Saturday 7th March 2015 - Stagecoach West Region Super League Division One
(Report by Peter Ferguson)
Del Esplin puts pressure on the Pollok defence in the first half.
Having only taken one point out of the last fifteen available in the league in the past three months, not many people gave Glencairn much of a chance as they made the short trip across the south side of Glasgow to play runaway league leaders Pollok. Prior to kick off the hosts were unbeaten at home in all competitions this season, winning all but one of those matches. But it was The Glens who came out on top after the ninety minutes to take a precious three points which lifts them back up into mid-table.
Great credit goes to the Pollok committee and groundstaff for getting the game on in the first place, after the torrential overnight rain wiped out every other junior match on grass in the Glasgow area. Prior to the match there was a minute's applause in memory of Maybole Juniors captain Stuart McGrady who died very suddenly last weekend.
There was a surprise in The Glens' starting line-up as 37-year-old Brian Welsh made a return to the club, and he played just in front of the back four in a 4-1-4-1 formation. Denis McLaughlin was the lone striker, with the energy of Sean McGuire and Del Esplin just behind him. Andy Neil tucked into central defence, with Willie Galloway coming in at left back.
The match took some time to really fire up, with Pollok on the front foot early on as expected but not really creating any real threat to JC Hutchison in the Glencairn goal. The first shot on target actually came from The Glens in the 12th minute, McGuire feeding McLaughlin whose shot was too straight at home no.1 Jordan Longmuir.
That seemed to wake Pollok up, and they had their first real chance less than a minute later. Ryan McCann set up David Winters on the left of the penalty area, but Hutchison made an excellent block from the prolific striker's shot, and McCann fired the rebound effort wide.
There was a brief moment of concern for Longmuir in the 17th minute when he sclaffed a kick out straight to McLaughlin, but the striker's attempted shot from distance was also scuffed well wide of the target with the goal wide open.
Glencairn had picked up a few early yellow cards, with Neil, Esplin and Marc Russell all entering the referee's book inside the opening 25 minutes. The Glens were looking comfortable in the game, however, and Pollok seemed to lack a cutting edge to their play in forward areas, with Neil and Russell defending strongly in the middle and being well protected by Welsh in front of them.
In forward areas, however, The Glens looked as if they could trouble Pollok, with McLaughlin providing an excellent "out" ball to allow willing runners to support. The 28th minute saw a surging run by McGuire end with a slipped pass to McLaughlin, whose shot for the near post was blocked away for a corner by Jamie Darroch. The resulting cross was only partially cleared, and Kris Irvine volleyed the ball back towards goal, only to see the ball ricochet off a few defenders to safety for the home side.
Hutchison produced a terrific save in the 35th minute to keep the scoreline blank. McCann beat the offside trap on the right and crossed onto the free head of Allan MacKenzie who seemed certain to score from six yards out, but Hutchison dived to his left to brilliantly parry the ball round the post. Pollok were beginning to threaten more now, and Winters set up Kevin Bradley for an angled shot which was deflected across goal and wide for another corner.
Just as it was looking like the teams would go into the break on level terms, The Glens took the lead in the 43rd minute. A long ball by Neil was only headed partially clear by Darroch into the path of Esplin. The midfielder slipped a precise pass through to Denis McLaughlin, beating the offside trap, and his shot crept into the corner of the net despite Longmuir getting a strong hand to the ball.
Pollok tried to respond immediately, and in first half stoppage time Welsh made an excellent covering tackle to deny McCann the chance to shoot. The home support were shouting for a penalty kick when McCann went down under a challenge by McGuire, but the referee instead blew for a dive and a free kick to Glencairn.
Half time : 0-1
Kris Irvine in first half action.
There were no personnel changes at the interval, but Pollok came out full of intent to get themselves level quickly. Hutchison made another excellent block to beat away a driven shot by John Sweeney, before Graeme Brown became the third Glencairn defender to see yellow for a foul on Bradley.
Glencairn were still standing strong defensively, though, with Neil effectively snuffing out the threat of dangerman Winters. At the other end, McGuire almost doubled The Glens' lead in the 53rd minute as he skipped into the penalty area and fired across goal and narrowly wide.
McLaughlin joined the yellow card list in the 56th minute for a late challenge as his legs began to tire from the lone striker role on a heavy pitch, particularly after his long injury lay-off. He was replaced just after the hour mark by top goal scorer Ross McNeil, whose pace on the break would create a different kind of problem for Pollok as they pushed forward for an equaliser.
Perhaps it was a sign of Glencairn's defensive confidence that, in the 64th minute, central defender Marc Russell decided to burst forward with the ball, and was allowed to carry the ball forty yards before unleashing a shot which slipped inches wide of the target, with Longmuir at full stretch.
Pollok manager Tony McInally decided on a double change in the 69th minute, with Tom Hanlon replacing McLennan at right back and Jamie Barclay replacing striker MacKenzie. The two subs combined two minutes later as Hanlon's free kick from the right was headed over the crossbar by Barclay from 12 yards.
Glencairn made their 2nd change in the 73rd minute, an enforced one this time, with Jonny Boal returning from a broken arm to replace the injured Brown, with Galloway switching to right back. Three minutes later it was the final change for Glens, with Dean Muir replacing Irvine as the shape changed to 4-2-3-1.
Pollok upped the pace again as the match moved into the final 12 minutes, but Glencairn simply stood stronger and repelled the threat. When Pollok did get in behind the defence, they found Hutchison in unbeatable form. The big stopper made a double save in the 79th minute, first of all blocking a drive by Findlay Frye, and then getting up off the floor to deny the rebound by Winters, bringing applause from both sets of supporters. The pressure remained, however, and the resulting corner ended with a shot by Winters which was blocked for another corner by Muir.
The introduction of McNeil, though, had added a real breakaway threat for Glencairn as the hosts pushed further on, especially with Pollok now throwing defender Paul Gallacher up front for the closing minutes. McNeil turned his marker on the edge of the penalty area in the 82nd minute and was really unlucky to see his shot beat Longmuir but rebound from the base of the far post.
Two minutes later Boal raced down the left flank and crossed into the centre, inches too high for McNeil who would have had an open goal to head into had he been just slightly taller. McNeil went close again in the 84th minute as he turned away from Darroch and curled a shot inches wide of the far post.
Pollok's desperation was obvious in the 2nd minute of stoppage time as Gallacher snatched at a shot and sent it almost as high over the bar as the height of the goal itself.
The decisive moment of the match arrived as the game moved into the 4th minute of stoppage time. Boal won a defensive tackle and launched the ball upfield. Darroch tried to pass back to Longmuir but was way short with the pass, allowing McNeil to race in to challenge. As the two players collided, Ross McNeil won the break of the ball, and got up just in time to catch the ball before it rolled out for a goal kick to squeeze it into the empty net from a yard out. McNeil ran straight to manager Willie Harvey to celebrate what everybody knew was the winner.
The Glens' fans left Newlandsfield delighted at what they had watched, as many had come somewhat in trepidation given the recent run of results. Willie Harvey commented after the game, "I'm delighted for all of the players, every one of them played their part today, it was a real team effort. I'm also very pleased for the fans, they have stuck by us through the past few months, so it was nice to see the smiles on their faces at the end there. Hopefully we can now use this to kick on."
Pollok :- Longmuir, McLennan (Hanlon), Richardson, Darroch, Gallacher, Frye, Bradley, McCann, Winters, Sweeney, MacKenzie (Barclay). (Subs not used - Capuano, Wild, McLaren.)
Rutherglen Glencairn :- Hutchison, Brown (Boal), Galloway, Neil, Russell, Welsh, Dalzell, Esplin, McLaughlin (McNeil), McGuire, Irvine (Muir). (Subs not used - McClung, Kilmartin.)
Man of the match - (chosen by Eddie Smith) Andy Neil.