From Neil Riddell in Åland Photos by Kevin Jones
Two consummately-taken penalties from Leighton Flaws were enough to earn Shetland a hard-fought draw in their Island Games opener against a pacey and skilful Menorca side, whose indiscipline saw them finish the game with only nine men.
After a bright start against their Balearic opponents, Shetland went in front after goalkeeper Antonio Riudavets Florit was penalised following an aerial duel with combative striker Ross MacDougal. Menorca fought back strongly after Shetland had lost centre back Richard Arthur to a niggling hamstring problem in the early stages, with two goals from lightning quick forward David Mas giving them a 2-1 lead at the interval.
For a spell early in the second half it looked as if Menorca’s impressive wing play would prove too much for Shetland, but the introduction of substitute Duncan Bray on the left side of midfield paid dividends when referee Johan Holmqvist – who had a busy afternoon – ruled that the winger’s cross had struck a hand. Flaws changed direction with his second spot-kick but the end result was the same – his firmly struck effort nestling low in the bottom corner.
It leaves the team in a good position ahead of taking on host island Åland in their second Group A match on Monday evening, at 5pm BST. In the competition’s opening match, Åland comfortably saw off Greenland 4-2, having been four goals ahead before choosing to rest some players.
Speaking after an energy-sapping encounter during which the temperature was approaching 30C, Flaws – who dedicated his goals to father Magnus, celebrating his birthday – said the players had been well aware of Menorca’s pedigree beforehand and were fairly content with a point, though he felt they had created sufficient chances to win the game.
Players and officials from the Balearic side berated the referee at regular intervals throughout the second half, but Shetland manager John Jamieson was adamant that the official had got the key calls right. He said: “They seemed to get on the referee’s back a bit, gave away two penalties; you can’t afford to lose your discipline in competitions like this.
“I thought the boys played well, we had more chances to score and we’re happy enough with it, the tournament is still in our hands. They were very, very quick in the wide areas of the park and we coped with it better in the second half.”
Before Shetland’s opener, the fleet-footed Mas had already found his way through the centre of their rearguard, with Erik Peterson sharp off his line to block his left-footed shot before the equally dangerous Gabriel Llabres scuffed the rebound wide. Shortly after that, Arthur was forced off to be replaced by Spurs defender Lewis Kay.
The opener came in the 16th minute, with Holmqvist pointing to the spot despite protests from Florit – who had emerged from his clash with MacDougal with the ball in his hands. Flaws slotted the ball low to the goalkeeper’s right, sending the dozens of Shetland fans in the stand at the Hammarvallen park wild with delight.
Menorca were not to be forced out of their stride initially, however, with full-backs Peter Peterson and Gary Jamieson at times struggling to get to grips with the pace and trickery on show, and in the 24th minute they were level through Mas, scoring at the second attempt after a neat turn and cross from Pere Rodriguez Prats.
Shetland’s defence was coming under heavy pressure, with captain Merv Jamieson having to be on top of his game to clear a host of dangerous crosses, but 10 minutes later Menorca bagged their second after James Johnston gave away possession on the halfway line and a defensive mix-up allowed Mas to accelerate away from Erik Peterson and roll the ball into the empty net.
The reaction to going behind was positive, with the hitherto quiet Ross Moncrieff getting involved in the game and after a flighted free-kick from Alan Duncan, Merv Jamieson’s header had to be nodded out from underneath the crossbar as half time approached. There was just enough time for another moment of controversy as MacDougal got to the ball before Florit and appeared to be brought down, but this time the referee penalised the striker for a foul and showed him a yellow card for a perceived infringement.
Immediately after the interval, the game could have been all but over when Mas crossed for the incoming Gabriel Labres but he shot tamely and Erik Peterson was able to gather comfortably. Mindful of MacDougal being on a yellow card, Menorca’s centre-backs then engaged themselves in a pretty transparent attempt to get the forward sent off, going down theatrically after virtually every aerial contest, but Holmqvist was having none of it.
Despite Menorca having a lot of possession and territory for long spells, Shetland continued to threaten on their forays into the opposition’s final third. When Moncrieff’s deep cross was flicked on for the onrushing Flaws, revelling in a more advanced right-wing role, his header agonisingly came back off the underside of the bar and was hacked clear.
Bray was introduced for Peter Peterson, with Moncrieff moving back to left back, and the France-based wide man made a swift impact, winning a penalty within five minutes. Flaws’ second cool conversion of the afternoon prompted a rather tetchy phase of the game and both captains were called together at one stage to calm things down. But shortly after Samuel Gomila found himself collecting a second yellow card for what was deemed to be an overly aggressive tackle on Moncrieff.
Menorca appeared to lose the rag altogether after that, with substitute Jordi Segui carded for a frankly pathetic attempt to win a penalty as Holmqvist became increasingly irritated with their at times comical histrionics. It was to get worse for the men from the Mediterranean as the until-then cultured and impressive midfielder Miguel Coll received a straight red card in injury time for an ugly challenge from behind on Karl Williamson.
Before that, Alan Duncan had deservedly been booked for a late tackle, while Unst man Erik Thomson came on to make his senior debut in place of MacDougal, who had ran tirelessly for the cause. But with the visitors down to nine men Shetland were disappointed to hear the final whistle, just moments after the unusually subdued Johnston had sparked into life, neatly slaloming away from two defenders before curling a left foot shot a couple of feet wide.
Flaws, captain Jamieson and the tigerish Williamson stood out in a side which looked a far superior outfit to the XI which slumped to a 1-0 home defeat against the Western Isles on their previous outing earlier this year. Given the calibre of the opposition and the midday heat, Shetland will be well satisfied with a result which gives them a good platform to build on, with the manager expected to make a few changes to the starting team for Monday night’s crucial match.
Shetland team: Erik Peterson; Gary Jamieson, Peter Peterson (Duncan Bray 55), Merv Jamieson (captain), Richard Arthur (Lewis Kay 15); Leighton Flaws, Ross Moncrieff, Karl Williamson, Alan Duncan; James Johnston; Ross MacDougal (Erik Thomson 76).
Substitutes not used: Craig Dinwoodie, Josie Kay, Craig Gerty, Fraser Hall, Joe Leask, Duncan Anderson.