By NEIL RIDDELL
Shetland 2, Deveronvale 1
A LATE goal from young Whalsay forward Ross Irvine was enough to give Shetland’s footballers a narrow, but just about merited, victory over Deveronvale at Gilbertson Park last Saturday afternoon.
It was only in the closing stages that the game threatened to set the pulses racing, with Deveronvale – playing their first game in a couple of months – seeming to tire as Shetland created a series of chances in the closing stages.
They got their reward when, with just a minute or so left on the clock, a searching through ball from substitute Allistair Johnson found his Whalsay team mate Irvine and, having missed a good chance shortly before, the youngster kept his cool to slot the ball under the advancing James Blanchard to secure the Friendship Shield for the men in blue.
Up until the last 15 minutes, the friendly match had been rather stale with much of the action played out either in the air or in midfield, but what good passing there was on show was generally provided by the home side, with some neat interchanges between Karl Williamson and James Johnston.
Shetland manager John Johnson said he was delighted with his team’s performance and the result. “I thought James Johnston [was] especially inspirational and was the game’s outstanding player. While they [Deveronvale] were slightly under strength, the importance of the result cannot be understated.
“I thought there were successes all over the park. We have only five of the Island Games-winning team remaining and all were excellent again on Saturday, but it is great to see the boys who have been asked to fill the other boys’ boots play so well.”
Johnson paid tribute to the match-winning Irvine’s contribution. “He didn’t let the earlier miss get him down and took his goal in a manner that belies his years,” he added.
The manager set out his side in their usual 4-5-1 formation, opting for Spurs’ Josie Kay and Thistle’s Scott Morrison as the wide men flanking lone striker Ross MacDougal; the rest of the team was much as expected, though Kevin Teale – taking his Shetland bow at the age of 29 – was preferred to Richard Arthur in defence.
The visitors, meanwhile, named a side made up of a combination of the regulars who took the Banffshire side to third place in last season’s Highland League and a smattering of trialists.
In a fairly uneventful opening quarter, an exchange by Johnston and Morrison led to a shot from the former being well blocked on the angle. Teale, who otherwise acquitted himself in an assured manner, was caught on the wrong side by Deveronvale’s pacy Grant Noble but captain Merv Jamieson was able to do enough to put him off and allow goalkeeper Paul Grant to tip the eventual shot over the crossbar.
After 20 minutes the deadlock was broken, referee Gary McCarthy correctly pointing to the spot – in spite of howls of protest – after Scott Fraser charged down Morrison’s half volley with his raised right arm, allowing Johnston to send the goalkeeper the wrong way from 12 yards.
With little in the way of goalmouth action, the next moment of note saw the combative Fraser lose his cool. Having already left his mark on a number of Shetland players in forceful – but fair – aerial combat, he scythed into Morrison with an ugly, pre-meditated lunge, and can consider himself extremely fortuitous to have escaped without a caution.
The role of marauding full back in this Shetland team usually falls to Leighton Flaws, but on this occasion it was the versatile and hugely impressive Ross Moncrieff, filling in at left-back in the absence of a naturally left-sided successor to Michael Johnson, who was making most of the overlapping runs. From one such sojourn early in the second half his cross was half cleared to Jamieson who was unlucky to see his volley land the wrong side of the post.
It could have proved costly as Grant fumbled a routine cross in the 57th minute, allowing Jack Meldrum to nod the ball into the empty net and level things up – a disappointing moment for the goalkeeper, who was otherwise fairly assured and commanding. That error was enough to raise the visitors’ spirits and the impressive Gary McGowan was afforded too much space in the centre of the park, driving forward and shooting from the edge of the box, his effort going narrowly wide.
With 15 minutes remaining, Irvine – who replaced the hard-working MacDougal at the interval – managed to pip both centre half and goalkeeper to the ball, but blazed wildly over; Teale then drove forward from defence and unleashed a thumping 25 yard drive, again just wide of the target. As Shetland began to build up a head of steam, a fine run from Johnston saw him flash a dangerous ball across goal, before Irvine controlled and volleyed narrowly over.
It was not all one-way traffic, however, and Flaws had to come to the rescue with a good block from McGowan’s close-range effort. Moments later, Irvine struck and the goal came too late for Deveronvale to muster any kind of meaningful response.
It is difficult to draw too many conclusions from the game, given that Deveronvale’s players have been out of action for some time and they were missing a few first-team players. But on the whole, Shetland will be delighted with the performance of Ross Moncrieff in particular, while Williamson was a calm presence in midfield, Johnston showed menace going forward and Irvine’s lively running caused Deveronvale’s centre-backs – commanding in the air but not so good on the floor – all manner of problems.
There is a compelling argument that the 2005 Island Games success was something of a perfect storm, with a number of key players reaching their peak in a year when Shetland happened to be hosting the games, and that it will be difficult for them to attain a similar level of success again in the future.
Personnel-wise, the team are certainly lacking in dynamic wide players of the calibre of Duncan Bray and the injured Stuart Hay, as well as the experience of goalkeeper Bobby Wiseman and full-back Michael Johnson.
But the core of the side remains strong, with Flaws, Merv Jamieson, Johnston and Williamson all operating somewhere near the peak of their powers. That, allied to the quality of young footballers coming out of Whalsay these days, should certainly allow the side to hold their own in Åland next year.
● The county squad’s training scheduled for next Wednesday (2nd July) has been cancelled due to the junior county and the squad will resume training at Gilbertson Park on Wednesday, 9th July at 6pm.