The Shetland senior county football team will be looking to avenge the 3-1 defeat suffered in Stornoway three years ago when they take on the Western Isles at Gilbertson Park tonight.
The fixture, with the BP Challenge Cup at stake, is the first competitive home match since new manager John Jamieson took over the reins at the end of last year. It will be seen as an ideal start in the build-up towards this summer’s island games in Åland as the opponents finished third in their only two forays into the competition so far.
The game has been rescheduled from last August, when fog at Stornoway Airport prevented the Western Isles team from travelling to Shetland. The first meeting between the two sides in 2006 was marred by travel problems, with the Shetland players only arriving in time to change quickly before kick-off.
The Western Isles, a team which traditionally boasts strength in depth in its line-up, deservedly gained the bronze medal behind Shetland’s memorable home island games triumph of 2005. They followed that up with another bronze in Rhodes two years ago when Shetland, somewhat controversially, decided not to defend their title, apparently because of worries over the heat in the Greek island.
With the draw still to be made for the group stages of the Åland games tonight’s match could be a good chance for both teams to assess potential opponents. With some places still up for grabs it could be an entertaining game with many players eager for a chance to post their claims for the respective squads.
Unfortunately the Shetland team will be understrength with none of the students, including regulars Ross Moncrieff, Joe Leask and Alan Duncan, available. Stuart Hay is still out with injury and is joined on the casualty list by fellow Delting stalwarts Ross Jamieson and Craig Dinwoodie, while Steven Umphray, who played in the historic 2005 games triumph and has only just got back in contention, will be unavailable.
New names in the squad for a competitive fixture are Ness goal-keeper Eric Peterson, Spurs centre back Lewis Kay, Whalsay midfielder Gary Jamieson and Thistle striker Craig Gerty.
Manager Jamieson said: “We don’t know very much about football in the Western Isles, mainly due to the distance and logistics which restricts travel and communication. I saw them playing twice [at the island games in 2005] and they were a solid team, and I was happy Shetland were able to avoid them.
“Both island groups are now busy training and preparing for the Åland games in June and this fixture will be used to gauge how players are progressing in fitness and ability to play in the coaches’ desired formation.
“Our squad has seen numerous changes from 2005. A lot of younger players have come in and this will be their chance to impress before the final selection in May for the Åland games.
“I see this being a difficult game [but] what better challenge for the players [than] to turn over the result in Stornoway [in 2006]. I hope the supporters will seen a good contest and a memorable match.”
The match will be officiated by three referees from the mainland – Chris Boyle (who took charge of the 2005 island games final between Shetland and Guernsey) and assistants Michael Wilson and Alan Cunningham – with the fourth official, Robbie Goudie, being provided from the Shetland referees group.
The Shetland squad will be raffling a signed Manchester United away top as part of the continued fund-raising for the island games, and tickets will be on sale at Gilbertson Park before kick-off and during the game.
A spokesman said the squad would like to thank the Shetland community for the “overwhelming support” for their fund-raising efforts over the last few months.
Shetland Football Association president Magnus Flaws said: “It will be a good chance to test ourselves against some well-matched island competition before Åland in June.
“We are all looking forward to this match and have our fingers crossed for clear weather for the visiting team to travel.”
Western Isles manager Angus Morrison added: “We’re expecting a challenging match – Shetland have shown themselves to compete at a high level and must be one of the favourites for the football com-petition in Åland.
“We all had a great time at the 2005 games in Shetland and are looking forward to returning to Lerwick, even just for this short visit.”
The trophy will be presented by Shetland Islands Council vice-convener Josie Simpson, and the council will host a post-match reception for both teams.
Mr Simpson said: “I’d like to welcome the Western Isles team and I hope that plenty of people turn out to enjoy what is certain to be an exciting game.”
The match kicks off at the Gilbertson Park at 6pm tonight. Programmes will be on sale at the park entrances, priced at £3 for adults and £1 for juniors and senior citizens. Spectators are warmly invited to attend.
Shetland squad – goalkeepers: Eric Peterson (Ness United), Paul Grant (Celtic).
Defenders: Leighton Flaws (Delting), Merv Jamieson (Delting, captain), Richard Arthur (Whalsay), Lewis Kay (Spurs), Peter Peterson (Delting).
Midfielders: Karl Williamson (Whalsay), James Johnston (Spurs), Duncan Anderson (Whitedale), Josie Kay (Spurs), Scott Morrison (Thistle), Gary Jamieson (Whalsay).
Strikers: Ross McDougal (Delting), Craig Gerty (Thistle), Dominic Mann (Celtic).