russell saw him pick up a booking, but in general the match was well handled by the referee.
The game could be won by either side at this point, and Arnault Bembo went close for Ardeer with an angled run and shot from 20 yards, but Hutchison seemed confident that the ball was flying off target.
Thistle made their only change of the match in the 84th minute with Craig McIntosh replacing hard-working striker Munro, and Reid made it three yellow cards each for a very poor challenge on Esplin in the 88th minute.
Hutchison saved down low from Reid's angled shot in the 89th minute, before Glens went for one final push to try and win the game. McGuire found space to shoot in the 91st minute but couldn't get enough curl on his shot to pull it inside the post. A minute later Kilmartin set up Esplin for a shot on the stretch, but he couldn't get any power behind the effort and McCann saved easily.
The final few seconds saw a flurry of corners for Glencairn, but they just couldn't find the breakthrough and had to settle for a point which keeps them in 8th position in the league table.
Willie Harvey could see positives and negatives in the performance when he commented after the game. "It was good to keep a clean sheet as it's been a while since we've done that, so that's a step forward. We've stopped them going in at one end today, but we still seem to have the issue of missed chances at the other end. We're creating the chances, though, which is another positive."
Ardeer Thistle :- McCann, Ramsay, Tan, Bonner, Donnelly, Holding, Bembo, Reid, Stewart, Munro (McIntosh), Paton. (Subs not used - Bruce, Gregory, Blair, McGregor.)
Rutherglen Glencairn :- Hutchison, Brown, Neil (Galloway), Russell, Bishop, Esplin, Ballantyne, McGuire, McLaughlin, McNeil (Kilmartin), Boal (Irvine). (Subs not used - Stokes, Dalzell.)
Joint Man of the match - (chosen by Peter Ferguson) Sean McGuire and JC Hutchison.
Sean McGuire and JC Hutchison