Highland Amateur Cup Quarter-Final
Iochdar Saints 4 Wick Groats 4 (Wick Groats win 3-1 on penalties)
– Wick Groats come back from 3-1 down despite being reduced to ten men
– Saints led twice before losing on penalties in gripping encounter
By Adam Gordon
Wick Groats celebrate after a dramatic victory on penalties
Iochdar Saints were sent crashing out of the Highland Amateur Cup after losing 3-1 on penalties to Wick Groats of the Caithness League. The match finished with the teams tied at 4-4, after a thoroughly absorbing 120 minutes of football, which included 6 bookings and a red card. Angus Campbell, Harry Luney and Ally Downie were the unfortunate parties who missed their spot kicks, leaving their manager Stephen MacAulay bemused and wondering what might have been.
Both teams went into the match top of their respective leagues, and with a pedigree for scoring goals. The promise of an open game was soon realised when Wick Groats took the lead inside the opening five minutes of the match; Ross Davidson took advantage of some scrappy defending to put his team ahead, setting the tone for the 115 minutes that would follow.
The concession of an early goal, however, only served to galvanise Saints and it wasn’t long before the scores were level. Callum Campbell found space inside the Groats penalty box and managed to direct the ball in off a Groats’ defender from a corner to bring his side back into the game with 13 minutes gone.
Saints were slowly beginning to take control of the game and should have taken the lead after some good combination play by Angus Campbell and Archie MacDonald, whose ball across the face of the goal failed to find a teammate in the end. At the other end, Kyle Ross found himself in space inside the Saints’ box, but a moment of hesitation drew him wide of the goal and allowed for the Saints defence to swarm him, preventing a shot on goal.
With 20 minutes gone, a quick one-two between Sandy Sutherland and Sean Stewart down the right wing unlocked the Saints defence, but despite a fine ball across the face of the goal by Sutherland, nobody from the Groats attack managed to get near the cross.
As the first half progressed, Saints developed a strategy which would cause real problems for Groats throughout the match. Their manager, Stephen MacAulay, identifying Joseph MacInnes’ superior pace compared with the Groats defence, switched the youngster with Archie MacDonald in an attempt to exploit their advantage. Indeed, Angus Campbell’s ability to draw in two or three players and then release MacInnes through on goal, was a ploy that the Uist side would later use to great affect.
Grant Mcnab posed the greatest threat for the Saints rearguard at the other end, the wily forward brought out a good save from John Angus Macphee in the Saints goal on the half hour mark, but should have done better with a free-kick from around 20 yards out, which he hit low and straight at the wall.
Taylor Linch at left-back combined with Campbell just before half-time, following a good ball behind the Groats defence, but the attack was thwarted as Saints ended the half on top.
With the scores level at 1-1 at half-time, it was Saints who started the second period with greater purpose and hunger and soon took the lead. Harry Luney did well to bring the ball out from defence, after an attack by Groats broke down and was quick to identify an opportunity to counter-attack. After side-stepping two Groats’ players, Luney then played the ball to Archie MacDonald, who found Angus Campbell on their right-hand side, the Saints captain played the ball towards the back post, and a mistake by the Groats defence allowed MacInnes to nip in and give his team the lead in the 49th minute.
Groats, now behind having opened the scoring, went in search of an equaliser. Sandy Sutherland, who was earmarked as one of the players to watch by the Saints manager prior to the game, turned well 30 yards out to beat his marker before hitting a fine shot from just outside the box, which was taken by Macphee. Mcnab was also causing concern in the Saints defensive ranks, but despite some good play by Sutherland to set him up, the Groats striker’s shot was well blocked by the Saints defenders.
Saints would soon punish their opponents profligacy, as Joseph MacInnes grabbed his second of the match. Angus Campbell, who was a constant menace to Groats throughout the start of the second half, spotting a run by MacInnes, found his teammate with a fantastic inch-perfect through ball over the defence, which MacInnes brought down superbly and calmly finished to put Saints 3-1 up, with 55 minutes on the clock.
Angus Campbell (pictured in the centre in yellow) put in a fantastic performance for Saints
With Campbell dominating the midfield for Saints and MacInnes making himself a nuisance at every given chance, there was little, if any doubt as to which team would be the winner at this stage. The script, however, would soon be torn to shreds.
With an hour gone, Groats manager Derek Shearer, knowing that his were being overrun, decided to change his team to a 4-3-3 formation in a bold attempt to get back into the game, and the plan soon paid dividends. Alan Hughes, who had been introduced shortly after half-time, started to stretch the Saints defence and present a new set of problems for Alan MacGillvray down the left wing. With 79 minutes gone, the pressure finally told as Groats reduced the deficit. John Budge powered home a header from a corner, enabling his side to regain belief that the match was still theirs to win.
Groats hopes of a comeback looked to be dashed just a few minutes later when McNab was shown a second yellow and then a red card for what the referee perceived as an elbow directed towards one of the Saints players. The decision was, in the eyes of the Wick Groats’ coaching staff, the worst in a litany of unjust decisions against their team.
Strangely, rather than hampering their efforts to draw level in the match, the sending off spurred the Caithness team on and remarkably they restored parity with six minutes left of normal time. It was Budge again who found room inside the box from a corner and headed the ball into the net to send the game into extra-time and spark wild celebrations from his team. To be fair to Groats, it was just what they deserved as they had shown greater energy and determination than Saints towards the end of the game, despite the Uist side’s numerical advantage.
John Budge scoring one of his two goals for Wick Groats, which helped take the game to extra-time
Perversely, the break for extra-time brought Groats’ momentum to a halt, allowing Saints to regroup and within five minutes of the restart they took the lead for the second time in the match. MacInnes, looking revitalised at the start of extra-time, was involved as Saints went 4-3 up with 95 minutes gone. The young striker brought the ball forward and slipped a pass into the feet of Ally Downie who finished with a neat low drive from 14 yards out to reassert control of the game for his side.
Kyle Henderson, who had come on as a substitute in the second half for Groats, tested Macphee in the Saints goal with a powerful shot from outside the box, that was turned behind for a corner. Groats then had a penalty appeal rejected when Stewart Ross went down in the box; it was unclear whether he had indeed been fouled, but the referee was unconvinced and let play continue.
Just as it looked like the Groats would fall short of an equaliser, the game took one more dramatic twist. Sutherland, who had played well for much of the match, took advantage of some tired defending within a crowded goalmouth to tap the ball in to make it 4-4. The goal prompted great celebrations among the Wick Groats ranks and dejected expressions throughout the Saints side. It meant that a penalty shoot-out would now decide what had been a fantastic encounter.
Saints were first up and the responsibility of taking the opening penalty fell on the shoulders of their captain Angus Campbell. He, like the rest of the Saints team, looked tired and disconsolate as he approached the spot-kick, his strike, although powerful enough was met by the out-stretched arms of Graeme Williamson in the Groats goal, and the player who performed with such great skill and distinction could only turn away and walk back towards his teammates knowing Groats now had the advantage.
Alan Hughes, who had made his mark as a substitute, confidently placed his shot beyond Macphee to make it one-nil, before Luney also saw his shot saved by Williamson as Saints’ hopes starting to fade.
Graham Miller then made it 2-0 with a well-taken shot in the bottom right-hand corner, which meant that the pressure was now on Alan McGillvray to score for Saints. He duly put his penalty away, which reduced the score to 2-1 Groats, before Kyle Ross put them ahead once more with a scrappy shot down the middle of the goal to put his team 3-1 up.
Downie stepped up, knowing a miss would put Wick Groats through to the semi-finals, but a goal might still give his side hope of turning the match around. Unlike the efforts of Campbell and Luney the goalkeeper failed to get near his effort, unfortunately for Downie he didn’t need to, as the ball flew over the crossbar and with it went Saints hopes of progressing into the last four.
Substitute Alan Hughes scoring for Wick Groats in the penalty shootout to make it 1-0
Wick Groats are now through to contest the semi-final and they deserve great credit for the spirit and determination they showed in turning the match around from 3-2 down and with only ten men on the park. For Saints, the match was firmly in their grasp and for much of the game they looked the better side and one that could stake a serious claim for the Highland Amateur Cup this year. Alas, it was not to be, but they contributed greatly to a fantastic and gripping cup tie and should go out with their heads held high, despite the obvious regrets they will have from the match.
Man of the match: Angus Campbell: The Zinedine Zidane of Highland amateur football, Nooie as he is nicknamed, like the more illustrious Zizou, has excellent close control and a rare gift for being able to slow down the pace of the game one minute and then instigate a razor-sharp attack the next. He was unlucky to be on the losing side and was unplayable for the opening hour of the game.