Wednesday 9th August 2017 - Central Sectional League Cup Group 4
(Report by Peter Ferguson) (Pictures by Gerry King)
Jay McKay fires in Glencairn's equaliser from the penalty spot.
It was the trademark "game of two halves" at The Celsius Stadium on Wednesday night as The Glens came from two goals behind with 25 minutes remaining to win against Blantyre Victoria and keep alive their hopes of qualification from the Central Sectional League Cup group.
It had always been the management's plan to rotate the playing squad in these group matches ahead of the start of the league season but, after the poor performance in the defeat to Vale of Clyde in the opening game, it came as no surprise that there were as many as seven changes to the starting line-up. There were competitive debuts for new goalkeeper Jack Baker and defender Alex Grier, and a first competitive start for midfielder Craig Young. Last season's top goal scorer Jay McKay returned up front, and there was a place on the bench for new striker signing Graham Boyd after shaking off a niggling ankle injury.
The visitors were first to threaten, and Glens sweeper Rhys Donaldson picked up an early yellow card for chopping down former Glencairn u21 player Nadeem Zeb just outside the penalty area. The free kick was rolled to the side and Sam MacKenzie had acres of space to fire in a shot which came through a ruck of players, Baker doing well to keep his eye on it and parrying it to safety.
Blantyre continued to look the more likely side in the opening quarter, and Baker once again did well to beat away an angled effort by Zeb from 16 yards. The Glens were lacking in inspiration and a cutting edge at this point. Del McNab was initially being deployed as a striker, and he had a brief opportunity to shoot after turning inside Ross McKechnie, but the defender did well to recover and make an important block tackle.
The opening goal arrived right on the mid point of the first half, and it came as no surprise given the flow of play up to that point. Blantyre striker Sam MacKenzie pounced on a loose ball just over the halfway line and started on a diagonal run which took him past all three central defenders, and he calmly slipped the ball past Baker to make it 1-0 to The Vics.
Three minutes later the lead was doubled in somewhat controversial circumstances. Blantyre had a corner which appeared to be headed over the crossbar at the near post by Zeb, but the referee awarded another corner which no Vics player appeared to claim for. This time the delivery was right into the centre of goal, where Alan Murdoch found space on the six yard line to glance his header past Baker and into the far corner of the net.
An ambitious long range effort by Anthony Dempsey was saved on the dive to his right by Vics no.1 Scott Law, and it rather summed up the frustration of the home side in their inability to create chances of note up to this point. Tony Fraser was next to try his luck with a volley on the drop from 25 yards and, while this effort had more venom, it slipped a yard wide of the target.
The long range efforts continued from Glencairn, and after Dempsey's earlier effort it was the turn of the other two defenders to try their luck. Donaldson pulled a low shot wide of the target from 22 yards, before Alex Grier fired in an effort from 30 yards which clipped the top of the crossbar.
The referee once again courted controversy by awarding another corner to Blantyre despite Kevin McFarlane's free kick clearly sailing onto the roof of the net without Baker touching it. Fortunately this time the whistler's blushes were spared as the set piece came to nothing for the visitors.
Half time : 0-2
Graham Boyd (left) scores to bring Glencairn back into the match.
The first half performance by Glencairn had clearly been far from satisfactory in the eyes of the management, and the team were left in no doubt at half time about what was expected of them after the restart.
There were early signs of encouragement for the home support as Baker's long kick was pounced upon by McKay, and he nutmegged Murdoch before crossing to the back post, just out of the reach of Stewart Hall. There was clearly more energy about The Glens now though, and they had returned to their passing game instead of the disjointed and untidy nature of the first half. Hall's cross from the right found its way through to Michael Hardie who fired over the bar from 18 yards.
A delightfully disguised pass by McKay appeared initially to have opened up the Blantyre defence for McNab to pounce, but he was denied by the assistant referee's offside flag, and he pulled the shot wide of goal anyway.
The first substitutions arrived just before the hour mark and it saw a double change for Glencairn as Ryan McArdle came on to the left flank and Graham Boyd went up front. Hardie and Hall were the players replaced, McNab dropping back to the right of midfield and Boyd joining McKay up front. Blantyre also made a change as Lewis McLear replaced opening goal scorer MacKenzie.
Glencairn had the ball in the net when Dempsey's deflected cross looped up in the air and McKay bundled the ball over the line in his challenge with Law. The goal was disallowed by what appeared to be an offside flag, as there was no obvious foul in the challenge by McKay on Law.
The home fans' frustrations continued as McArdle's corner found its way through to McNab at the back post, and he took a touch before firing in a shot which was parried away by Law.
The Glens were getting closer, though, and they finally got on the score sheet from another corner in the 67th minute. McArdle's short corner with Craig Young was swung in to the back post, where McNab cushioned his header into the path of Graham Boyd, and the big striker hooked his shot into the net from 12 yards (pictured above) for a goal on his competitive debut.
It was a completely different match now, and Glencairn continued to threaten as Fraser's cross found its way to McNab at the back post, Law once again showing quick reactions to get out to block the shot. The Glens' final change saw striker Alessandro Savarese replace midfielder Young as the team re-shaped to 3-4-3. Blantyre made their 2nd change as Darren McLear replaced Craig Kerr in midfield.
The momentum towards the Blantyre goal continued, and Glencairn now had the bit between their teeth. Sean McGuire's chipped pass looked like running through to Law until Boyd got his foot to the ball first to keep the ball live. Boyd forced the ball into the path of McKay whose shot was blocked in front of goal by the arm of defender Gary Campbell, and the referee blew for a penalty kick. Jay McKay stepped up to open his account for the season as he fired his shot from 12 yards firmly past Law's outstretched arms (pictured at top) to make it 2-2 after 73 minutes.
Blantyre had shown very little of threat in the second half, but a brief lapse in concentration at the back for Glencairn allowed Zeb space to turn and fire across the face of goal, with no red shirt sliding in to apply the finish that the cross had begged for. A few minutes later Lewis McLear outmuscled Donaldson in front of goal to get his head to the ball, but nodded over the crossbar.
The home support had been down in the dumps only quarter of an hour earlier, but they were jumping for joy in the 80th minute as The Glens took the lead. McNab was the architect this time, winning possession just outside his own penalty area and surging past one challenge before releasing a defence-splitting pass from the halfway line into the path of Alessandro Savarese, who took a touch and then fired past Law at his near post (pictured below).
The game wasn't quite won at that point, and Blantyre went close to an equaliser as a corner from the right was met by the head of Lewis McLear, nodded away just in front of goal by Fraser. There were to be no more butterflies for the Glencairn defence, however, and they held out to grab three points which had seemed unlikely 25 minutes earlier, keeping themselves in contention for qualification from the group.
Rutherglen Glencairn :- Baker, Grier, Dempsey, Donaldson, Fraser, McGuire, Hall (McArdle), Young (Savarese), McNab, Hardie (Boyd), McKay. (Subs not used - Neil, McGregor.)
Blantyre Victoria :- Law, Coleman, McKechnie, Campbell, Murdoch, McFarlane, Zeb, Kerr (Darren McLear), Brown, MacKenzie (Lewis McLear), Cassidy. (Subs not used - Conlon, Byrne.)
Man of the match - (chosen by Eddie Smith) Tony Fraser.