The St Andrews Men’s First Team started their BUCS 2A league campaign two weeks ago with a hardfought draw against a very strong Heriot Watt 1s. The Men’s first team will surely be targeting promotion from 2A, having had a strong intake of freshers this year and in the previous two years having finished at the top end of the Scottish 2A table. This week’s opposition was Strathclyde 1s. Like St Andrews, Strathclyde have consistently finished near the top of 2A (last year they came second), so this match was going to be another tough test for St Andrews. The setting for the match was ideal; it is hard to think there could be better conditions for a BUCS football match, a lovely October afternoon on an immaculate St Andrews pitch. Both teams in the first ten minutes tried to use the surface and play football. But neither side could really assert dominance or dictate play. Most of the football was being played on the middle of the park. By the fifteenth minute Justin Verissimo looked to be causing problems up front for St Andrews. He forced a corner through a darting run down the wing.
Unfortunately, the resulting corner was cleared by the Strathclyde defence, a clearance and a scuffed back pass allowed Matthew McKenzie to have a chance 1v1 vs Saint’s keeper Robbie Montanaro. Montanaro did well to save the first shot but McKenzie slotted home the rebound. 1-0 to Strathclyde with 18 minutes played. For the next five minutes, the Saints looked nervy; the early goal seemed to have unsettled the side a little. But eventually the Saints regained their confidence. A fantastic teasing cross from Findlay Tough from the right hand side floated in the area of the penalty spot. Tyler Gilmore was in the box to cause problems. Through this the ball fell into the path of Verissimo who was just on the edge of the box. Verissimo instinctively and clinically got a shot away which flew past the fingertips of Strathclyde’s keeper and into the bottom left corner. The scores were level with 22 minutes played. I felt it was a fair score line for the opening 20 minutes. Neither team had done enough to justify being in the lead. The goal put a real spring in the steps of the home eleven. Both Flynn Gray and Justin Verissimo were using their athleticism and pace to make darting runs down the wings and were really stretching the Strathclyde back four.
Just as the St Andrews side appeared to be on top, a difficult ball over the top which bounced awkwardly for Andrew Meaney set Strathclyde’s McKenzie free again. McKenzie didn’t need a second chance this time, as he convincingly slotted the ball past Montanaro in a 1 v 1. The goal unfortunately undid all the good work the Saints had produced over the previous 10 minutes. In response, two minutes later, Tom Grant tenaciously struck a ball from just outside the box but the Strathclyde defender put his body in front of the ball and blocked. A nice passing combination by Gilmore, Gray and Verissimo resulted in a chance for the Saints but it was denied for being offside. Gray and Verissimo continued to persevere but to no avail.
With five minutes remaining in the half the last thing the St Andrews XI needed happened: a Strathclyde corner was cleared from the six-yard box. But the Saints did not clear their lines quickly enough. Strathclyde’s Stephen Thompson lurked at the edge of the box. The cleared ball flew toward Thompson and he emphatically half volleyed the ball through the crowd of onrushing defenders and into the top left corner of the goal. Unless you are Ronaldo, nine out of ten times that strike lands over the fence in University Hall. Unfortunately for the Saints, this one did not.
In the final kick of the first half, Verissimo collided with Strathclyde’s right back. Both players clashed heads and were on the ground for a considerable amount of time. The incident required bandages and a trip to the St Andrews Medical Centre. Hopefully, both players will make a speedy and full recovery. It was far from the ideal end to the first half, a late goal and the loss of a key player created hard obstacles for the home side to overcome.
The First Team manager, Phil McGuire, made personnel changes before the second half. Euan Smith and Sacha Weiss replaced Meaney and Verissimo. The second half saw threatening chances for the team in blue. Flynn Gray carried on where he left off and beat an offside trap to find himself free in the box. But Strathclydes keeper was alert and able to grab the ball before the St Andrew’s forward could.
The 60th minute saw Strathclyde’s only real chance of the second half. A looping cross from the left hand side found a free Strathclyde attacker at the back post. Yet in the time it took the attacker to bring the ball down and prepare for the shot, Robbie Montanaro was able to close down the angles and make a confident save. For most of the opening 20 minutes of the half the Saints would build well from the back, but nothing came of it when it reached the final third. The breakthrough that the Saints were looking for came through fresher Kai Panniwitz in the 77th minute.
The right wing back unleashed a curling shot from just outside the middle of the box. He connected well and it found the left side netting. Kai certainly chose a great moment for his maiden BUCS goal. After this goal there seemed to be a little more urgency in the host side to find another goal. In the final 10 minutes crosses and long throws featured heavily in an attempt to find the much needed equaliser. Unfortunately Strathclyde were first to it every time.
A dogged and resolute defensive performance by the side from Glasgow got them over the line in the end. Man for man there was not much difference in quality between the two sides, if anything St Andrews had better players. But at the end of the day Strathclyde were able to punish the home sides mistakes, and when needed, knuckled down and suppressed the Saints attack in the second half. It was a frustrating game for St Andrews; moments of sloppiness and the lack of end product cost the team. The Saint’s next game is against Dundee 1s.