Saturday 14th May 2016 - West of Scotland Under 21 Premier League
(Report by Peter Ferguson)
Njabulo Ndlovu battles for first half possession.
Glencairn Under 21s' hopes of winning the Premier League championship are hanging by a very thin thread tonight after a 3-1 defeat at the hands of title rivals Tower Hearts. The result leaves Tower needing only a draw in their final match to clinch the trophy, after they came from behind to clinch the three points with two late strikes.
The two teams have been going toe-to-toe for the title all season, and went into the match having lost only one game each and drawn four games each, winning all of their other games. The match between the sides earlier in the season had ended in a draw, and both sides also had one cup win against the other, so another closely fought encounter was anticipated.
Before the match started the players and the large shirt-sleeved crowd observed a minute's applause in memory of Marcus Whitelaw, a popular junior football supporter who passed away a couple of days previously. Marcus was a regular visitor to Rutherglen Glencairn and was a friend of many of the current players and the coaching staff.
The match couldn't have started in a better fashion for the young Glens, as they took the lead with the first big chance of the game after only four minutes. Good link play by Ryan Bennett and Dale Wallace released Jason McArthur on the right edge of the penalty area, and his cross was laid on a plate for Anton Phinn to fire into the net from six yards out, Phinn's 35th goal of the season.
There was a hint of the tension in the match in the 10th minute when Craig Young was late with a tackle, provoking an angry reaction from Tower defender Sean McCall, and suddenly there were a few players jumping in to have their say and push others about.
Former Glencairn under 21 midfielder Dale Simeon was clearly the dangerman for Tower, and he skipped to the bye line in the 16th minute before his cross was cut out at the near post by Young. Glencairn went close at the other end four minutes later when a beautifully disguised pass by Njabulo Ndlovu set up Phinn for an angled shot which slipped inches wide of the post.
A perfectly-timed block by Ross McConville denied Alessandro Savarese as he fired a shot at the end of Kyle Gallagher's run for Tower at the mid point of the first half. Play continued to swing from end to end, and Phinn's incisive pass picked out McArthur for a low shot which Tower no.1 Calum McBain saved down low to his right.
Glencairn defender Shaun Roberts was shown yellow for a blatant trip on Tower defender Stephen Kerr as he strode forward down the left flank, leaving the Glens man needing to be careful in his challenges for the rest of the match.
Phinn was at the heart of most of Glencairn's threatening moves, and he went close again with a curled effort in the 33rd minute which slipped narrowly wide of the target. A goal seemed certain in the 39th minute when Phinn's curling free kick was flicked on towards the top left hand corner of the net, only for Stephen Kerr to appear from nowhere to head the ball off the goal line.
Another lovely pass by Phinn released McArthur in the 41st minute, but the ball slipped under the striker's foot and the chance to shoot was lost. Tower midfielder Dylan Hendry was shown yellow for a foul on Connor McGuiness and was showing signs of a fragile temperament as the game wasn't currently going to his team's plan.
Tower had mild appeals for a penalty kick just before the interval when Roberts climbed in the air to challenge with Simeon and the ball ran past both players for a goal kick, but the referee rightly wasn't interested.
Half time :- 1-0
Jason McArthur flicks the ball on to strike partner Dale Wallace.
Glencairn started the second half well, with Phinn's tricky feet taking him away from his marker before swinging over a cross which McArthur headed over the crossbar at full stretch. A brilliant sliding block by Callum Nolan denied a goal for Bennett after Glencairn's captain had been set up by Wallace's lay-off.
Phinn's vision continued to cause trouble for the Tower rearguard and his ball over the top picked out the run of McArthur in behind the defence again, the ball just slipping off the striker's foot as he tried to control it coming over his head.
At the hour mark, however, there was a hint of the imminent change in the flow of the game, as Simeon's shot from 20 yards was tipped over the bar at full stretch by Glencairn goalkeeper Chris Truesdale. A minute later Truesdale was called into the action again to deny Savarese's shot at his near post, and he got up quickly to block the rebound as well.
The momentum and tempo had gone out of the Glencairn side and nerves appeared to kick in as the game hadn't been killed off. Jordan Davidson replaced Wallace up front in The Glens' first substitution.
Right at the mid point of the second half, Tower pulled the game level. Gallagher worked his way along the bye line on the left and then lifted a cross to the back post, where Dale Simeon was waiting unmarked to volley past the helpless Truesdale.
Tower should have taken the lead in the 70th minute when they had a 5 on 1 situation as they broke on the Glencairn defence. They chose the wrong passes, however, and Savarese was whistled for offside before he put the ball in the net, a real let-off for Glencairn.
Anthony Dempsey made a good defensive clearance to thwart Savarese as he tied to connect with Simeon's dangerous cross in the 76th minute, before Tower substitute Ryan Kerr was shown a yellow card for a two-footed tackle on McGuiness. Phinn drilled the resulting free kick past the defensive wall but inches wide of the target, with McBain scrambling across goal.
Glencairn made a double change with ten minutes remaining, David Quinn replacing McGuiness and Paul Ross Caughey going up front in place of McArthur. Tower's threat continued, though, and substitute Sean Hughes sliced a shot wide of goal from 18 yards.
The crowd were beginning to discuss the implications for the league table if the match ended in a draw, when Tower struck a crucial blow to take the lead in the 87th minute. Once again Simeon was the architect, cutting infield before slipping a perfect pass into the path of Alessandro Savarese, and he fired a decisive shot into the roof of the net. The visiting players and supporters celebrated the goal as if it was the league clincher itself, and it was effectively just that.
As the match moved into stoppage time, Tower put the seal on the match as they were awarded a penalty kick. It seemed a harsh award as it looked like the foul should have been awarded the other way, but Alessandro Savarese wasn't arguing and he confidently fired his spot kick past Truesdale to make it 3-1.
Tempers boiled over in the 93rd minute as Tower substitute Thomas Lone chopped down Bennett with a dreadful tackle. Players and coaches ran from everywhere, some trying to control the situation, other being aggressors. It was an impossible situation for one match official to handle, but he correcty showed a red card to Lone at once things had calmed a little. While the red card was being shown, Tower midfielder Hendry lost his self control again and tried to continue the aggression, despite his team mates trying to control him. Hendry was withdrawn by his coaching staff before the referee got an opportunity to witness his behaviour.
The final piece of action saw McBain save to deny Caughey from right in front of goal in the 96th minute, the striker rather scuffing his shot. But it would have been no more than a consolation, as the referee blew for full time after the corner was cleared, and the Tower contingent celebrated again.
The result leaves Tower needing only one point from their final match against Kirkintilloch Rob Roy to be crowned as champions, with Glencairn needing to win all three of their remaining games by a sizeable margin and hope Tower lose. In reality, it's now all about the two cup finals coming up for the young Glens, starting with next Sunday's Golden Goals Cup Final.
Rutherglen Glencairn u21s :- Truesdale, Roberts, Dempsey, Ndlovu, McConville, Young, McArthur (Caughey), McGuiness (Quinn), Wallace (Davidson), Bennett, Phinn. (Subs not used - Dallas, Copland, McHendry, Conroy, Chrystal, Salah, McCorry.)
Tower Hearts u21s :- McBain, McCall, Martin, Stephen Kerr, Nolan (Ryan Kerr), Scott, Gallagher, Simeon, Savarese, Brannigan (Hughes), Hendry (Forrest). (Subs not used - Lone, Sinclair (gk).)
Man of the match - (chosen by Ross McNeil) Anton Phinn.