The Shetland under-17 football squad were crowned champions of the ninth Loch Lomond Inter–national Youth Soccer Festival, played in the beautiful surroundings of the University of Stirling in the shadows of the Ochil Hills and the nearby Wallace Monument and Stirling Castle.
Shetland 5, Alloa Albion 1
Shetland’s game plan was simple, to attack their opponents from the kick off and not give Alloa any time to settle in. With the pace and power available to Shetland they would not sit back waiting to see what their opponents would bring to the game.
It only took a few minutes for the plan to pay off when Ally Scott curled in a free kick from a wide area which eluded everyone in the box including the keeper.
Scott Henderson doubled the lead in the seventh minute when he stabbed the ball home from a couple of yards after some fine play along the by-line from James Aitken.
Shetland continued to press their opponents and Aitken almost grabbed his second with a fierce drive which cracked off the crossbar.
Alloa gradually managed to force their way forward by playing the long diagonal ball which began to cause the Shetland rearguard a few problems. With a couple of minutes to go before the interval Alloa finally managed to get in behind the Shetland defence to pull a goal back.
Scott’s delivery from set pieces was proving difficult for the Alloa defence to cope with and from an in-swinging corner Lorne McNiven found himself in free space and he headed home from close range to restore Shetland’s two-goal advantage with just a few minutes of the second half gone.
Five minutes later the game was all but safe when Jordan Morrison scored with a back post header, this time from Aitken’s deep cross.
Shetland were relentless in their desire to push forward and the Alloa keeper did well to keep out a number of shots, one in particular from Richard Sinclair who looked to have scored with a shot bound for the top corner. Haydn Thomason did manage to score a fifth Shetland goal with a left-foot drive from the edge of the penalty box which proved too powerful for the keeper who could only help the ball on its way into the net.
Shetland 1, Hillfield Swifts 1
Having watched the team from Inverkeithing play the previous day it was made clear to the Shetland players that Hillfield played a totally different style of football than their opponents the previous day. They played in not too dissimilar a style to Shetland but with no real pace up front. Their midfield was very strong and a couple of their players were being monitored by Heart of Midlothian.
Considering the quality football both sides had in their locker the first half was mainly a scrappy affair with limited opportunities. Swifts came close to opening the scoring when a mix-up between the Shetland centre backs and goalkeeper let their striker in to lob Scott Nicolson who was relieved to see the ball land just over the crossbar.
As Shetland started to get a grip on proceedings in the latter part of the half they should have taken the lead when Richard Sinclair headed strongly only to see a defender clear the ball off the line.
Although Shetland finished the first half the stronger it was Hillfield who started brighter in the second half. With 10 minutes gone Shetland were carved open at the back with a fine pass for a Swifts forward to run through and shoot past a helpless Nicolson. It was a body blow to Shetland who had been out-passing their opponents but it would test their resolve in how to react to the situation.
Within a couple of minutes they responded with a goal that was simply magnificent in its build-up and execution. Declan Adamson worked some space for himself in the centre circle and drilled a pass with the outside of the foot down the left channel where James Aitken left a couple of defenders in his slipstream before drawing out the keeper who hardly saw the ball flash behind him into the net. Every Shetland player ran to Aitken to celebrate and rightly so.
Shetland continued to push for a winner and stretched Hillfield but the Inverkeithing lads were well organised in defence and stayed firm. Adamson almost nicked a winner in the dying seconds when he brilliantly controlled a through ball from Sinclair on his chest and sent the shot dipping inches past the post with the keeper stranded.
Shetland 5, Blackburn Rovers 1
Knowing how the other results in the group had worked out the criteria for Shetland was simple – win and they would play Luncarty of Perth in the final.
As in the first game against Alloa, Shetland hit the ground running and had scored twice in the opening 10 minutes. Richard Sinclair opened the scoring when a ball broke loose in front of him 20 yards from goal and the Whitedale player cracked the ball high past the diving keeper.
Sinclair’s Whitedale team mate Lorne McNiven proved to be too fast and tricky for a Rovers defender soon after and was brought clumsily down for a penalty of the stonewall variety minutes later. James Aitken showed all the composure of a player at the very top of his game as he stroked the ball into the bottom corner.
Blackburn didn’t lie down to the fact they were two goals down and battled hard in midfield to try and take control of the game. Shetland were playing on the back foot and happy to absorb the pressure knowing they could break with lightning pace given the opportunity. That was to bear fruit midway through the half when Haydn Thomason motored down the right wing before delivering a back post cross for Aitken to rifle home.
With the half nearing an end Blackburn almost grabbed a goal with a fine shot from the edge of the box which Scott Nicolson did well to fingertip round the post.
Shetland won a corner in the dying seconds of the half and Aitken’s delivery was met square on Richard Sinclair’s forehead and from 10 yards the ball flew past the stunned keeper and the Shetland boys were off celebrating goal number four in what was a blistering first-half display.
The players were buzzing at half time but were instructed not to take anything for granted in the second half as Blackburn had probably had as much possession and had on occasion looked quite dangerous. That proved to be so when they scored inside a minute of the restart from a header from a corner.
The goal gave Blackburn a bit of heart and for the next 15 minutes Shetland had to defend in numbers. The pairing of Jordan Morrison and Scott Henderson in the middle of defence was resolute while James Farmer and Stuart Mcleod were strong in the full back areas where on occasion they could push forward. Martyn Stevenson was playing out of his skin, breaking up the play and driving his team mates on at every given opportunity.
With 10 minutes to go Shetland full back Stuart McLeod strode forward and from outside the 18-yard box he thumped in a shot into the top corner to score the goal of the tournament and put the final nail into Blackburn’s coffin.
Shetland 3, Luncarty 1
The Shetland team had just two hours rest after the match with Blackburn but fitness would not be an issue as the players had prepared long and hard for the occasion. Only Ally Scott was carrying an injury but with a squad of 16 to choose from the coaches knew they would field a strong side against the team from Perthshire who looked bigger physically.
Luncarty’s tactics were to get the ball from back to front without the aid of a midfield but the Shetland defence was getting accustomed to dealing with the long ball game and Morrison and Henderson were solid in clearing their lines. Meanwhile Martyn Stevenson alongside Richard Sinclair was picking up the loose ball in midfield and setting Luncarty onto the back foot with driving play from the middle of the park.
Lorne McNiven’s pace up front was causing all sorts of panic and with a brilliant turn away from a defender he played a ball into a bit of space where James Aitken was arriving and the ball was smacked low and hard into the net. It was a thoroughly-deserved opening goal and from that point on Luncarty looked as though they were beaten.
Shetland continued to pull and stretch their opponents all over the pitch and their football was being applauded from the spectators. Only some fine goalkeeping from the Luncarty stopper kept the score to 1-0 at half-time. More of the same in the second half was as much guidance as the players needed as it would only be a matter of time before Shetland’s dominance would bring reward.
The players were confident of victory but needed further goals to be sure. McNiven soon settled the supporters’ nerves when he cut along the by-line and fired a shot towards the near post where it was blocked by the keeper who couldn’t recover in time to find McNiven’s follow up stuck behind him in the net.
With adrenalin pumping through their veins Shetland continued to drive forward with every single player brimming with confidence. As the game wore on Haydn Thomason capped a fine display by cutting inside his opponent and crashing home the third with only 10 minutes remaining. The players ran to the corner flag to celebrate, knowing there was no way back for Luncarty.
With two minutes to go the Perthshire boys grabbed a consolation goal but their celebrations were muted as they know the Shetland boys were only a matter of seconds away from being crowned champions.
Shetland had played the best football at the festival, a point made by coaches, referees and various onlookers. Their sportsmanship on the park was first class and they gave three cheers to their gallant opponents.
Lorne McNiven won the player of the match trophy from the tournament organisers. Finally it was down to captain Martyn Stevenson to go up to receive the trophy at the players’ reception.