WATCH: Nine-goal thriller in blues’ island games opener
A nine-goal thriller had blues boss Niall Bristow’s nerves “through the wringer” as Shetland took all three points in their opening clash of the island games.
In an action-packed first 45 minutes, Shetland took only a matter of minutes to break the deadlock.
James Aitken latched on to a neat through ball from Sam Maver, slotting home past the Saaremaa keeper from just outside the box with three minutes on the clock.
The blues continued to pressure the men in yellow, forcing a corner moments later.
As the wind whipped around the park onlookers huddled together under blankets – more akin to a match at Gilbertson Park than Sweden in midsummer.
Saaremaa looked for a response, though were getting little out of the Shetland defence in the first 20 minutes.
Captain Leighton Flaws was looking to pick out the Shetland front line, and Maver, quick off the mark was unfortunate not to squeeze the ball past the onrushing keeper.
Bristow’s men were closing down posession well with crunching tackles and there was little in the way of chances for the Estonian side.
Despite that Saaremaa pulled one back on 26 minutes with a free kick, low to Grant Wood’s right-hand corner.
The lead didn’t last long though, as defender Joel Bradley picked up the ball after a mazy run from Maver and fired Shetland back into the lead.
There was no joy for either team down the flanks and Shetland were unable to string together free-flowing moves as both sides battled hard against each other.
Minutes from the ref’s whistle, Saaremaa made it two, after a corner from the right saw Wood tip the ball off the crossbar.
The resulting clearance fell to Saaremaa, with a thumping drive from the edge of the 18-yard box.
Saaremaa started brightly in the second half, whistling a low drive just past the post within the opening minutes.
Their persistence paid off as a deep cross towards the back post moments after was snapped up by the Estonian forwards.
Shetland refused to give up and a driving run from Aitken saw him turn neatly and offload to Maver. The Spurs man kept a cool head and swept the ball calmly into the goal on 57 minutes.
And the goals kept flowing – faster than this reporter could tweet!
Flaws had been causing problems for the blues defence with splitting passes through their rearguard.
Substitute Richard Sinclair made the most of the opportunity and made it 4-3, nicking the ball in the net, despite the efforts of the keeper.
Flaws was then rewarded for his efforts two minutes later hammering into the goal inside the danger area.
Saaremaa showed grit and determination to pull themselves back into it, again meeting a cross over the blues defence to leave a one-goal margin at 5-4.
Flaws came close in the final stages and Bristow had his back turned to goal for a corner at the death. Though Shetland ended the game victorious.
“That’s a good side,” said Bristow after the final whistle.
“We have played a decent side. The standard of football in the island games is improving year on year.
“Saaremaa used to be a side people expected they would beat…We believe most of those players play second division, Estonian league and they look like a side that’ve played a lot of games recently.
“They were physically hard to play against, I don’t mean dirty. They had big, strong bodies and they used them very well.
“When the ball is going into your box a lot, it’s a tough ask of you, your keeper and your defenders to defend the first ball and the second ball.
“People look on the face of it and think ‘you’ve conceded four goals’ but that was a tough shift.
“But offensively I think we were amazing.”