Jags Lads Dreams Shattered At The Death by Easton Thain
The Jags U-20’s players along with everyone else at the club were left shattered when news came through of the final Aberdeenshire League game of the season between Cove Rangers and Keith. After their superb win at Pitmedden Thistle climbed to the top of the table by three points from Cove Rangers and only a six-goal or better win for the Allan Park side would deny the Jags their first AL title since 2003-04. Everyone was on tenterhooks after the victory over Pitmedden and Jags officials went to the game at Allan Park and watched on in disbelief as Cove won the game 7-1 to clinch the title by one measily goal from Thistle the killer goal coming in injury time. Losing a title in such a manner is worse than losing it on points and having spoken to some of the U-20 lads I can tell you they were both disappointed and gutted by the result. Once the disappointment abates though the lads can only look back on the campaign with pride and their performances in all of the matches were full of passion, desire and some of the displays and goals scored were fantastic. The League is mainly about developing players and to that extent the campaign was a rip-roaring success and the long term future of the first team will be all the better for it. The fact that the team came so close to the title is quite remarkable considering the 2013-14 season was disastrous and the turnaround has been astonishing. Well done lads you can hold your heads up high and do not reflect on what could have been look to the future and what might be. A lot of the lads who featured in the campaign will still be eligible under the age rules for the League next season and they will now be more fired up than ever to win the competition in 2015-16. Now a look back at the campaign.
The season began with Kevin Small being the main coach with Paul Lamberton as his assistant coach. However, they were dismissed along with Gary Hake as the first team management back in November last year. Into the fray came interim coaches Graeme ‘Spider’ Stewart and Lewis MacKinnon and the former assumed the role of coach for the U-20 side assisted by David ‘Parro’ Findlay. However, when ‘Spider’ got the job as full time manager of the first team he needed the time to concentrate on that so latterly the experienced player Andy Low has coached the youngsters along with the aforementioned David Findlay. Between them though the youngsters have had good guidance and it has paid off with a string of excellent results through the campaign with seven wins, one draw and one defeat recorded so far. Even the defeat was unfortunate and the draw was a game that should have been won. Another major factor to good coaching has been the fact that a number of the youngsters have gained first team experience in the Highland League with two of them in particular, Drew Copeland and Kyle Gauld, beginning to make a name for themselves at the higher level. There is no doubt that the clever use of permitted over-age players in the team, normally first team players returning from injuries or suspension, has also boosted the side and they have played some scintillating football in a lot of games.
The season started with a bang and an unexpected boost for the first team. The Jags began by hammering Banks O’ Dee 4-0 at Spain Park and being tried out in goal that night was 6ft 8in Andy Burr and he was so impressive that he appeared in the first teams 4-0 romp away to Deveronvale soon after and was then signed! Pick of the goals on the night was a stunning 25-yard strike from Kyle Gauld. A couple of home games followed and firstly the U-20’s produced a fantastic second half display to hammer Turriff United 5-1 at Victoria Park. Turra dominated in the first half but didn’t take most of their chances and it was all square, 1-1, at the break. In the second half though Thistle came flying out of the blocks to net four without reply the best of the goals coming from Scott Adams, sadly injury would rob Thistle’s first and U-20 teams of his services before the end of 2014. Next up the Students of Aberdeen University came visiting and, lo and behold, the Jags lads went nap again in a 5-2 rout. A quite stunning drive by Drew Copeland set Thistle on their way to a three goal half-time lead and that was basically that. At this point it looked as though the Jags were a runaway train that no one could halt but, sadly, the wheels came temporarily off the track in the next game when they suffered their only defeat so far with a 0-1 reverse at Banff. It has to be said that they were a tad unlucky and perhaps should even have won the game as they had more chances than the Vale but the shooting boots had been left back in Buckie. The home side could have added to their tally also but a 15th minute strike was enough to win them the points. It was imperative that Thistle’s lads bounced back immediately from this and they did when they comfortably defeated their Inverurie Locos counterparts at Victoria Park, the Jags were only one up at half-time but never looked in any trouble and two second half strikes rounded off a deserved victory. Catching the eye in this game was Robert Scott, who has real potential, and he opened the scoring with a fine strike. Once again the highlight of the match was another brilliant goal from Kyle Gauld this time a superb solo effort as he waltzed through the Locos defence before cracking the ball home. Following a postponement of the scheduled game at Fraserburgh the Jags last game of 2014 was at Allan Park just three days before Christmas and it proved to be a cracker of a game albeit come full time Thistle was left wondering how come they had not won the match as they looked to be in easy street at one stage. They may still be reflecting on the game realising that had they won it then they could have come to North Lodge Park tonight knowing victory would have guaranteed the first Aberdeenshire League triumph since 2003-04! The Jags trailed to an early goal at Allan Park but then recovered to lead 2-1 at half-time thanks to two brilliant goals, the first a stunning strike from Jay Cheyne and the second a brilliant solo effort from Chris Angus. With 20 minutes left Robert Scott added a third and that should have been that but somehow Thistle ran out of puff and Cove smelt blood and in a late burst they netted twice to make it 3-3. Even then though the jags should have won when Chris Angus, a star of the first team, went clean through on goal only to fire his final effort wide, time will tell is this could be fatal to the title hopes!
The weather then intervened again and the first match scheduled for this year, against Formartine United here at North Lodge Park, fell victim to the weather. It wasn’t until February then that the team returned to action and a home game against Huntly and the Jags were in for an early shock as the Black & Golds started in whirlwind fashion and netted after just four minutes! However, Thistle soon dampened the visitor’s fire and began to get to grips with the match and enter stage left new signing Kevin Fraser who lit up the match with a brilliant display. He tortured Huntly all night and they simply couldn’t handle him. A brilliant pass from Jay Cheyne was converted by KF for the equaliser and just 60 seconds later Andy Low smashed home goal No 2 and a penalty from Stuart Hodge, won by Kevin Fraser trickery, made it safe by half-time. A brilliant lob by KF made it 4-1 in the second half and Thistle cruised home despite a late goal from the Strathbogie side. What followed next was a truly extraordinary match at Bellslea when the Jags ended the Broch’s title hopes following a quite astonishing recovery, from being down and out they produced a stunning display and were spurred on by what seemed a harsh red card in the 55th minute. Come half-time you would have thought that the Jags title hopes were dead and buried as the Broch punished their mistakes and were cruising to victory with a 3-0 half time lead! However, Thistle felt that this was more than harsh as they had as much of the game and thus they were far from reaching the point of giving up hope! They soon pulled one back and then came the sending off that spurred them on. From that point they carried the game to the home side and, incredibly, struck four more times before the Broch scored a late counter to make the final score 5-4 to the Jags – astonishing! Super subs were the key here as one of them, Elliott McDonald, bagged a brace and the other new loon Kai Ross got one. That took it up to their last game which was at home to Keith on an awful night of horrible weather at Victoria Park and the Jags was glad of a sterling first half display as that was just enough to win the game. Thistle commanded the first half alright and deadly finishing by Stuart Hodge, one off a great pass from Robert Scott, the other when he pounced on a poor pass-back, proved decisive. In the second half the Jags were under the cosh for most of the 45 minutes and Keith got a deserved goal but sheer guts and resolute defending saw Thistle home and now the potentially stand on the verge of history. If anything when the Jags have struggled it has been in bad weather, on fine calm evenings and good pitches they have been hard to stop! That win set Thistle up nicely for a crunch match against Formartine United at North Lodge Park. The situation was clear a win for either side could give them the title depending on what happened in the last match of the season between Cove Rangers and Keith. A win for the Jags would also kill off United’s title aspirations and would mean Thistle would go top by three points ahead of Cove then wait anxiously for the final game to take place. Not surprisingly both teams fielded strong line-ups at Pitmedden sprinkled with first team players. Threats to the Jags came notably from Gary Clark (an overage player of course!), Craig Duguid and Marek Madle plus exciting youngsters Tito Silva and Kieran Lawrence. For their part the Jags crucially had experience in the central defence in Iain MacRae and Jay Cheyne, ditto in midfield with Shaun Carrol, Drew Copeland and Kyle Gauld plus the on fire Chris Angus and Stuart Hodge up front. The first half proved to be a battle royale but thanks to two great goals from Chris Angus the Jags led 2-1 at half-time, Marek Madle replying for United. In the second half though Thistle took control of matters and when Stuart Hodge, who put on a magnificent performance, smashed home a stonewall penalty midway through it was all over bar the shouting. Iain MacRae rounded off a grand individual display with a brilliant header for the fourth goal and Thistle was home and hosed. To be honest they could easily have added two more in the second half such was their control. It was a case of job done and in some style and then the agonising wait began! Sadly, the agonising wait would end in agony but there is always the next time!