Saturday 18th April 2015 - Stagecoach West Region Super League Division One
(Report by Peter Ferguson)
Glencairn's fans cheer the opening goal by Ross McNeil (out of picture, left).
Glencairn made it 15 points out of 15 as they kept alive their ptomotion hopes with a third consecutive home victory. The result lifts The Glens back into 5th place in the league table, only two points behind Kilsyth Rangers in the 3rd place play-off spot and with two games in hand.
There were three changes to the starting line-up from the midweek cup match. Brian Welsh came back into his holding midfield role with Dean Muir dropping to the substitute's bench, and Jordan Dalzell's absence through work created a space for Del Esplin to return after being rested in midweek. Denis McLaughlin was also rested for the cup tie, but he returned up front with Thomas Kilmartin swapping with him for his place on the bench.
Neilston's need for points in their fight against relegation was evident in their commitment and energy early in the game, and they almost took the lead inside the opening minute. Andy Neil was caught in possession and Barry Tulloch's cross was fed into the path of Robbie Cameron, who fired high over the crossbar. It was a let-off for The Glens who were nearly caught cold.
The visitors continued to threaten, and Tulloch should have hit the target in the 6th minute but instead fired his shot across the face of goal and wide of the far post. A minute later a poor clearance by Ross Ballantyne set up a chance for Matthew Stevenson to hit an angled drive which slipped half a yard wide of the target.
Glencairn finally found their feet in the 9th minute and went close when Graeme Brown's cross was glanced at the near post by McLaughlin's head, but he didn't get enough contact on the ball and it flashed across the face of goal. A minute later Ross McNeil's cross from the left almost dropped straight into the net, with Neilston goalkeeper Cammy Sinclair scrambling to get over, but the ball dropped just wide of the far post.
The match was much more even as the 15 minute mark arrived, with McLaughlin and Esplin both having shots on target blocked, before former Glencairn defender Craig Murphy made a good block to deny Ballantyne as he pulled the trigger from 14 yards.
The referee courted controversy in the 19th minute as he awarded Neilston a corner kick when no Glencairn player had even got close to touching the ball on its way out of play. The resulting cross flashed across the face of goal to the relief of the home support.
Neilston almost capitalised on a lack of concentration in the home defence at the mid point of the first half with a short corner, but first of all Jonny Boal and then Neil and Esplin made vital blocks to deny the visitors an opening goal. Cameron pulled a save out of JC Hutchison in the 26th minute after showing his strength to hold off Welsh.
The deadlock was broken on the half hour mark with a real touch of quality. Ballantyne's corner was initially cleared but then fed back out to him. The Glens' captain swung over a better cross the second time, and Ross McNeil reacted first to head-flick the ball beackwards from 12 yards and into the net off the inside of the post, his 12th goal in 12 starts (pictured at top).
McNeil almost doubled his tally four minutes later when he was left free to head Ballantyne's corner from the right, but Sinclair saved this time on his goal line.
The Neilston contingent in the ground were furious in the 36th minute when the referee pointed to the penalty spot for Glencairn when goalkeeper Sinclair lost out in a race with Esplin and clearly tripped the midfielder. There was no question that it was a foul, but whether the foul was in the box or just outside was a matter of much debate. It took over two minutes for the referee to calm the Neilston players and bench down, but that didn't bother Denis McLaughlin as he waited calmly before firing the ball into the centre of the net to make it 2-0 (pictured below.)
Denis McLaughlin fires in Glencairn's second goal from the penalty spot.
Neilston's players now had a real sense of injustice, and there was some expectation amongst the home support that the referee may look to even up the decisions, with Neilston's protests continuing to the extent of one of their coaching staff being sent to the dressing room. However, when Cameron went down unconvincingly inside the penalty area under a challenge by David Dunnachie, the referee rightly waved away the visitors' loud appeals for a penalty.
Half time : 2-0
Neither side made any changes at the interval, and Neilston were first to go close in the second half. A free kick from the right was only partially cleared by Esplin, and the ball broke out to Stevenson who fired over the crossbar rom 16 yards.
Glencairn increased their lead in the 49th minute with another quite clinical finish. A long ball from Hutchison caused some indecision in the Neilston defence and, when the ball rolled through to Sinclair, the 'keeper scuffed his kick out. Denis McLaughlin was first to react, taking a touch and composing himself before chipping a perfect finish back over Sinclair and into the empty net.
The home support relaxed at this stage and felt that the points were in the bag, and looked forward to the rest of the second half in the sunshine. Neilston hadn't given up though, and a brilliant defensive header by Brown denied what looked like a certain goal for Daniel McKay right in front of goal. David Gordon curled a free kick wide of the target from just outside the angle of the penalty area in the 53rd minute.
Neilston made their first change in the 58th minute with Allan Diack replacing Stephen Docherty, and three minutes later the visitors were gifted a route back into the match. A corner from the left was sliced into his own net from close range by Glencairn defender David Dunnachie, sparking hopes amongst the travelling support of a big comeback.
This prompted a sustained spell of pressure on the Glencairn goal, and Boal had to make an excellent block on the line after Cameron's shot from close range had been set up by Tulloch's cross and McKay's header back across goal. Derek Kennedy replaced defender Murphy as Neilston pressed Glencairn back into their own half, and Docherty drilled an angled shot inches over the crossbar from 16 yards.
Glencairn made their first change in the 72nd minute, with Dean Muir replacing Ballantyne in midfield, but the pressure from Neilston continued and Boal made another good block to deny Adam Nisanci as the ball spun across the face of goal.
Double goalscorer McLaughlin was replaced in the 79th minute with the fresher legs of Thomas Kilmartin, and it took only two minutes for "Deco" to hit the target and effectively secure the points for Glencairn. Top scorer McNeil turned provider this time, nicking the ball away from his marker and holding play up until support arrived, before crossing right onto the free head of Thomas Kilmartin who nodded into the net from 6 yards out.
That goal knocked any lingering fight out of Neilston, and McNeil was wrapped up for the next game with four minutes remaining and replaced by Kris Irvine. The 89th minute saw Hutchison make a superb block to a drilled free kick (pictured below) and then get back up to snuff out the rebound with the help of his defence.
JC Hutchison makes a great save late on from a Neilston free kick.
The action continued deep into injury time, and Kilmartin should have made it five in the 93rd minute when he was released through on goal by Esplin, but Sinclair blocked with his legs. A minute later the refereee pointed to the penalty spot again when Kieran McDade upended Irvine just inside the box. Kilmartin stepped up this time, but once again Sinclair denied him, diving to his right to parry the shot and also blocking the rebound attempt, before the referee immediately blew for full time.
Rutherglen Glencairn :- Hutchison, Brown, Boal, Neil, Dunnachie, Welsh, McGuire, Esplin, McNeil (Irvine), McLaughlin (Kilmartin), Ballantyne (Muir). (Subs not used - Galloway, Eadie.)
Neilston Juniors :- Sinclair, Murray (Kennedy), Gordon, McGhee, McDade, Stevenson, Nisanci, Docherty (Diack), Cameron, McKay, Tulloch. (Subs not used - Lennox, Dempsey, Digney (gk).)
Man of the match - (chosen by Eddie Smith) David Dunnachie.