By Adam Gordon
This weekend, league leaders Iochdar Saints are in action in the Highland Amateur Cup. Meanwhile in the Uist and Barra League, Saints’ midweek conquerors Benbecula travel to Barra, who can return to the top of the table with a win, and Southend will look to make it three wins in a week as they host North Uist United.
Match of the Week
Highland Amateur Cup: Quarter-final
– Saints look to get back on track after shock defeat to Benbecula
-The winners to face either NMM Ace or Staxigoe in the Semi-finals
Angus Campbell in action for Saints during their recent win over Barra.
Saturday 20th June
Iochdar Saints AFC v Wick Groats AFC – Kick-off 10.45am in Portree, Isle of Skye
Portree is the venue, as the reigning Uist and Barra League Champions, Iochdar Saints take on Wick Groats, currently top of the Caithness League for a place in the semi-finals of the Highland Amateur Cup.
Both teams come into the match in formidable form, Wick Groats has won four and lost only one of their opening five league fixtures, scoring 18 goals, an average of 3.6 goals a game, and conceding just four in the process. Saints’ record is equally impressive, as they have taken maximum points from seven of their eight league matches and have also lost just once. Putting the ball in the net has not proved a problem for Saints either, with 37 goals in their eight matches so far, that’s an average of 4.6 goals a game.
Both teams, however, are beatable, as Benbecula proved in their shock victory over Saints during the week, which was also the more surprising given Saints’ win against Barra last Saturday. While Groats’ 2-3 league defeat at the hands of fellow quarter-finalists, Staxigoe United is proof they are also fallible.
Neither side will have the comfort of home advantage, so whichever team adapts quickest to the pitch in Portree could well come out on top.
Wick Groats has played three matches en route to the quarter-finals, in the first two rounds they progressed by comfortable margins; first they defeated Helmsdale 4-1 in round one, and then they knocked out Merkinch of Inverness by an emphatic 1-7 scoreline in round two.
Although their margin of victory was even greater in their third round win over Westside of the Harris and Lewis League, they did enjoy a spot of good fortune along the way. Westside were unjustly reduced to ten men after a perfectly fair tackle by Ally Williamson resulted in a penalty, as well as a red card for their opponents. The goal was the first of nine scored in the match as Groats went on to recorded an incredible 1-8 win in a ruthless and deserved victory.
Saints’ passage through to the last eight has also been relatively hassle-free, indeed they have only had to play two fixtures to progress to the quarter-final stage, as they were given a bye in the first round. A 4-1 win over four-time Highland Amateur Cup winners, Ness was followed by an entertaining tussle with Stornoway Athletic in the third round. Although they trailed one-nil, two braces, one from Ally Downie, the other from Archie MacDonald, and a Harry Luney free-kick from 50 yards out, following a calamitous mistake by the Stornoway goalkeeper, enabled Saints to run out 3-5 winners.
Defence will perhaps be the key area for both teams, as there is certainly no questioning the strength of either of the sides’ attacks, although Groats’ top scorer this season, Graham McNab will miss the match due to a one-match suspension. Saints possess real resilience, enabling them to win matches, regardless of how well they have been playing, however, they have been liable to concede goals. Their last two matches, a 6-3 win against Barra and a 3-2 defeat against Benbecula, provide recent evidence of that. On the contrary, Wick Groats has been fairly miserly at the back, in their three matches in the Highland Amateur Cup this season, they have yet to conceded more than one goal in a game. Their league record is also impressive in that regard, as they have already kept two clean sheets in their first five games and conceded just four goals in total.
Although a semi-final berth awaits the winners, (against either NMM Ace of Inverness or Staxigoe of Caithness), the chances are that neither team will be likely to obsess over how to stop the other from scoring. The sheer amount of firepower in both teams means a tight game seems highly unlikely. For fans of both sides and neutrals attending Saturday’s game, an old-fashioned game of, if you score one, then we’ll score two, will surely leave few people disappointed in the end, whatever the result.
Route to the quarter-finals
Saints: Round 1: Bye, Round 2: 4-1 v Ness (H), Round 3: 3-5 v Stornoway Athletic (A)
Wick Groats: Round 1: 4-1 v Helmsdale (H), Round 2: 1-7 v Merkinch (A),
Round 3: 1-8 v Westside (A)
Players to watch
Saints: Angus Campbell (Nooie): Although the midfielder can look quite languid and disinterested at times, he possess an unerring ability to glide past opponents and has the foresight to create space for his teammates.
Wick Groats: Sandy Sutherland: With three goals so far in the competition, he could provide the main attacking threat for Groats’ in the absence of Graham Macnab.
Uist and Barra League
Southend has hit form after recent defeats to Barra (pictured in red) and Saints.
Friday 19th June
Southend (3rd) v North Uist United (4th) – Daliburgh (6.30pm)
From second bottom of the league to two wins off second spot – prior to Barra’s win against Eriskay on Thursday night – it’s been quite a week for Southend. In Am Paipear’s preview of last weekend’s fixtures, we said that: ‘Southend’s performances, if not their results have shown promise’, well those efforts have, in the last two matches, transformed into results as they have put back-to-back defeats behind them to record two successive victories and in doing so moved themselves up to third position in the league.
Due to previous fixture cancellations, Southend and North Uist United will meet for the second time in three days, Southend won 1-2 away at Paible on Tuesday. Southend will be hoping that Duncan MacQuarrie can continue his recent run of form which has seen him score 3 goals in his last two matches. After coming off the bench to score twice in the 1-3 win away to Eriskay, MacQuarrie was rewarded with a starting place against North Uist, and scored again to help his side record another win.
North Uist, who themselves, were third this time last week, go into the game looking to arrest a two-game losing run and with a superior goal difference to Southend, they know a win would leapfrog them back into third place.
Barra will look to the likes of Craig Ferguson to help them go top this weekend
Saturday 20th June
Barra (2nd) v Benbecula (5th) – Castlebay, Barra (12.30pm)
It’s been a strange week for Barra, they scored three goals against the reigning champions Saints last Saturday, but were comprehensively beaten 3-6, they then conceded three away to the bottom side Eriskay on Thursday, but ran out comfortable winners in the end by a 3-5 scoreline.
Despite their erratic form of late, Barra know that with Saints in action in the Highland Amateur Cup, they have the chance to go top, albeit they will have played two games more. On paper Benbecula, currently in fifth position, are a team who many would believe unlikely to provide a real test for Barra, well perhaps a week ago that is. On Tuesday night, Benbecula recorded, what is so far, the result of the season in the Uist and Barra league with a stunning victory over the hitherto undefeated reigning champions, Saints. Benbecula went one better than Barra has managed this season with a 3-2 victory over the champions, which was aal the more impressive given the form Saints were in prior to the match; seven straight wins, and 35 goals scored.
After their disappointing defeat to Saints, Barra will be looking to use their win over Eriskay as a springboard to build up some momentum. The title challengers have now conceded 21 goals in the league, which is the same number as Benbecula, but they do have the attacking prowess to propel themselves back into the race for the championship, and in James Davidson, the leading scorer in the league with 11 goals.
Benbecula has proven they are a match for any team on their day, the problem is they have so far lacked consistency and failed to win two matches in a row in the league this season, their win recent win against Saints was preceded by a defeat against North Uist. If they were to win against Barra, it would be real proof that their famous win was not just a flash in the pan.