Jags to the Four at Pitmedden – But will it be enough! By Easton Thain
The Jags U-20 side headed to Pitmedden knowing that only a win would keep their title hopes alive but this was also the case for the home side so Formartine United, who had cruised to victory over Inverurie Locos two nights earlier, were always going to mount a real challenge and for an hour they did that and more. Thistle arrived at North Lodge Park determined to get a win and hopefully by a few goals to boot meaning that Cove Rangers task of nicking the championship from their grasp next Monday would be that bit harder, in order to do so the Jags had to win by at least three goals. To the unparalleled joy of the Thistle fans who made the trip through their young heroes (with the odd oldie thrown in for good measure!) achieved their goal and now sit top of the League with the title tantalisingly within their grasp, it would be cruel if it was then wrenched from this on Monday coming, suddenly we are all Keith fans!
A study of the two team line ups before the game at North Lodge Park showed that there would be a stern test for Thistle as United fielded ex-Jag Gary Clark in midfield along with exciting youngsters Tito Silva and Kieran Lawrence plus first team regular Craig Duguid whilst up front Marek Madle, who had bagged a hat-trick when the two teams’ first XI’s met at the same ground in the Highland League back in October, led their line and in goal they had the experienced Errol Watson. However, the Jags side was also packed with HFL experience and a look at a young home back line suggested that Chris Angus, Drew Copeland, Kyle Gauld and the ever improving Stuart Hodge could all take advantage of the inexperience. Thistle also had an experienced central defence in Iain MacRae and Jay Cheyne and that was going to be crucial against Marek Madle and overall they shackled him.
The first half was very intense as the teams slugged it out blow for blow. In the 2nd minute Chris Angus had the first chance but lobbed over but then60 seconds on at the other end Greig Sim got down really well to turn behind a low 25-yarder from Craig Duguid. In the 5th minute Shaun Carrol set Robert Scott free with a brilliant pass but the youngster sliced his effort wide. Sis minutes on Shaun Carrol sent in a deep free-kick but Chris Angus headed wide. Formartine responded in the 19th minute when Marek Madle helped the ball ion into the path of Kieran Lawrence who flashed in a drive but fortunately the effort flew just over. 60 seconds on Robert Scott delivered a great ball across the box but there were no takers. Back came United and a Tito Silva cross was met by Cammy Clark but his header was held by Greig Sim. In the 28th minute the Thistle goalie was on his mettle again when he pulled off a fine save to deny Kieran Lawrence. The jags took full advantage of this by taking the lead 60 seconds on with a stunning strike, Liam Gordon played a great ball through to Chris Angus and he thundered a 25-yard drive right into the corner of the net. On the half hour Chris Angus sent a superb ball through to Robert Scott who homed in on goal but a defender just got into clear. United took advantage of this by drawing level two minutes later. The ball was fed into Marek Madle who shook off Iain MacRae and drove a shot past Greig Sim. Thistle responded when Shaun Carrol sent another piercing pass through this time to Stuart Hodge who delivered a brilliant ball into the box but this was cleared by a desperate header by a home defender. The Jags were not to be outdone though and seven minutes before the break they retook the lead with a great individual effort as Chris Angus won the ball in midfield then shot off down the park at the football equivalent of Formula One pace which left the home defence in his wake and as Errol Watson came out the ‘Blonde Bomber’ coolly netted.
Half-time Formartine United 1 Buckie Thistle 2
The home side came racing out of the traps in the second half and it was harem-scarem stuff in the Thistle box and the Jags had a massive escape a minute in when a corner led to a real ‘stooshie’ in the box and Liam Paterson smashed a drive off the post. Thistle though survived this mini-onslaught and took control of proceedings. The pay-off came in the 64th minute when Elliott McDonald won the ball and broke into the box before he was unceremoniously dumped onto the deck by a defender for a stonewall penalty. This was a crucial spot-kick but up stepped Stuart Hodge to blast the ball home from 12 yards with a maturity beyond his years. United were a beaten side and within seconds in the 73rd minute the Jags could have bagged a fourth. Firstly Shaun Carrol delivered a wicked ball across to about 7 yards out and steaming in came Iain MacRae only to miss the ball. Moments later Chris Angus drove through a low free-kick which Errol Watson failed to hold but the goalie recovered to grasp the ball. Four minutes later it was game, set and hopefully championship as Thistle bagged their fourth of the night. Initially it looked as though Chris Angus would complete his hat-trick as he weaved his way through the home defence but at the death the keeper just blocked the ball which then hit the post and a defender then got a boot in to knock the ball behind. However, from the corner Chris Angus sent in a beautiful ball whereupon Iain MacRae rose like a startled Gazelle to power home a magnificent header. With five minutes left Thistle so nearly secured a nap hand from a Shaun Carrol free kick in but first Iain MacRae saw a drive blocked and the same fate befell the follow up from Chris Angus before the ball was cleared. Nevertheless, a superb performance had brought its rewards but will lead to a lot of bitten fingernails till roughly 9.45 pm next Monday night!
Full-time Formartine United 1 Buckie Thistle 4
Formartine United – E Watson, Tewnion, Mathews, G Clark, Abel, C Clark, Silva, Duguid (Marshall), Madle (M Watson), Paterson and Lawrence (Booth)
Buckie Thistle – Sim, Gordon, L Cheyne, J Cheyne, MacRae, Carrol, Angus, Copeland, Hodge (M Wood), Gauld (McDonald) and Scott (Murray)
Referee – C Phillips
It really was a superb effort by every single player on the night. Greig Sim looked assured in the goal whilst the young full-backs, Liam Gordon and Liam Cheyne handled the situation well with Iain MacRae and Jay Cheyne keeping Marke Madle and Liam Paterson under control. Chris Angus showed his class against with two sizzling strikes whilst Drew Copeland, Kyle Gauld and Shaun Carrol snuffed out the home midfield with latter spraying some wonderful passes about. Robert Scott put in a shift in an unfamiliar wide left position whilst subs ‘Cazzy’ Murray, Elliott McDonald and Mike Wood showed some great touches. For me though standing tall (if that was possible for him!) was Stuart Hodge who has been outstanding for the U-20’s all season. At Pitmedden he showed all the skills of a forward that were beyond his tender years. Gone is the youngster who was easily shoved off the ball, now the Jags have youngster with a more powerful physique who will surely improve further, me thinks he will be recalled from loan for the first team for 2015-16! Thistle then did their bit at North Lodge Park and anxiously await events on Monday night with the hope that Keith will put on a dogged defensive display at Allan Park to ensure the championship flag comes to Victoria Park and what a massive boost for everyone that would be. Should it come to pass though that Cove ‘steal’ the title then it has still been a magnificent effort from the U-20’s when you consider just how badly they fared last season and there is every indication that the future of the first team is in good hands, the future is bright its green and white!