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I was fortunate to be at Albyn Park in Broxburn to cover the final section tie between West Lothian Schools Under-15s Select and Lanarkshire. This tie, the final one for both teams, was also a decider with the winners going through in second place to the knockout stages of the SSFA Regional Cup for their age group as runners-up to Forth Valley.
It was a terrific game of football, some of it glorious football, played in very cold, wet and windy conditions. The synthetic pitch at Broxburn was freshly combed - unlike the playing surfaces at the three pitches at Forrester/St Augustine's High Schools which appear to be neglected - and joiners were putting the finishing touches to two very impressive new and very solid subs boxes. These additions to the wonderful facilities at Albyn Park are the best and most luxurious subs boxes I have seen with seating for 11 in each box.
The tie got off to an electric start, with Lanarkshire going 1-0 up in the very first minute of a game expertly controlled by match referee Peter Peace and his two assistants. Lanarkshire had the wind in their favour in the first half and the home side were forced back in to defence as the gifted visitors attacked the home goal, again, again and again.
Hearts kid, Josh Moore in the No 7 jersey, was magnificent as he tormented the West Lothian defenders with his brilliant close skills. Ian Smith, No 9, was another class act on the right for Lanarkshire and the smallest player on the pitch, at No 3 for the visitors, Aaron Gray, was fantastic in his role on the left side of the Lanarkshire defence. Smith, who spoiled a good performance with his indisciplined remarks during the game to the match official, opened the scoring for Lanarkshire as the visitors threatened to run West Lothian off the pitch in the first half.
Home keeper, Connor Quinn, got his hands to Smith's shot but the ball went in off the inside of the left-hand post. So, Lanarkshire fired a warning shot over the bows of the beleaguered home side and tidal waves of attacks on the home goal built up in intensity and it was, virtually, all hands to the pumps, as West Lothian were given a bit of a football lesson. Jordan Allan, No 11, was also in great form and add the names of No 8, Jack Rose, and Mark Kelly, No 10, and it really was really tough for the West Lothian rearguard.
The storm warnings were out all over the UK and so too at Albyn Park. Connor Quinn was all over the place denying the eager Lanarkshire attack more goals. The home goalie resorted to punching away great in swinging corners in the wind from both sides and also from quite superb free-kicks. It was from one tremendous inswinger of a corner kick from Moore on the left that created Lanarkshire's second goal in the 16th minute and with the ball hammered at the home goal, it was deflected in to the path of Allan and this very talented player lashed the ball in to the roof of the home net.
That made it 2-0 for Lanarkshire and it was like the gates of hell being opened, I suppose, for the home defence as Lanarkshire poured forward looking for more goals. Ian Smith was very unlucky with two wonderful shots from outside the 18yd box that beat Connor Quinn all ends up, but both times the ball rebounded back in to play off the underside of the home crossbar.
It really was glorious football to watch, although the parents of the West Lothian boys might not agree with that. West Lothian were not there just to make up the numbers as it were, and they did manage to cause problems for Lanarkshire on the break. It was a daunting task, however, in the face of such great attacking football from a super confident set of under-15 players.
Connor Quinn was fantastic in the home goal but he did enjoy a fair share of luck. Thankfully, for the home side, too! West Lothian No 9, David Patterson, worked hard to create good raids on the away goal, but he and his colleagues in the home attack were given short shrift by the big Lanarkshire defenders, with No 4, Aiden Bickerford, another good footballer, calm under pressure.
Somehow or other, West Lothian kept the score down to 2-0 at the break to give themselves a chance of saving the tie.
Half time: West Lothian Schools 1-2 Lanarkshire Schools
The home combine had much more of the play in the second half and they really came in to the game with good attacks on both wings. No 7, Lewis Moore, was prominent on the left and what a work this young player put in.
Still, Lanarkshire threatened on the break with the pumped-up Smith a real danger on the right. Josh Moore was not just effective in the second half as the home defenders got to grips with him. It was a real thriller of a second half and West Lothian threatened the away goal from good corners and free-kicks. From the right, Brad Lauder (No 16) caused both Lanarkshire keepers (there were two of them and they were both used) time and time again with searching deliveries in to the danger zone in front of the away goal. Johnnie Sommerville (No 10) worked his magic in midfield, creating danger for the visiting defence.
Andrew Patterson was another who really emerged in the second half for West Lothian. But, there were no early Christmas gifts handed out by the big Lanarkshire central defenders.
Aiden Bickerton and Josh Kerr (No 5) played very well in the face of the intense West Lothian raids. The home side tried even harder to make the breakthrough and the Lanarkshire goal was bombarded with shots. Good saves, lucky in to the bargain, as West Lothian hammered away.
Moore on the left and his colleagues tried everything to break down the resolute Lanarkshire rearguard and, eventually, the home side got the goal they deserved (and needed) to get back in to contention. Johnnie Sommerville it was who thumped the ball in to the away goal after another mass raid by West Lothian on the left.
Shots at the Lanarkshire goal were desperately kept out by the visiting defenders but the ball broke to Sommerville and he applied the finishing touch to make it 2-1 in the 14th minute of the great second half of a cup tie. OK, it was at under-15 level, but what a pleasure it was to see two teams of Scottish kids play such good football and exciting at that. Jordan Allan had chances to score for Lanarkshire in the electric breaks they created but the shutters were up in the West Lothian goal, although it was very hectic at times.
Great saves at both ends kept the score at 2-1 and the tie became a real cut-and-thrust game of football. I thought Aiden Bickerton was outstanding in the way he won several important challenges and they calmly play the ball forward to his midfielders. Very coolly and impressively at that. Andrew Patterson produced the tackle of the game when he won the ball cleanly from the rampaging Jordan Allan on the left.
Aaron Gray was another great player for Lanarkshire and his use of the ball under pressure was quite amazing. David Patterson was another of the home side who gave his all in the second half and he too deserves praise for his effort. Oh, to hell, so too did all the players on the big pitch. It got a bit too lippy for the referee and he handed out stern warnings to some of the young players and it was no surprise to me when Ian Smith was booked.
If the Lanarkshire No 9 wants to take aboard some advice from me, he should learn to shut his mouth and keep his thoughts to himself or, if not, he will go the same way as so many other young Scottish players who could not control themselves. West Lothian went so close to getting an equaliser but on the day, they lost to an overall better team.
Sommerville always looked capable of scoring for the home side and another glorious in swinger of a free kick from the right, delivered by the left foot of Brad Lauder almost, I say almost, found the target at the Lanarshire end. But it was not to be and Lanarkshire held on to win 2-1 and go through to the knock-out stages of this important Schools event.
On such a miserable, cold day, this game truly warmed me up. I loved every minute of the second half and I thought referee Peter Peace was well-nigh perfect in the way he handled the game - and the moaning Ian Smith!
Well done, to both West Lothian and Lanarkshire. It was significant that when I got home the rain was pelting down and it just got heavier and heavier. The pitch and facilities at Albyn Park were so good it was another real lift for everyone.
The home of Broxburn Juniors and Broxburn Colts is another quite amazing facility with a very high standard of administration by Jim Pegg and his staff. Really, an outstanding venue for football - in all weathers! I was even presented with a club calendar by Jim and I take this opportunity to thank him for giving me such a warm welcome. Broxburn Juniors are at home to Camelon on Saturday, December 29, and I hope to be there to see the game.
Full time: West Lothian Schools 1-2 Lanarkshire Schools