By JOHN INNES
THERE were no nerves on the part of the Shetland players making their competitive debut on the Highland scene and certainly no weariness after the long and winding road by bus after the boat.
Taking the lead with a 10th minute James Johnston penalty they were to kill off Fort William with two goals in a six-minute spell either side of the break.
Satisfaction at clearing a first hurdle was obvious to see in the face of boss John Johnson after the game.
“I was quite happy,” he said. “Once we got control of the game we forced the issue a lot more but it took a while. I was impressed with Fort, they had some good players themselves.
“We were lucky in that in certain areas of the park, we got the better of them. Our pace down the flank with Leighton [Flaws], James Johnston getting control on the ball and some of his passes were superb.
I kind of thought we might be lacking in experience, our players turning out for their teams in a Shetland league all the time, but we led by example and basically showed the way.
“The boys are understandably ecstatic. You always think this one might have been a banana skin. You hear so much about them taking beatings and heavy beatings in the past, but I thought they had some good players. Beaten by class though I thought.”
Turning his attention to facing league champions Cove Rangers in the next round, boss Johnson said: “I think if we play to our capabilities I’d be very disappointed if we can’t give them anything other than a very tough game.”
After seeing the sights of the Highlands, the tourist trail and caravans galore en route to the game, the players will benefit from the shorter journey, one that can be completed within minutes of arriving at Aberdeen Harbour. Fans coming down will find there are two regular bus routes and a welcoming social club.
The first chance of the Highland League Challenge Cup opener against Fort William arrived in the 10th minute when a ball through the centre saw Joe Leask race in. He was just too quick for Richie Munro who brought the striker down and Johnston stepped up to fire it to the keeper’s right.
Johnston and Flaws were relishing playing at this level and they were both denied by Munro as the half developed and Shetland continued to press for a second goal.
At the other end there was some excitement when a neat build up saw Fort deliver the ball into the area but the referee’s whistle called a halt to the move just as they looked set to pull the trigger. Good footwork from Sean Ellis then saw him create an opening but his long range effort was a weak one.
In the 35th minute Paul Molloy, who had came on for Dominic Mann, saw his effort blocked but Alan Duncan quickly moved the ball on to Karl Williamson who curled an effort just wide of the keeper’s left hand post.
Just a minute before the break Shetland added a killer second. Johnston’s slide rule pass allowed Leask to fire the ball home through the body of the Fort keeper.
Within five minutes of the restart Duncan ran in to collect a flicked Flaws cross and stooped to head the ball into the corner of the net from close range.
The full back then galloped off down the right and produced the perfect cross which Duncan took down and fired home in the 57th minute as the islanders began to think about the party on the way back home.
Flaws got the goal he deserved to complete the scoring when he raced down the right wing, running on and on before slipping the ball underneath Munro for the fifth of the day.
It could have been more in the end with Scott Morrison most notably passing up an opportunity to add further icing to the cake. However, there was simply no doubting the outcome – a thumping win for Shetland.
The two players who stood out were Flaws, who pushed forward all the time, creating Duncan’s goals and grabbing the final one himself, and Johnston, who sprayed passes around and controlled the midfield.
Flaws said: “I felt the whole team played well. Everybody stepped up today, seemed to come of age as they say I suppose.
“Fort William are a good side, 90 minutes of battling, but we played the way we have been playing. Even when we changed formation in the second half after injuries, things just worked out the way we wanted.
We kept the ball, that’s the main thing. When we had it we used it well.
“I’ve been keeping in touch with a couple of the boys I know at Cove Rangers and I’m delighted I’m going back to Allan Park. Hopefully a lot of people will come down from Shetland because it’s not much of a journey. Hopefully a good few will turn up and fill Allan Park a bit. It’ll be good to se a lot of old faces.”
Johnston said: “It was a complete unknown here. You just don’t know what you’ll line up against. Okay you can be up against a team that’s finished bottom of the league, but it counts for nothing when we are coming so far. I didn’t know what to expect but we set a standard for ourselves and played well.
“A few of us have decent experience playing at a good level.We have experience that rubs off on younger boys. We get the experience of this competition and that is a benefit for Shetland football. For the future, young players coming through will get the same chance “I’m over the moon with Cove being our next assignment. There is a real buzz in Shetland, people want to come down and watch us play because five years ago the only real action people could see were the games with Orkney. Now we’re playing more matches and people want to get behind us.”
FOLLOWING last weekend’s comfortable victory, the attention is already turning to next week’s trip to the mainland to face Highland League champions Cove Rangers.
Manager John Johnson is under no illusions about the size of the task facing his players in the second round of the tournament. He said: “Make no bones about it, if we are to be successful in this competition we will have to overcome teams who are a step up in class from the standard of the island games. Teams like Cove Rangers, Deveronvale, Keith, Inverurie Locos and Huntly are all semi-professional outfits, pay their best players £10,000 plus and play and compete with Scottish League sides on a regular basis in the Scottish Cup every year.”
A match programme for the county side’s friendly against the Western Isles, to be played on 29th August at Gilbertson Park, is being produced and Johnson said the association would be grateful for any contributions or adverts from the business community as they strive to “raise the standard of Shetland football for the next generation”. Anyone who wants to place an advert can contact Mark Goodhand on 07919 022300. Training ahead of next weekend’s game will be at Gilbertson Park on Wednesday at 6pm.The provisional squad is: Craig Dinwoodie, Paul Grant; Leighton Flaws, Ross Moncrieff, Richard Arthur, Merv Jamieson (captain), Kevin Teale; Alan Duncan, James Johnston, Scott Morrison, Duncan Anderson, Karl Williamson, Ross Jamieson, Josie Kay, Ross McDougal, Joe Leask, Paul Molloy, Dominic Mann.