Scotland national team boss Gordon Strachan was recorded this week stating that the solution to producing better ball players at grassroots level is simple: “Hours and hours of practice. If you want to be better than the other group of players, you have to work twice as hard.” He went on to qualify that statement with, “That doesn’t just mean footballers running about closing down. It is working with the ball all the time.”
The FVFDA League clash between Stenhousemuir Community Football Club and Milton Football Club under 14s would have provided the Scotland gaffer with ample encouragement as players on both sides showed a willingness to put their foot on the ball. As is often the norm in Scottish youth football, the weather conditions favoured neither side with blustering winds and buckets of rain but that was not to deter either team from showing spectators that they were capable of playing football.
The game kicked off at a high intensity as both teams competing at the top end of the table looked to find their bearings on a difficult grass surface at Larbert High School. Milton were marginally sharper in the early stages and it took just three minutes for the away side to register their first shot on target when Connor Reid found himself clean through on goal following a hopeful long ball. Reid showed delicate close control to steady himself but did not connect cleanly with the effort, allowing Robbie Lyall to make the save. Milton would not have to wait too much longer to open the scoring, however, as the ball fell to Declan Cairney on the right edge of the penalty box in the fourth minute. Cairney showed no hesitation to rifle a low effort beyond Lyall at his near post. The tempo and high line adopted by Milton was paying dividends early on.
The early opener undoubtedly spurred Milton on as they began to grow in confidence in midfield, switching play with aplomb and moving the ball well in congested areas. Cairney continued to look lively hugging the by-line on the right flank and in the ninth minute would find himself with an almost identical opportunity to his opener but this time slicing the ball over the crossbar.
Stenhousemuir looked to retaliate to the growing pressure with a tidy interchange between Dylan Young and Max Rintoul, releasing Tiwi Daramola. The forward was not helped by the surface, however, and lost his footing as he bore down on goal.
Daniel Ryan began to ease himself into the encounter, dictating the tempo of the match, and in the 18th minute a fantastic bursting run down the right flank from the midfielder created enough space to direct a teasing ball across the face of the goal. Ryan’s teammates just could not get on the end to convert. Milton’s Lewis Morrow excelled in holding on to the ball and stretching the play, freeing up Ryan and Cairney to continue to threaten on the attack.
Stenhousemuir had their hands full at the back but were defending well, putting bodies on the line to maintain a 1-0 scoreline. In addition to working hard in defence, they showed graft at the other end of the pitch with Ross Buchanan hassling the opposition in the final third but being crowded out on more than one occasion. In the 25th minute, Rintoul displayed tenacity to break into the opposition box but was thwarted by the Milton defence as his effort on goal was blocked and the resulting loose ball cleared to safety.
The desire shown by Stenhousemuir to even the scoreline only seemed to motivate Milton to extend their lead. A looping ball into the box in the 28th minute forced Stenhousemuir goalkeeper Lyall to come off his line and attempt to punch clear the danger. He couldn’t make clean contact with the ball, however, and Cairney was waiting to pounce and slot home from six yards for his second of the morning. Just two minutes following the restart and Milton had a third. Connor Reid showed excellent improvisation to flick the ball over his head on the by-line into a dangerous area and Ryan could not believe his luck as he thrust his head onto the ball to nod home his first goal of the game. 3-0 to Milton and the boys in blue were good value for their lead.
Stenhousemuir had an excellent chance in the 31st minute to pull one back. An awkward bounce meant Milton goalkeeper Alistair Wallace spilled a free kick into the path of Jake Shearer who could not react quick enough to direct the ball on target from close range, lifting the ball just over the bar.
Milton were growing in confidence with intricate one touch passing but Stenhousemuir sensed there was still a way back into this league tie. A short pass back from Brandon Morrow provoked Wallace into racing off his line to smother and keep it at 3-0 going into the break for the away side. An excellent display of bravery from the goalkeeper.