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Derek Hall’s report on the Newtongrange Star v Musselburgh Athletic game on 8th January 2022

todayJanuary 9, 2022

Background

Derek Hall
·
Newtongrange Star 2-0 Musselburgh Athletic

Covid issues and the weather continued to affect the second weekend of 2022, but a fascinating EOS Premier League fixture went ahead at New Victoria Park as third from bottom Newtongrange Star welcomed fourth top Musselburgh Athletic. After four minutes, Star’s Andy Muir picked up a loose ball in midfield and moved forward before stepping inside his man and curling a 25 yard effort a couple of yards wide of the postage stamp corner. Musselburgh responded a minute later when a corner was cleared to the edge of the box and Bradley Whyte’s shot was blocked by the body of Shaun Conlon. Star then broke downfield quickly but Liall Smith seemed to be caught in two minds and his clipped effort towards the back post drifted harmlessly to safety. However within sixty seconds, Steven Froude found Smith who laid the ball off to Ryan Porteous but a slightly heavy first touch allowed Musselburgh keeper Ross McRae to make the block and a really decent chance had come and gone. After eight minutes, Smith had another go on his left foot from around 25 yards but this one was comfortably gathered by keeper McRae, but the home side had certainly started the game very much on the front foot. That early pressure was to pay off in the thirteenth minute when a ball down the middle was flicked into the path of Smith, whose excellent first touch took him into the Burgh box and the Star No 9 steadied himself before driving a low right foot 17 yard angled drive across keeper McRae and in at the far post for a lovely strike to give the home side a deserved advantage. Burgh tried to respond immediately and Dean Ballantyne flicked the ball on to Jordan Smith who picked out Conor Thomson but his low left foot drive lacked power and Star keeper Sean Brennan saved comfortably down to his right. Two minutes later, Froude hammered the ball into the roof of the Burgh net but the offside flag was up and there were few complaints from players or fans alike. Conlon almost picked out Froude on the edge of the Burgh box but keeper McRae was alert to the danger and cleared a yard outside his area. After 20 minutes, Alex Webb of Star was the first recipient of a warning from referee Alex Shepherd after catching Smith on the back of the ankle near the touchline. Two minutes later, Callum Donaldson worked hard to create an opening for the visitors as he got past a couple of Star defenders on the goal line before standing up a lovely near post cross which Smith headed wide from no more than seven yards and he would have been disappointed not to have at least worked the keeper. A minute later, a foul on Froude by Whyte around 26 yards out saw the Star striker pick himself up to take the set piece, but although he bent his effort round the wall, McRae had little problem with a low drive which didn’t have any real power behind it. Froude got a lot more power behind a defensive clearance from a corner less than a minute later, but there was a Burgh body in the way this time to make the block. On the half hour, Lloyd Fiddler of Burgh was also pulled in by referee Shepherd after a mistimed challenge on Star captain Porteous but so far the game had been played in a very good spirit. Four minutes later, Porteous dispossessed Fiddler in midfield before moving forward and striking a powerful left foot drive from all of 30 yards which Burgh keeper McRae took no chances with as he pushed the ball away low to his left. On 36 minutes, a Burgh corner dropped at the back post and was met with plenty venom by Greg Page on the half volley but keeper Brennan stayed up to make the block at his near post. Seven minutes from the break, the home side missed a glorious opportunity to double their advantage when Conlon won the ball in midfield and played the ball to Ethan Dougall who picked out Froude with a pin point cross only eight yards out but his header back across keeper McRae looked net bound, only to slip agonisingly just wide of the far post and a superb chance had gone begging. At the other end, a corner was headed towards goal by Ballantyne and keeper Brennan appeared to be distracted by the presence of Liam Reid and punched the ball somewhat fortunately behind and a couple of minutes later, Ballantyne headed a Thomson cross wide as the visitors looked to finally impose themselves on the game with the half time break in the offing and Smith saw an angled drive turned behind for another corner as the Star defence faced their first real spell of concerted pressure in the match. A minute from the break, Burgh carved out their best chance of the half as a lovely cross into the Star box saw Smith lose his marker and take the ball down but keeper Brennan raced off his line to spread himself and make a brilliant block from the Musselburgh strikers nine yard effort and preserve the home sides lead. However at the break, despite some late chances for the visitors, it was the home side who held a deserved lead which could and probably should have been more emphatic after a dominant first half hour, but Musselburgh would take heart from the way they had got in behind the home defence prior to the break and this match was nicely poised for the second 45 minutes.
Two minutes after the break, a short passback from Musselburgh captain John McManus almost saw keeper McRae closed down as he hacked the ball clear and both players exchanged a few pleasantries as play moved away. Burgh moved downfield and a nice cross from Page into the box saw Smith test keeper Brennan with a twelve yard header which bounced just as the keeper dived to make contact at full stretch and push it away for what was in actual fact a decent save. However with 51 minutes on the clock, the home side did double their advantage and it came from the penalty spot after Froude and McDougall combined to send Smith racing to the edge of the Burgh box and as he rounded the diving keeper McRae, he was taken down for a pretty obvious spot kick. Froude stepped up and although McRae got a decent hand on the ball low to his right, the ball had enough pace to nestle in the corner and the home side had themselves a two goal cushion. Three minutes later, an innocuous challenge near the touchline on the dugout side saw temperatures rise for the first time as a number of players decided it was just the right time for a bit of pushing and shoving and the almost inevitable outcome was one caution apiece for Dougall of Star and Burgh’s Declan O’Kane. Star were once again in the ascendancy and Froude worked hard under pressure from McManus to get the ball to Conlon who picked out Tait and his cross saw Smith’s twelve yard header well dealt with by keeper McRae. With 56 minutes gone, a foul on Fiddler gave Smith the chance to put a free kick into the Star box but when the first cross was cleared out, Fiddlers looping speculative effort from all of 35 yards didn’t cause Brennan any distress as it went well over. The first change of the game arrived after 58 minutes as Burgh looked to Liam Gregory to shake things up a bit with Thomson making way. Four minutes later, a low left foot snap shot from Porteous from 22 yards beat Burgh keeper McRae before going wide of the far post, but the reactions of the players suggested it hadn’t missed by much and this was soon followed by a right foot drive from Conlon which landed on the roof of the Musselburgh net. Substitute Gregory was trying hard down the flank for Burgh to create an opening but lack of support saw him crowded out and with 66 minutes gone, the visitors went to their bench again as O’Kane made way for Josh Jeffries. The chance to change the momentum of the game finally arrived after 69 minutes when Whyte made his way into the Star penalty area along the goal line and Conlon couldn’t resist a nibble at his ankles and there were almost no complaints as referee Alex Shepherd pointed to the spot for a second time. The recently arrived Jeffries took the kick but keeper Brennan dived low to his left to beat the ball away and with the ball in amongst the bodies, the keeper was up again to make a fantastic block from the close range follow up effort from Smith for a magnificent double save. Just a few minutes later, Jeffries then compounded his obvious frustration by getting himself cautioned for a foul on Dougall and it hadn’t been a great introduction to the match for the Burgh No 8. A Gregory drive from the edge of the box didn’t give home keeper Brennan any concerns as he fielded the ball, before Star made their first switch as Ali Forster came on for Dougall. Musselburgh made their final double change with thirteen minutes remaining as Donaldson and Ballantyne were replaced by Sean Ward and Liam Henderson. Eight minutes from time, Star’s Conlon became the fourth yellow card of the game for blocking his opponents run through midfield and then a minute later came a moment which pretty much summed up the visitors day as an inswinging free kick picked out McManus no more than three yards out right in front of goal completely unchallenged at the back post but somehow the contact from the Burgh captain took the ball over the crossbar and the Star goal remained intact. Four minutes from time, Star skipper Porteous took his leave and Michael Jones came on for the last few minutes. A minute from time, a cross into the Star box looped off Craig Reid’s head but the defender needn’t have worried as his keeper Brennan was once more there to tidy up. Burgh kept coming forward and Whyte found Ward but his effort was blocked before it could test the Star keeper, and as the final whistle went, it would have been difficult to find anyone other than the most avid Musselburgh fan who could have grudged the Star a victory which sees them jump two places in their quest to safeguard their top flight league status. Musselburgh will simply have to put this down as a bad day at the office, they will certainly know they can and have played a lot better this season, but this should not detract in any way from an excellent performance from an improving Star side and results like this should give them the confidence to take into their upcoming fixtures and start looking up the table rather than over their shoulder.

Written by: Russell Aitken

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