Saturday 15th July 2017 - James Glen Memorial Trophy (Kilbirnie tournament)
(Report by Peter Ferguson)
Njabulo Ndlovu rises to meet a cross in the second half rainstorm.
The Glens are through the final of the annual James Glen Memorial Trophy pre-season tournament hosted by Kilbirnie Ladeside for the third time in four years, courtesy of a last-minute winning goal. The match against the Under 20s side of SPFL Division One side Stranraer had looked destined for a penalty kick decider until the dramatic late twist.
There were seven changes to the starting line-up from last week's first pre-season match against Carluke Rovers, including a first appearance in the black and white of Glencairn for new striker signing Graham Boyd, ironically playing at his old home of Valefield Park.
The young Stranraer side looked sharp and keen early in the match and Glencairn's defence had to be on its toes to contain their opponents' enthusiasm. Glencairn goalkeeper KP McAllister had been thrown into the match at the last minute due to an injury to Jack Baker in the warm-up, but he showed his awareness as he raced out to get a block to Kieran McLaughlin's effort on the breakaway in the 3rd minute, with Rhys Donaldson and Tony Fraser tidying up the loose ball in front of goal. A minute later Fraser made an important defensive header in front of goal after good work on the left by Fraser Burns.
Glencairn started to settle into the match, though, and Fraser pulled a save out of Stranraer no.1 Ryan McLaren with a low free kick from 20 yards. The threat was still there at the other end, and Gavin Scott was given space inside the penalty area but fired his shot wide of the far post in the 10th minute. Scott repeated this from the other side a few minutes later, again shooting wide.
The early pressure from Stranraer didn't last, though, and Glencairn started to control the game better around the 15th minute. Stewart Hall's cross from the right was chested down by Fraser Team into the path of Boyd who drilled a low shot wide from 18 yards out. A fine passing move a couple of minutes later ended with Boyd feeding Sean McGuire who was blocked out as he tried to fire in his shot.
Ryan Bennett was forced to leave the field after only 21 minutes with the recurrence of a back problem, and he was replaced in central midfield by Craig Young, making his first official appearance as a first team player after his promotion from the Under 21s.
Craig Young wasted no time in getting himself involved in the action.
A minute later saw the first of several Glencairn penalty claims being denied, as shouts for handball were waved away by the referee. There was a stronger shout on the half hour mark as Boyd appeared to be pushed from behind six yards from goal, but once again the referee wasn't interested and waved play on.
The Glens were looking the much more likely side to score at this stage, and Team went close with a curled effort in the 34th minute which was just half a yard too high and wide. There was a reminder of Stranraer's threat two minutes later as Jai Holland rose unchallenged to glance a header well wide of goal.
As half time approached Stranraer started to threaten more seriously again, and McAllister did well to beat away a low swerving shot by Adam Caldwell after 39 minutes. Three minutes later McAllister came to the rescue again with an outstanding instinctive save to deny McLaughlin from point blank range when a goal seemed certain.
The last effort on goal of the first half came from Glencairn, with McGuire trying his trademark chip over the goalkeeper from 20 yards, but over-cooking the shot slightly, meaning that the scoreline was blank at the interval.
Half time : 0-0
Ryan McArdle takes on his marker in the first half.
There were four changes to the line-up at half time for Glencairn. Njabulo Ndlovu replaced Fraser in the holding midfield role, and Jamie Hamilton came into the creative midfield role to replace McGuire. The two strikers Boyd and Team were also withdrawn and replaced by Gary Smith and Alessandro Savarese respectively.
There were positive early signs for The Glens as Hamilton's directness seemed to unsettle the Stranraer defence, and he linked well with Smith in the 47th minute with the ball just being scrambled away before Savarese could pounce to shoot. The deadlock was broken only a minute later, as Ryan McArdle's corner from the right was met by Gary Smith at the near post, and his glancing header flashed into the net just inside the far post.
Glencairn were looking much sharper now, and the third unsuccessful penalty claim came when Hall ran onto Savarese's pass and was bundled off the ball. The assistant referee flagged for a foul but the referee over-ruled him and insisted that it was a fair shoulder challenge.
Hall was replaced on the right flank by Del McNab in the 56th minute, and shortly afterwards Glencairn's final change saw Andy Neil take the left side of defence, replacing Anthony Dempsey.
Stranraer goalkeeper McLaren did very well to get down low to his left to beat away a drilled shot by Smith which was flying into the bottom corner, and only seconds later Smith went close again with an overhead kick attempt which was just off target.
The game changed in the 69th minute as Stranraer pulled themselves level. Holland latched onto a loose ball before nutmegging Craig McGregor, who hauled him to the ground for a penalty kick. Ewan Farrell stepped up to squeeze his shot past McAllister, who got a hand to the ball but couldn't prevent it crossing the line.
Stranraer fancied their chances of winning the game now, and Glencairn's defence had to stand strong, with Donaldson marshalling the back line expertly. McGregor made an important headed clearance to knock the ball away from Adam Laurie who was looking to convert at the back post in the 72nd minute.
Once again, though, Glencairn absorbed the pressure and regained their control on the game, Young's skidding shot deflected narrowly wide in the 75th minute. The resulting corner almost produced a carbon copy of the opening goal, Smith glancing the ball on again but just off target this time, and Savarese's effort at the back post was knocked out for another corner kick.
Hamilton's dribbling is a joy to watch at times, and he skipped past four defenders in the 77th minute before seeing his shot parried by McLaren, and the goalkeeper also somehow managed to dive on Savarese's rebound effort to keep the scores level.
The rain which had been falling for most of the game was now torrential, and it seemed that the game was destined for a penalty shoot-out. Glencairn almost went in front in the 83rd minute as a corner from the left wasn't cleared, allowing McGregor to shoot on the turn, but he fired well over.
Just as the two dugouts were starting to think of who could take the spot kicks, the match was decided by a piece of brilliance in the 90th minute. Young fed Gary Smith on the left edge of the penalty area, and the striker turned his marker outside and then inside before drilling a decisive shot into the corner of the net to earn The Glens a place in the tournament final.
There was no way back for Stranraer after that, but there was still time for another penalty claim to be turned down by the referee, this time for handball as Smith threatened to score again. The referee added only a minute of stoppage time before blowing for full time.
Glencairn assistant manager Joe Pryce was happy with what he'd watched, and he commented, "Stranraer's style of play was very similar to our own, they like to get the ball down and pass it quickly and play with a lot of energy, so it was a good test for both sides. I felt we deserved to win the game over the 90 minutes, and it's always nice to be in a final. We're looking forward to tomorrow and another good test."
Rutherglen Glencairn :- McAllister, McGregor, Dempsey (Neil), Donaldson, Fraser (Ndlovu), McGuire (Hamilton), Hall (McNab), Bennett (Young), Boyd (Smith), Team (Savarese), McArdle.
Stranraer u20s :- McLaren, Caldwell, Gray, Simpson, Mitchell, Burns, McLaughlin, Holland, Scott, Fawkes, Williamson. (Subs - Farrell, Ewing, Laurie, Anderson, Heron, Smith, McGowan, Currie.)
Man of the match - (chosen by Peter Ferguson) Rhys Donaldson.