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Derek Hall’s Report from the Newtongrange Star v Penicuik Athletic’s game on 23rd December

todayDecember 26, 2020


Newtongrange Star 3-2 Penicuik Athletic
A game of two halves for sure, but not in the traditional sense of one team coming from behind to peg back another. On this occasion, a dour, tense battle of attrition in the first half gave way to an open, attractive and exciting second period culminating in a thrilling finish, particularly for those of a Star persuasion. After two minutes, Mungall played a nice ball forward for O’Reilly who showed good control to turn and fire goalwards although the shot was blocked before reaching Athletic keeper Tait. Penicuik responded two minutes later as a Nelson corner just missed the head of Tansey and the Star defence managed to clear as the ball dropped. After Muir pulled down Tansey in midfield, Stevenson worked his way down the left flank and when he played in a low cross, Watson tried to turn the ball towards goal and Star keeper Brennan took no chances as he flopped down onto the ball. Mungall then fired in a near post cross for Star and this time it was visiting keeper Tait confidently collecting at his near post. After ten minutes, Stevenson threw an inviting cross into the Star box but as Tansey was beaten in the air by keeper Brennan, the offside flag was up, although play was allowed to continue. Devlin then headed a nice ball into acres of space behind the Star defence but none of his colleagues were on the same page. On fourteen minutes, the best chance of the match arrived as Tait headed an attempted clearance in the Star penalty area onto the back of his team mate Ferguson and the ball dropped for Sommerville who moved wide and then stood up a lovely cross onto the six yard line where Connolly met the ball with his head, only to see home keeper Brennan superbly tip over from just under the crossbar. Before the corner could be taken, Tait went down and after treatment, had to be replaced by McIntosh, an early injury blow for the home side. The corner was fired over low and the outcome was a disappointing header by substitute McIntosh which was well off target. On 17 minutes, Sommerville fed the ball out to Devlin and his cross once again saw Tansey just failing to connect with his head for the visitors. Next up was Edwards with a long range effort which sailed over, and with the exception of the earlier Connolly header, chances had been at a premium in a pretty scrappy affair.
On 24 minutes, Page of Athletic did well to work the ball safely back to his keeper whilst under pressure from McBay and a minute later the same player was again trying to pressurise Thomson into an error but keeper Tait came out to clear the danger. A Nelson free kick from midfield into the Penicuik penalty area was nicely controlled by McBay and he dropped the ball back to Moffat whose low drive from the edge of the box was pulled wide of keeper Tait’s left hand post. Tansey then tried to play in Sommerville but the frustration continued as an offside flag killed the move although just seconds later, Devlin beat the offside trap but keeper Brennan was alert and out smartly to clear the danger. After 32 minutes, the referee went to his pocket for the first time, cautioning Lamb of Penicuik for a fairly robust challenge right in front of the dugouts and just a minute later, he was joined in referee Calders’ book by Murray of Star whose attempted trip missed his intended victim, but not the attention of the referee. Eight minutes from half time, Watson picked up possession in midfield for Star and fed the ball to McIntosh but his effort from at least 30 yards was all power and no direction. Star again tried to find McBay on the edge of the Athletic penalty area but once again Thomson and keeper Tait tidied things up between them. Three minutes from half time, a nasty clash of heads near halfway saw referee Calder quickly halt the game and both physio’s were straight on to attend to McIntosh of Star and Tansey of Penicuik who were both flat out on the ground. After treatment, McIntosh was subsequently able to continue, but Tansey looked to be unstable on his feet as he was helped off and Viola was brought on as his replacement. As half-time arrived, this wasn’t a first half which would live long in anyone’s memory, a dogged and gritty contest where two decent teams had done their very best to cancel each other out meaning any real scoring chances had been a fairly rare occurrence.
Penicuik showed immediately with Devlin trying to feed Viola and then Stevenson got the ball to Viola but his attempted cross was blocked by Murray. On 48 minutes, Star worked a presentable opportunity as Gullan found McBay and his pass saw McIntosh move into the inside left channel and there were claims for a tug on his jersey as he got his low shot away from 16 yards which keeper Tait held safely. Three minutes later, Athletic responded with Devlin flicking nicely on with his head to Edwards who slipped the ball to Viola but the Star defence closed ranks to shut the door on this Penicuik attack. Within a minute, Star carved out an excellent chance as McIntosh passed to O’Reilly who turned beautifully and then from around 23 yards, fired in a powerful left foot drive which whistled past the Penicuik upright as Tait dived full length to his right. The game was opening up now and a few minutes later, Star went close again as Gillan went down the right flank and his pull back was controlled by Murray who turned quickly and toe ended the ball just wide of the Penicuik right hand upright from no more than nine yards. O’Reilly fed in Gillan but this time the cross was disappointing with Star continuing to build momentum but as so often happens, it was Athletic who moved to the other end on the hour to open the scoring. Connolly played a cracking ball in to Sommerville but the ball kicked up as he shot and was beaten away although not fully cleared and when Watson played a lovely return ball towards the back post, Sommerville was there to place a fantastic cushioned left foot volley with his instep high into the roof of the Newtongrange net past the helpless Brennan. However Star weren’t behind for long and just two minutes later, a Nelson corner was punched clear by keeper Tait to O’Reilly whose drive was blocked but picked up again by Nelson and his floated cross onto the six yard line saw Ferguson rise to place his header back across the diving Tait and into the far corner of the net for the leveller. It was Penicuik’s turn to respond and Sommerville fed the ball to Gillan who played in Viola but Star scrambled clear only for Viola to pick up the loose ball and he played in an excellent cross which found Devlin trying to be almost too deliberate with his guided header which slipped just wide when he looked certain to put Penicuik back in front. Just a minute later, they would rue that chance as Star turned the game on its head when O’Reilly, not for the first time, turned on the edge of the Athletic penalty area and fired in a shot which was half blocked and the ball fell kindly to McBay who wasted no time in planting the ball past keeper Tait as the visitors claimed in vain for offside. Stevenson took his complaints too far and the enclosure side assistant brought referee Calder over and the Penicuik left back was then yellow carded for dissent. Prior to the game restarting, Penicuik brought on Reid for Devlin.
Twenty minutes from time, Star boss Chris King received a rebuke from referee Calder after a foul they wanted wasn’t given but the game was being played at a far higher tempo now and was all the better for it. Nelson of Star and Viola of Penicuik clashed boots in midfield with the set piece going the way of the visitors which Stevenson floated into the box and the ball was surprisingly allowed to bounce in the box and was gratefully grabbed by Star keeper Brennan. After 73 minutes, lovely combination play between McBay, Murray and O’Reilly saw the ball worked across the face of the Athletic penalty area where McIntosh took the ball first time on the turn from the edge of the box and keeper Tait covered the ball carefully as it flashed low past his right hand upright. Another effort zipped across the face of the Penicuik goal from McIntosh after being set up by Gillan before McBay looked to be in but Page stayed on his feet in his box and shepherded the Star forward away from goal. After 77 minutes, a foul on Reid saw a free kick awarded to Penicuik 25 yards out right of centre and before it could be taken, O’Reilly of Star was next into referee Calder’s book for dissent. Reid’s free kick ended up going straight to keeper Brennan shortly before Star made a triple change as Rixon, Mitchell and Davies replaced McBay, O’Reilly and Murray. Penicuik were still well in the hunt and Connolly fed the ball to Reid and his cross to the back post was palmed behind by keeper Brennan. The corner was cleared out but Stevenson returned a lovely cross into the box and Page leapt highest at the back post and did brilliantly to head back across goal allowing the ever reliable Sommerville to nod in a simple equaliser from close range. Six minutes from the end of an enthralling second half, Viola skewed a nine yard drive from a cut back wide as the visitors looked for a winner. After Gillan lost possession in midfield for Star to Edwards, Moffat then blocked the Penicuik forward as he looked to go past him and referee Calder’s yellow card was rightly out again. After 86 minutes, the visitors almost snatched a late winner as Stevenson’s free kick into the Star box was headed out to the edge of the area where Page met the ball full on the volley and his thunderous left foot drive cleared both the crossbar and the hand of a very relieved home keeper Brennan only by inches. However a minute later, we did get a winner but it was at the other end as Davies beautifully controlled a dropping ball before slipping a slide rule pass through to Rixon in the inside left channel and he showed great composure as he cooly placed the ball past the advancing keeper Tait from around 14 yards to restore Star’s advantage. Penicuik weren’t for giving anything up and in the last minute they spurned a glorious opportunity to square the game once more as a lovely move down the right flank saw the ball cut back into the heart of the penalty and Connolly looked certain to bury his first time left foot drive from nine yards but somehow the ball slipped agonisingly just wide of home keeper Brennan’s post with the keeper no more than a spectator. The last chance had come and gone and at the end of a pulsating second period, it was the home side who emerged with the spoils from a match which most definitely could have gone either way. Credit goes to the players for producing a tremendous game of football but also to both managers who made the tactical changes at half time which allowed both teams to get themselves in front and into winning positions at different points in the second half, after enduring a first half where nobody really looked likely to make a breakthrough. Yet another outstanding contest to add to a long list of superb matches served up by clubs involved in EOS football, long may it continue to thrive.

Written by: Russell Aitken

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