Monday, May 05, 2014

Smart finishing helps give Glen both points in Lovat clash.

Glenurquhart 2 Lovat 1 (Orion Premier League )

Isn’t shinty a funny old game? That's what Glen  goalie Stuart "Smack" Mackintosh seems to be telling Lovat keeper Stuart Macdonald as they shake hands at the end of Saturday's thriller. Indeed any Fort William guys watching the results come up on Facebook on Saturday would have been confused. How could the Glen team they watched last week stumbling to defeat against them, be two up on League leaders Lovat just after half time? The answer is simple: this week Glen wanted to win. They wanted to win because Lovat are their closest neighbours and because Lovat beat the Glen on the last four occasions including in the final of the MacTavish. It was always going to be a difficult game for Lovat. Difficult for the Glen too but difficult in a different way. The pressure was all on the Crofters; the Glen would have been expected to play well enough but not quite make it, but as has been said already ….it’s a funny old game.
Cards on the table: Lovat can still win the League. What’s more they could win something else too though the Wing Centre would prefer that not to happen this season. However, Lovat have to win these trophies while their team is at its peak and they had better do that quickly because by the look of the under-17 results Kingussie are in the process of legacy building. Unless a pile of their lads go off-shore or emigrate, the trophies will be returning to Badenoch in five years’ time. Lovat also should try not to argue with their coaches, when things are not going well otherwise they will end up doing a Liverpool when they don’t need to.
At the same time after the victory there were mixed feelings on the Glen side-lines at the end of the match. A Lovat win in Drum would have set them up well for a league victory which would have reclaimed shinty for the civilised part of Inverness-shire for the first time since 1953 but it wasn’t to be.
It was the tightest of games and in the last 20 minutes Lovat pressed hard enough to keep the Glen spectators on the edge of their seats and if life was fair they might have been rewarded with a draw. Indeed if Kevin Bartlett had done what you would have bet on him to do and scored ten minutes from the end when he had a glorious chance, then they would have shared the points but Greg Matheson playing deep for parts of the game will reduce the chance of goals from him. Does he have to go back so far to look for the ball?  Moving him to full centre also did not help the Lovat cause. Kevin Bartlett is also an excellent player but in a tackle with John Barr he is always going to lose out. You need to get a ball over the top beyond the backs to give him a chance. As far as one can recall Lovat managed that twice: “Statto” Henderson will confirm the fact.  It was not often enough and that is where they lost it.

However, perhaps the real difference was that Glen’s experienced players all put in a performance for the first time since August 2012: John Barr, Andy Corrigan and Eddie Tembo were all available and did what they were supposed to do - and the two youngsters James Hurwood and Euan Lloyd -last years under 17s - played their part effectively and clearly have Premier quality.
Lovat are a quick team and all are fine hitters of the ball but the Glen defence matched them for speed - Corrigan v Bartlett in particular was one contest which was even, while Ally Mackintosh kept to Greg Matheson until he twisted a knee at which point Fraser Heath took over the job of keeping the Lovat man under wraps. Lovat lost Daniel Grieve to an early ankle injury which also upset their balance and a head injury to Lewis Tawse further weakened them. It also has to be said that the Glen goals were both superb which they would have to be, given that Lovat goalkeeper Stuart Macdonald is usually an excellent stopper. On this occasion however he looked unsure.
The first Glen goal came right at the start of the game and it certainly caught the black and whites on the hop. Arran Macdonald played the ball forward and Neale Reid swept it across to the excellent David Smart. He made space away from Calum Cruden and smashed the ball past Macdonald for an early opener that stunned the Lovat faithful.

The rest of the half was nip and tuck: Lovat had a spell of pressure, which the Glen worked hard to clear, the centreline having to drop deep to cover all the runs from the Lovat centre line.  Although the pressure was intense, Glen keeper Stuart Mackintosh did not actually have many saves to make and as always Glen continued to look dangerous on the break.  Glen had a chance or two to get another but what really did pay dividends was the fact the team made it clear to Lovat that they would be in a seriously competitive high pressure game thanks to a massive performance from Eddie Tembo in the middle. In 25 minutes Ally Mackintosh suffered a knee injury and had to be taken off. He was replaced by James Hurwood up front and Fraser Heath dropped back to defence. As the half progressed the Glen started to win more ball in the middle of the park and Lovat keeper Stuart Macdonald had to make a save from Lewis MacLennan and then when Eddie Tembo chested the ball down and shot goalwards, Macdonald managed to palm the ball onto the post.

Just before half time, Arran Macdonald developed a muscle injury so mindful of the fact that there are some important games to come he was replaced at half time by James Macpherson who had more or less recovered from a hamstring pull picked up in the MacTavish tie  against Skye.  Youngster James Hurwood moved back to wing centre.

The game was so much in the balance through the first half that the Treasurer decided to take the collection before the break, the experience of leading Lovat being such a rare phenomenon that he wished to gather in the cash before the anticipated comeback. Lovat take a large, good natured and generous crowd with them and they put up with the Treasurer’s nonsense as he went round with the hat though at that point the Lovat faithful probably felt they could come back.
The fact that the Glen scored a second right after the restart made that doubly difficult. Lewis Maclennan left a ball to go across to James Macpherson and he fired a beauty right into the top of the net with his first touch. 

 A decent spell of Glen pressure followed and should have extended the Glen lead, before Owen Ferguson fired in from close range to make it 2-1 after 60 minutes. 
That goal had a bit of good fortune about it. Glen keeper Mackintosh stopped a goal-bound strike but the ball bounced up and hit him on the nose. His eyes filled with tears and so his mishit clearance struck former Glen under 17 player Graham MacMillan and fell kindly for Ferguson. In a sense the god of shinty evened matters up - former Lovat player James Macpherson scores for the Glen and a former Glenner sets up a score for Lovat!
Lovat then re-organised their team to find an equaliser and did create some decent changes, and as mentioned already one in particular fell to Bartlett but he fired wide.  The last 15 minutes remained tense and there were certainly opportunities at both ends, but no further scoring.
If there are any lessons for the Glen from this game it is that every week they play they have to play with intensity and fire. They will undoubtedly do this against Newtonmore in the semi though they will miss Mike Brady who will have to sit on the sidelines having copped a ban after an undeserved booking in Fort William: what was Gordy Mackinnon thinking about?  As for the Glen they probably should try to do it against other sides too.

 The pictures are from Tina Marshall (the last two) and Sheena Lloyd. Thanks to them both.

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