Spurs 3, Whalsay 4, (after extra time)
Football fans who chose to sit inside and watch either of the national cup finals last Saturday afternoon instead of making the most of the Shetland weather and watching this final by all accounts were short changed. The Gilbertson Park fixture had as much action and excitement as you could hope for from a sporting event – goals aplenty with a dramatic twist thrown in.
The morning after would surely have left those of a Lerwick Spurs persuasion wondering just how they let slip a gilt-edged opportunity to lift a first piece of senior silverware in many a long year. They held a 3-0 advantage with only 23 minutes left and looked odds on favourites to cross the finish line with surely only the most fervent of Whalsay supporters harbouring any hopes of their team lifting the old trophy.
Both teams started well enough with Whalsay just edging things in an attacking sense early on. Keith Pearson had the first pop at goal when his tame free-kick from the edge of the penalty area was turned around the post by Spurs keeper Kyle Duncan. Spurs were struggling to string more than a couple of passes together at this point with only the composure of James Johnston in the central area driving them forward.
With 18 minutes on the clock Whalsay gave away a penalty.
For referee Robbie Leask, who had to flash several yellow cards throughout, the decision could hardly have been more clear cut. Shane Jamieson swung a ball into the box from the right flank where Stuart Shearer was all over Connel Gresham as both fell to the ground. James Johnston made no mistake from the spot to open the scoring.
Spurs looked vulnerable down the flanks and Laurence Pearson robbed Tristan Sinclair at left back as he dithered to clear. Pearson swung in a cross which Bryan Irvine controlled and shot but his effort was well saved by Duncan.
The Lerwick side then had their most productive period of the game, controlling the ball and territory. Gresham broke clear to fashion himself another good chance before in the 33rd minute Spurs doubled the lead. Johnston, who was spraying the ball around to good effect, jinked past Keith Pearson, split the defence with a great pass and Gresham finished well past outrushing keeper Grant Thomson.
The rest of the half probably gave an insight of what was yet to come. Spurs were scrappy at best at the back and had their backs to the wall somewhat while struggling at set pieces. Keith Pearson had the last notable close thing of the first 45 minutes, from a free-kick 22 yards out. It clipped a Spurs head as it headed towards goal, struck the crossbar and rebounded to safety.
Within seven minutes of the restart Spurs extended their lead. A floated corner from the left side was allowed to bounce in the penalty area, a cardinal sin from a defender’s point of view. Alan Page, with his first real contribution of the afternoon, nodded the ball over Thomson and into the net.
The game threatened to get a little more robust at this point in proceedings. Page was booked for a crude challenge on John Montgomery while the centre half himself was lucky to get away with an equally culpable shoulder charge on Gresham.
Spurs were, if not coasting, certainly comfortable at three up with only 23 minutes left. However, the loss of Johnston from midfield, the county man struggling with a hamstring injury and being deployed further forward, plus poor defending and goalkeeping, a somewhat cavalier approach and questionable tactical thinking let Whalsay of the hook and back into the game.
Whalsay’s first goal came when Josie Kay was unlucky to put the ball past his own keeper while attempting to redeem the man with the gloves after he had slapped at a corner kick.
Whalsay were now getting at the Spurs full backs and nine minutes after the first Whalsay goal the comeback was truly on. Stuart Shearer struck home from eight yards out after a melee following yet another set piece, this time a corner, with neither the keeper nor the Spurs defence covering themselves in any glory.
Spurs, trying to freshen things up, were dealt a cruel blow when Danny Finnie was brought on for the lethargic Page. The substitute lasted only six minutes before being injured and having to leave the field.
With only eight minutes to play Whalsay remarkably, but by now not unexpectedly, drew level. Laurence Pearson didn’t have to get off the ground in the six yard box to head home a Keith Pearson cross from a free-kick on the right as once more the keeper and defenders were rooted. From that moment on there looked like being only one winner.
Gresham, who by now was out on his feet after putting in a good shift, could have won it in injury time for Spurs. Sent free by Johnston his chip over the keeper needed a little more than he could muster and Thomson, outstretched, took it well at the highest point.
It took Whalsay seven minutes of the extra 30 to take a lead which had looked most unlikely half an hour or so earlier. Again Spurs failed to clear a loose ball in the box from a Laurence Pearson flick-on header and substitute Gary Jamieson reacted first to drive home from 10 yards.
Referee Leask had to brandish the yellow card a further three times as tackles, more than likely through tiredness, became just to late with Keith Pearson, Johnston and Tore-Neil Halverson falling foul.
The first half of extra time came and went with Spurs now the more tired of the two sides. They threw on Jordan Leask for Sam Goudie, who had been very quite throughout, as an attempt to liven things up but in truth it was too little time for Leask to make any impact.
Gary Jamieson and Keith Pearson had other chances for Whalsay but 5-3 would have been rubbing salt into an already sore wound for Spurs.
All in all it was a great afternoon’s entertainment for the neutral and surely sweet and sour for the participating teams and their supporters. Best for Spurs were James Johnston, Connel Gresham and Shane Jamieson. Some of Whalsay’s more prominent players were overshadowed by the performances of Keith Pearson and the surprisingly substituted Stuart Shearer while fitness, determination and Spurs defending played a large part in a remarkable comeback.