The new BUCS season for the St Andrews Men’s Hockey 2nd XI got off to a disappointing start as they were comfortably beaten 4-0 away to Stirling University 1st XI.
Featuring a match day squad including no less than five freshers and a new-look formation, it was always going to take time for new captain James Greenbeck, in his second match in charge, to get his new-look squad to gel – and so it was to prove in a first-half that saw Stirling go three goals to the good and effectively end the match as a contest by half-time.
By winning with the sort comfort they did, Stirling showed the sort of composure and quality that the St Andrews 2nd XI will need to replicate in order to make the task of avoiding relegation somewhat easier than in recent years. That said, this was a recently relegated 1st XI that the Saints found themselves up against; it was always going to be a tough match to play.
It is still early days for Greenbeck, but with an increased pool of talent to select from, there is no doubt that, although much work lies ahead, there is still reason for him to be optimistic.
Stirling pressed the Saints back line and midfield from the push back, as shown when a misplaced pass from centre-back Jordan Hunter nearly sent one of the Stirling forwards in on goal. On this occasion, Hunter and his defensive partner, Fraser Phillips, recovered; but it set the tone for this largely one-sided first half.
Indeed, it did not take too long for Stirling to open the scoring. A short corner brought about their first shot on target – and another short corner, as goalkeeper Iain McGregor’s save was adjudged to have lifted the ball dangerously. This second short corner produced a drag-flick, this time beyond McGregor’s reach and into the net to give Stirling the lead.
Stirling continued to push men forward and Saints were lucky to avoid going further behind when, from a counter-attack resulting from a rare foray forward, Stirling’s number 23 was put clean through on goal. Rather than pass to his team-mate for what would have been an open goal opportunity, he decided to shoot at the near post, only to miss with his effort. Undeterred, the same man was to double the Stirling lead when, following another one-on-one opportunity, he calmly slotted the ball past McGregor.
St Andrews’ ball retention by this point was, frankly, quite inferior to that of Stirling’s, and the number 17 of the latter took full advantage of this by sweeping into the far corner from the left-hand side of the D to further consolidate Stirling’s lead.
Following this, Greenbeck made the decision to reduce the back line number from 4 to 3, and using the spare man in an attempt to provide more midfield support. This, combined with Stirling taking their foot off the gas, provided a little more balance to the play and restricted any further shots on the Saints’ goal. In fact, it nearly paid dividends on the stroke of half-time.
A shot from the edge of the Stirling D by Gus Giddins was blocked on the line by a Stirling defender. However, the nature of the block – the defender’s stick being held over his shoulder, despite St Andrews striker Luke Pollock being within 5 metres of him – proved controversial, and St Andrews’ claims for a penalty or short corner fell upon deaf ears in what was to be one of several disputed umpiring decisions. From the Stirling counter-attack, McGregor pulled off two more saves – one from a one-on-one and another from a short corner, and so the scoreline remained 3-0 going in at half-time.
The second half started much more brightly for Saints as they started playing with more enthusiasm and confidence, and twice Pollock found himself with just the Stirling goalkeeper to beat. The first time resulted in an attempted pull-back to Pete Stanger, but Stanger, at a height of roughly 6’4, is not one who can be said to have a low centre of gravity and his attempt to run on to the ball resulted in some amateur gymnastics Arjen Robben might have been proud of.
Unfortunately for Saints, no penalty was forthcoming this time. Pollock’s second opportunity was rather more, for lack of a better word, opportunistic, as a combination of some controversial umpiring and a breakdown of communications in the Stirling defence let him through on goal.
Where in football the striker might be expected to curl one into the top corner in this sort of situation, in hockey this is quite impossible, the primary obstacle being that a shot cannot be hit outside of the D. Faced with a goalkeeper charging off his line, Pollock’s attempt to round him did not end in success as he overran, and the chance was gone.
In general, the second half was much more evenly matched than the first, with both sides trading shots, including attempts on target by Pollock and Josh Channon. However, at no point did the result ever look in danger from a Stirling point of view, and had it not been for a determined performance from McGregor in the St Andrews goal then the scoreline might have been even more skewed.
But even he was powerless to stop the fourth and final goal, a chipped finish.
However, even this was not without controversy, as the ball, having been lofted into the D, appeared to land within 5 metres of a St Andrews defender and therefore dangerously. After consulting with each other, the umpires awarded the goal much to the consternation of everyone in a St Andrews jersey. Nonetheless, the effect the goal had on the result is academic, as by this point the match was nearing its end.
Despite this, there was still time for a few more incidences of note. McGregor made another save, and from the counter Ali Stokes was nearly put through on goal by Stanger, but no attempt was forthcoming. And to aptly cap off the game, Saints’ Pollock was yellow carded and sin-binned a couple of minutes from time for a frustrated lunge at the Stirling goalkeeper.